4 Nutrients You Need More of After 50, Say Dietitians
As you've probably noticed by now, the body is ever-evolving. What you may not realize? With each new life phase, it's vital we take stock of our nutritional needs to ensure our bodies have what they need to stay healthy and thrive. This is especially true as we move into late adulthood.
"Maintaining a nutrient-dense diet is critically important for older adults because of the impact of food intake on health," says Katherine Brooking, RD, co-founder of the health communications company Appetite for Health. "Years of research have demonstrated that getting enough of all the right nutrients has a huge effect on physical condition, cognitive condition, bone health, eye health, digestive function, vascular function, and the immune system."
But hitting the mark isn't always easy. "Research demonstrates that older adults have a diminished ability to absorb and utilize many nutrients, including B12," Brooking says. To add to that challenge, "seniors take more medications, which can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies," notes Liz Weiss, RDN, of Liz's Healthy Table. "Certain drugs can interfere with nutrient absorption while others can suppress appetite so you get fewer nutrients in your diet overall."
So how can you make sure you hit all of the nutritional marks after 50 and beyond? Brooking and Weiss are here to help. Read on to learn more about the nutrients you should get more of as you age, plus how to fit them into your daily diet.
Aim for: Men 51+, 1.7 mg; women 51+ 1.5 mg
Vitamin B6 helps the body use food for fuel and plays an important role in our immune function, making it a crucial nutrient for all ages. After 50, though, it's harder for the body to absorb. This, Brooking says, coupled with the fact that folks over 50 tend to consume fewer foods containing the nutrient, is why health experts recommend consuming additional B6 after midlife.
Eat This!: Vitamin B6 is found in a wide variety of foods, Brooking says. "The richest sources of vitamin B6 include fish (like tuna and salmon), beef liver, and other organ meats." She also recommends hitting the daily mark by reaching for chicken breasts and ground beef.
"If you don't eat poultry, meat, or fish, be sure to consume fortified cereals, potatoes, bananas, squash, and nuts. You may also consider a supplement if your physician suggests it," Brooking adds.
Even if you're strong and active, you can count on losing some muscle mass as you age. (Some research estimates we lose about 3-8% each decade after 30!) Lifting weights and staying active can help slow this process, as can making sure you eat enough protein on a daily basis.
Hitting the mark isn't always easy, though, especially for those 71 and older. About 50% of women and 30% of men in this age group fall short of protein recommendations, according to the latest USDA Dietary Guidelines.
Eat This!: "Amino acids are the building blocks of muscles. But one amino acid in particular—leucine—has been shown to stimulate muscle growth and reduce muscle loss in the elderly," says Weiss. "Aim to include leucine-containing foods such as milk and Greek yogurt, lean meat, fish, edamame, tofu, and other soy foods into everyday meals as you move into your 50s. This way it becomes a habit through later life."
Leucine isn't the only important amino acid, though. Weiss stresses the importance of consuming various protein sources (like seafood, poultry, beans, lentils, and eggs) and spreading them throughout the day. "People tend to eat the lion's share of protein at dinner. But amino acids are more efficient at building muscle when they're consumed throughout the day," Weiss explains.
Aim for: Adults up to 70, 600 IU; adults over 70, 800 IU
Vitamin D has many jobs, but one of the most essential is helping the body absorb calcium, a mineral that's a building block for strong bones. Vitamin D and calcium work together to maintain bone strength and ward off conditions like osteoporosis, which significantly increases the risk for fractures.
While getting enough vitamin D during all life stages is vital, it becomes imperative after 70. "This can prevent damage to the bones or muscles if you fall," says Brooking.
Hitting the recommended intake can be a challenge, though. "Our skin produces vitamin D when it's exposed to natural sunlight. But people over the age of 65 have been shown to produce less vitamin D," says Brooking. "It's speculated that this may occur either because this group spends less time outside or because it's harder to convert sunlight into vitamin D as you age."
Eat This!: "Few foods naturally contain vitamin D. The flesh of fatty fish (such as trout, salmon, tuna, and mackerel) are among the best sources," says Brooking. "Beef liver, egg yolks, and cheese have small amounts of vitamin D."
If none of these foods are your cup of tea, Brooking recommends shopping for fortified milk, cereals, and yogurt. Since vitamin D is so vital to healthy aging, Brooking also suggests asking your care provider if adding a daily vitamin D supplement to your routine is right for you.
Aim for: 2.4 mcg
Okay, here's the deal with vitamin B12. You don't actually need more of it after 50; everyone over 14 should aim for 2.4 micrograms a day. But as we near mid-to-late life, hitting that mark can become tricky, so it's worth paying special attention to.
"We often need to take more medications as we age, and certain classes of ones like acid reflux meds that are proton pump inhibitors, the diabetes drug, Metformin, and peptic ulcer disease treatments can decrease absorption of B12," explains Brooking. "We also lose some of our ability to absorb vitamin B12 as we age," notes Weiss, adding "for this reason, your doctor may recommend routine blood work for B12 deficiency after age 60. If levels are low, a dietary supplement may be recommended."
Eat This!: Even if you take a B12 supplement, eating foods rich in the nutrient is key to maintaining good health, says Weiss. "Consuming a B12-rich diet takes you into your older years on good footing. Foods I recommend consuming include liver (not an everyday food for most people!), clams, beef, fortified breakfast cereals, canned tuna, fortified nutritional yeast (important for vegans and vegetarians), and seafood."
For more, be sure to check out Over 60? This Is The #1 Best Food to Eat, Says Dietitian. Then, don't forget to sign up for our newsletter!