6 Important Vitamins and Minerals Seniors Should Prioritize in Their Diet
Dietary requirements change with age. The older we get, the more important it is to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet with the recommended vitamins and minerals. Because our metabolisms tend to slow as we age, we typically require fewer daily calories to maintain a healthy weight when we are older. It’s also harder for us to absorb vitamins and minerals due to changes in their digestive systems.
Dietary supplements can help us get the right vitamins and minerals in the proper amounts during our senior years. However, they do not always work and some have unpleasant side effects. For optimal health, as we age, we should prioritize the following vitamins and minerals in our diets.
Vitamin D — an essential vitamin that maintains bone health and promotes calcium absorption — is found in some foods. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and swordfish contain high amounts of vitamin D3. Few other foods naturally contain vitamin D, although orange juice and certain milks can be fortified with vitamin D.
Supplements and going outside are also options, since we can also absorb vitamin D from the sun. Particularly if we spend a lot of time indoors, it’s crucial to supplement our vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture. People 70 years and older have a recommended daily allowance of 800 international units of vitamin D each day.
Vitamin C helps the body’s immune system fight off diseases. Specifically, it boosts white blood cell production, counteracting the natural weakening of the immune system with age. Thus, vitamin C is essential to helping us recover from everything as we age, from serious conditions to minor ailments like the common cold. Vitamin C can also improve heart health and lower blood pressure levels. Moreover, vitamin C improves the body’s ability to absorb iron, which is essential to red blood cells’ ability to transport oxygen.
Citrus fruits, including oranges and grapefruit, are some of the best sources of vitamin C. Others include strawberries, bell peppers, cruciferous vegetables, and white potatoes. Vitamin C deficiency can cause hair loss, skin spots, fatigue, and iron-deficiency anemia.
Vitamin B12, found naturally in animal food products, including fish and poultry, is vital for our red blood cell formation and the function of our central nervous system. A water-soluble vitamin, it is released in our mouths when chewing and is unable to be stored in the body, meaning we need to restore their vitamin B12 levels daily, particularly during our senior years.
B12 deficiency is associated with problems including loss of appetite, depression, anemia, and loss of concentration. It occurs more commonly in older adults due to reduced stomach acid levels and decreased appetite. Researchers for a 2020 study published in the research journal Medicine, suggested that “B12 levels could be a contributing factor to cognitive function” after analyzing data from nearly 3,000 people in the Korean Frailty and Aging Cohort Study over the course of a two-year period.
Vitamin A is known for supporting eye health and contributing to proper organ function, including of the heart and lungs. While there’s not much evidence to suggest we require more vitamin A than younger adults once we are senior citizens, it’s nonetheless an important vitamin that, in addition to supporting vision, boosts white blood cell production, regulates cell growth, and assists with remodeling bone. Men and women aged 51 years and older should get at least 75 mg and 90 mg of vitamin A daily, respectively.
Vitamin A is found naturally in fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens and orange and yellow vegetables, i.e., carrots, summer squash, and sweet potatoes. It’s also found in red bell pepper, tomatoes, beef liver, and milk.
Like vitamin D, calcium is integral to maintaining bone health in our senior years. As we age, we are at a greater risk of calcium deficiency due to factors like changes and bone formation and strength caused by osteoporosis, medication interactions that negatively impact our body’s ability to absorb calcium, and poor appetite. Men older than 70 and women older than 50 should get at least 1,200mg of calcium per day.
Dairy products and fortified plant-based milks are great sources of calcium, as are leafy greens (kale, bok choy, collard greens, arugula, spinach, and mustard greens), starchy vegetables, and almonds.
As with vitamin A, when we are older, we do not need more magnesium than younger adults. However, the mineral provides a variety of health benefits, especially for seniors who may be relatively inactive with a low appetite. Magnesium has a positive effect on the body’s ability to maintain healthy blood pressure and a steady heart rate while also contributing to bone health.
Pumpkin and chia seeds are especially rich sources of magnesium. The mineral is also naturally found in almonds, cashews, peanuts, spinach, black beans, and cereal. However, many magnesium-rich foods are difficult to digest for seniors, so supplements may be necessary. Magnesium deficiency is associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well as insulin resistance, endocrine issues, and cardiovascular and neuromuscular disorders.