Lifestyle: Nutrition

How Getting Older Affects Your Nutritional Needs

aging nutritional needsaging nutritional needs

Fueling our bodies with quality nutrition is valuable in every stage of life. As we experience physical changes as we age, our nutritional needs evolve as well. There is still a basic need for energy, vitamins, and minerals to support good health, but priorities change as we get older. 

Looking at aging through the lens of physical health, nutrition goals should focus on preserving strength, protecting the brain, and supporting metabolic health. In this article, we’ll explore steps any adult can take to address how nutritional needs change as you age. 

How Nutritional Needs Change as You Age

There are three main areas of physical health that all aging adults should keep top of mind, which include:

  • Preserving strength
  • Protecting brain health
  • Supporting metabolic health

Nutrition Goals for Healthy Aging

Let’s explore how we can find ways in our everyday lives to help preserve strength, protect brain health, and support metabolic health as we age. 

Preserving Strength

Preserving muscle mass and overall strength is vitally important as we age. It’s reported that for each decade after the age of 30, adults lose 3 to 8% of their muscle mass. Strength and muscle mass help us stay active and prevent falls, which is a more prominent concern later in life. 

The best (and most delicious) way to preserve muscle mass is to eat protein-rich foods. Aging experts suggest that older adults need 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day to help maintain muscle. For a 140-pound older woman, this would equate to a daily protein goal of approximately 75-125 grams.

This amount may surprise you because it is nearly double that of the recommended amount for middle-aged adults, but there is data to suggest that older adults are less responsive to lower amounts of amino acids and, therefore, more protein is needed to provide sufficient amino acids for muscles.

Eating a greater amount of protein foods, such as meat, fish, eggs, soy foods, and beans may present a challenge for some older adults if their appetite isn’t what it once was. Adding a daily protein shake could be a convenient way to get a meal’s worth of protein in a small serving. 

Bone health is also an important part of strength as we age. Calcium intake should increase to 1,200 milligrams per day for women after the age of 50 and men over the age of 70. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium and adults over 70 need slightly more vitamin D. It’s a good idea to have your blood levels checked to determine whether a vitamin D supplement is necessary.

Protecting Brain Health

The foods that we eat, along with social interactions and physical activity positively influence brain health. 

Decades of research on healthy aging have consistently shown that people who choose nutrient-rich diets including fruits, vegetables, cereals, nuts, and fish report better long term brain health

Adults who consume a more “Westernized” diet consistently score lower on cognition and memory tests, suggesting a link between the quality of food and brain health. A Western diet pattern is generally high in saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugar while lacking in fiber, antioxidants, and whole plant foods.

Antioxidant-rich foods that support a healthy brain include vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and legumes. Look for sources of omega-3 like fish, walnuts, and flax seeds, that help support brain health

Supporting Metabolic Health

Metabolism is the sum of the chemical processes in the body that convert food into energy. If you think of aging as a process it can be considered as a slowing of metabolism and the body’s reduced ability to repair and recover from cell damage.

Research focusing on populations around the globe who experience longevity shows that people who choose foods that help support metabolic health live longer. Adults who consume a Mediterranean-style diet and stay physically active have lower rates of chronic disease.

An additional aspect of metabolic health is digestion or the physical act of absorbing nutrients from the foods we eat. Aging can impact digestive processes and some vitamins, such as vitamin B12, are not absorbed as easily. 

Quality nutrition matters at every stage of life. Fueling your body and brain appropriately can have a tremendous impact on living well for as long as possible. 

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