5 Ways Your Nutritional Needs Change as You Age (And What to Do About It)

senior couple holding food in the kitchen

 

As we age, our bodies change, resulting in different nutritional needs. 

 

Providing your body with the proper nutrients and maintaining a healthy weight will help you avoid nursing homes, stay active, engaged, and independent. 

 

In this blog post, we’ll cover the top five ways our nutritional needs change as we age, so you can make healthy adjustments to your nutrition and lifestyle. 

 

How Do Nutritional Needs Change With Age?

You have likely noticed some of the more obvious physical changes that come with aging, like gray hair and wrinkles. 

 

That’s all on the surface, though.

 

Of course, there are some physical changes of aging that can affect nutrition, including:

 

  • Reduced metabolism
  • Decreased appetite
  • Loss of bone density
  • Changes in taste and smell
  • Less effective nutrient absorption 

 

physical changes of aging that affect nutrition include the following factors

 

If you’re looking to get ahead of these nutritional changes, there are some minor tweaks you can make to improve your health and well-being without being overly restrictive — starting with tracking what goes into your body. 

 

#1 Track What You Eat

First things first. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to dietary changes. 

 

The word “diet” typically conjures up images of women obsessively counting calories, but this is definitely not what we’re recommending.

 

Your daily calorie intake depends on many different factors, such as height, weight, and level of activity. But age also plays an important role.

 

For instance, your basal metabolism slows down with aging, meaning there is an increased risk of gaining weight due to lack of physical activity and a decrease in lean body tissue.

 

One of the most significant nutritional challenges older adults face is that they need fewer calories than younger people. On the other hand, you also require just as high or even higher levels of some nutrients. 

 

To ensure you get the same amount of nutrients packed in fewer calories, eat a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods. And then keep track of those nutrients in a daily food journal.

 

If you’re wondering which nutrient-dense whole foods to boost, read on. 

 

#2 More High-Quality Protein

Protein plays a vital role in the maintenance of healthy muscles and energy balance, as well as weight management and cardiovascular function.

 

But losing muscle is an inevitable part of aging. Adults lose muscle mass at a rate as high as 3-8% per decade after the age of 30.

 

Recent research on protein consumption suggests that protein intake above the recommended amounts may be beneficial. Optimal protein intake almost doubles (from 0.8 g/kg to 1.6 g/kg) by the time we reach our 60s. 

 

Consider increasing protein intake to reap its many health benefits. Among older adults, individuals with high protein intake lost significantly less lean muscle mass over a three-year period than their peers with lower protein diets.

 

So try to incorporate more high-quality protein sources in your diet, such as:

 

  • lean meat
  • low-fat dairy products
  • fish
  • lentils
  • eggs

seniors should add more protein to their diet

 

#3 Increase Dietary Fiber

Nearly all Americans fail to eat enough fiber — 95%, to be exact.

 

With age, our digestive system slows down. If you need help in that area, you only have to increase your dietary fiber intake. 

 

But including more fiber in your diet does wonders for more than just your digestion. It helps rid the body of cholesterol and toxins while regulating sugar levels in your blood. 

 

And if that isn’t enough, it can even help you lose weight.

 

But what should you eat to include more fiber in your diet?

 

  • Whole-grain products
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Beans, peas, and legumes

 

#4 Tend to Your ABCs 

With older age, our bodies don’t absorb micronutrients as well as they used to. But what are micronutrients?

 

Micronutrients (also known as your ABCs) are vitamins and minerals found in food that help us maintain a healthy lifestyle by keeping our immune system functioning properly.

 

When it comes to micronutrient intake, a study revealed that seniors don’t intake enough vitamins or minerals according to nutritional guidelines for older adults. 

 

But not just for some — all 20 of the vitamins and minerals measured.

 

And at least 10% of the older population doesn’t meet the required micronutrient standards. For some, such as vitamin D, that number rises to the 90s.

 

Graph representing micronutrient deficiencies in seniors
Women are also at a higher risk of micronutrient deficiency. Source: Cambridge

 

So what’s the fix?

 

Here’s what you should eat to reach adequate levels of the most deficient micronutrients:

 

  • Vitamin B 12 – fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products
  • Vitamin D – salmon, tuna, eggs
  • Folate – breakfast cereals, fruits, vegetables
  • Calcium – kale, broccoli, dairy
  • Magnesium – fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, beans, seeds

 

nutritional micronutrient guidelines for older adults
Just keep a well-balanced diet and take care of your ABCs.

 

#5 Increase Your Water Intake

“Water is life,” we’ve all heard that. 

 

But it’s estimated that nearly half of Americans aren’t drinking enough water. And older people especially don’t consume enough fluids.

 

This can lead to a variety of adverse health effects, including higher blood pressure and increased risk for heart disease, kidney disorders, or even brain damage.

 

The main culprit for dehydration is the natural decline in the ratio of muscle to fat as we age.  That means that older adults are more likely to be dehydrated than other age groups because their bodies contain less water.

 

Do you have a hard time drinking enough water? I know I do. It’s so easy to forget about it, especially when we’re busy or distracted. 

 

We recommend that you keep a bottle of water close by at all times and challenge yourself to drink it entirely within a couple of hours. Something simple like this water bottle with measurement lines should do, to make sure you’re drinking at least half your body weight in ounces

 

water bottle with measurements to increase your water intake

 

Maybe even try making a game out of your water drinking — every time you get up or reach for your phone, take a sip.

 

Be Diet Compliant

Eating well for your age can have profound effects on how healthy and happy you feel. Now that you’ve learned about the changes in nutritional needs as we age, it’s time to put this new information into action.

 

Try to make small changes in your diet. Start by just changing what you eat for breakfast and slowly work your way through other meals.

 

And remember to track your nutrient intake in your daily food journal.

 

It may become harder to meet nutritional requirements. But that doesn’t mean that eating healthy is impossible — it just means you need to be a bit more mindful about what you eat and when.