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Seniors require substantially greater Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) of certain key nutrients than younger adults. Here are a few of the most important nutrients seniors should include in a balanced diet.
Protein: It isn’t just for growing bodies. Protein helps seniors maintain body tissues, the immune system and muscle mass. Some experts believe seniors are unable to use protein as efficiently as they could in their younger days, so they need more of it now. The IFIC suggests that seniors extend their protein budget by minimizing meat, poultry and fish portions while filling in with more economical protein sources such as legumes, eggs, peanut butter and low-fat dairy products.
Calcium and Vitamin D: Most seniors don’t consume enough calcium and Vitamin D. On top of that, certain medications and physiological changes interfere with their absorption and retention. So, the recommended intake of these two nutrients is higher for seniors.
Calcium strengthens teeth and bones—preventing osteoporosis—and promotes contraction and relaxation of muscles, including the heart muscle; blood clotting; and production of new cells and body tissues. It also decreases the risk of kidney stones, limits the growth of colon cancer cells and controls blood pressure.
Vitamin D plays a supporting role, helping calcium function to its fullest extent. Seniors who have difficulty tolerating dairy products—a rich source of calcium and Vitamin D—can strive to optimize their intake of it by drinking smaller amounts, drinking reduced-lactose milk, taking lactase enzyme tablets and eating yogurt with live, active cultures.
Vitamin B6: B6 plays an important role in immune system function, assisting metabolism of food and formation of red blood cells. It has been documented to decline with age and can be adversely affected by some medications.
For more information on the nutrients seniors need, visit the International Food Information Council website (IFIC).