Aging Gracefully: Nutrition for “Young” Seniors
Achieving optimal nutrition now can help you lay the foundations for continued health in the future
Many of us are tuned into the importance of good nutrition during childhood, adolescence, and the reproductive years. We can believe that key nutrients for people 70 years old and up may limit complications from high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and other health conditions that may come with age. But what about younger seniors—people 50 to 69 years old?
Between childcare and getting the kids through school, helping aging parents, managing a career, and keeping a household running, the 50 to 69 year old set often ends up putting everyone else’s needs before their own. Achieving optimal nutrition for your age can help you gain the energy your busy life demands and lay the foundations for continued health on into the future.
To ensure the body is nourished in a way that supports short- and long-term health goals, we need to pay attention to key nutrients as we age. This includes:
- Vitamin D. Last fall, the 14-member expert committee assembled by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies tripled the recommended intake for vitamin D from 200 IU/day to 600 IU/day for all people between the ages of 1 and 70 years old.
- Action: Get vitamin D from fortified foods and fatty cold-water fish, such as salmon. Many people come up short, especially those living in northern climes, so ask your doctor or dietitian if you should try a vitamin D supplement. Daily intakes of up to 4,000 IU of vitamin D per day may be considered safe.
- Vitamin K. Vitamin D gets more press, but vitamin K is vital for bone health too. Numerous recent studies have suggested that getting more vitamin K can strengthen bones in older adults.
- Action: Eat plenty of green leafy vegetables to up your K quotient. Check to see if your multivitamin contains vitamin K and if it doesn’t consider switching to one that does, or add a separate vitamin K supplement.
- Calcium: Calcium is important for bone health and more but, believe it or not, some of us may get too much of this nutrient. The safe upper limit for calcium intake for adults 51 years old and up is 2,000 mg per day, which can easily be exceeded if you eat calcium-fortified foods and take a calcium supplement.
- Action: Tally up all sources of calcium in a typical day of eating. Be sure to include calcium-fortified foods, such as orange juice and cereals, in your calculation. Try to to reach the RDA (daily) of 1,000 mg for men and 1,200 mg for women. Add a calcium supplement if diet alone doesn’t get you there.
- Iron: Adults over 50 do not need as much iron as children and young women. As with calcium, it is possible to get too much iron.
- Action: Get your iron fix from lean meats and iron-rich plant foods, such as green leafy vegetables, beans and peas, dried apricots and raisins, and nuts and seeds. If you take a multivitamin, choose one that is iron-free unless your doctor has diagnosed deficiency.
Medication management 101
Make a list of all of your dietary supplements and over-the-counter and prescription medications. Ask your doctor or dietitian to advise you about interactions that may affect how your body absorbs and uses key nutrients. A few examples include:
Certain reflux disease (heartburn) medications, which can decrease the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12.
- Action: If you are taking acid-blocking medicines, ask if you need a vitamin B12 supplement.
- Blood pressure medications, which can change how your body processes important minerals including sodium, potassium, and calcium.
- Action: Ask if you need to add or limit these minerals in your diet or from dietary supplements.
Certain asthma medications, which can cause calcium loss from bones.
- Action: Ask if you should take extra bone-strengthening nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, and vitamins D and K.
- Cholesterol medications known as statins, which can decrease blood levels of coenzyme Q10. Lower CoQ10 blood levels may increase risk of complications from statins, such as muscle aches.
- Action: Ask if a CoQ10 supplement is something you need to ensure optimal health while taking a statin.
Many other medications and supplements can interfere with nutrients in the body, so make your list comprehensive, and check back with your doctor anytime you add in something new.
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.