Important Nutrients for a Healthy Aging
Older adults (55+ years of age) have special nutritional requirements, mostly because human physiological functions change with age. In relation to aging and nutritional status, the body decreases its ability to absorb many important nutrients, which can affect the immune system and, consequently, increase the risk for other health conditions or problems. It is important to eat a balanced diet and ingest (or supplement) specific nutrients that are particularly essential for a healthy aging. These are:
With aging, the stomach produces less gastric acid and, as a result, Vitamin B-12 is less likely to be absorbed. Vitamin b-12 has a crucial role in creating healthy red blood cells and regenerating DNA, as well as maintaining healthy neurological functions, translating to healthier brain activity. The main sources of Vitamin B-12 are animal products (fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk and its products such as yogurt and cheese). Sounds easy to obtain, but chances are that an elderly person will not ingest enough quantity of food to account for the increased need. Supplementation may be recommended.
Folate (also known as Folic Acid or Vitamin B-9) is not only important during pregnancy, for what it is most famous for. Folate actually plays a vital role in maintaining DNA and its functions, specifically in the brain. That is why folate can prevent depression, seizure and even brain atrophy and dysfunctions. Folate deficiency has been linked to degenerative diseases such as heart conditions and Alzheimer’s. Best sources are beans (including lentils), green leafy vegetables such as kale, Swiss chard, spinach, beets, seeds and nuts, and whole grains. Evidence shows that folate is best absorbed from foods rather than supplements, so it is important to add folate rich foods in the diet.
Vitamin D enhances the absorption of calcium by the body and its ability to increase bone density. In addition to preventing osteoporosis, Vitamin D has been found to protect against major chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes as well as inflammatory conditions (arthritis) and autoimmune diseases. The best source of Vitamin D is sun exposure, 10-15 minutes a day, early morning. This has been shown to have most potential for absorption and retention by the body. Food sources include milk, yogurt, oily fish (tuna, mackerel and salmon) and eggs. If supplementing, look for Cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) and not Vitamin D2, which has been demonstrated to be less effective and less stable than Vitamin D3.
We all know calcium is good for our bones. The problem is when our bone mass starts to decrease, as with age, and our demands for calcium are higher to in order to make up for this loss. What is now known is that calcium does not work alone: it needs vitamin D, vitamin K and magnesium to work properly, so those other nutrients must be included along with calcium. The best food sources are calcium rich foods such as dairy and dairy products, broccoli and foods rich in vitamin K and magnesium such as green leafy vegetables and nuts and seeds.
Sodium-potassium balance is important for maintaining bone health. Potassium has also shown to reduce high blood pressure and risk of kidney stones. Although relatively common in fruits and vegetables, surveys have found that older Americans do not obtain the 4,700mg of potassium a day. Increasing to 5 vegetables and 2 fruits a day will guarantee the amount of potassium needed daily.
Magnesium is a mineral with fundamental role in hundreds of physiological processes and functions. It contributes to immune, bone and heart health. The ability to absorb magnesium decreases with age and it interacts with many common medications taken by older adults such as diuretics, aspirin and statins. Best sources of magnesium are unprocessed (in other words, natural) foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and beans.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There is a current “hype” around Omega-3’s and evidence supports most of it. This unsaturated fat, found mostly in oily fish, has been found to have an enormous number of benefits including: reducing symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, slowing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), ensuring cardiovascular health and reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The recommendation is to eat at least 2 servings of oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines) a week and, if that is not attainable, supplement with omega-3’s capsules. A physician or a qualified nutritionist should be consulted for adequate amounts or possible drug interactions.
Many times water is a forgotten and yet very important part of a healthy diet. With age, the ability to sense thirst is decreased so it is important to achieve adequate levels of hydration. The well-known 8 glasses a day serves as an easy rule to follow, but some older adults need to restrict water intake due to some condition or medication.