Healthy eating is important as you age. Aging is linked to various changes in the body, including decreased quality of life, nutrient deficiencies, and poor health outcomes. You can do things to prevent age-related changes and nutrient deficiencies by eating a nutrient-rich diet and adding supplements as necessary.
Eating healthily means eating a variety of foods each day. Food provides energy, vitamins, minerals, and other useful nutrients to maintain a healthy body. Your diet also controls the way your body functions in later years. A healthy diet can prevent osteoporosis, diabetes, and heart disease. Good nutrition and a healthy body is critical for the healing process after any injury or illness.1
For the most part, older adults require the same nutrients as younger adults, but in different amounts. Older adults need fewer calories compared to young adults due to a decline in physical activity.
A big challenge is to develop a diet plan that is high in fiber and low in fat like bread, cereals, and vegetables. Smaller servings of dairy products and protein foods like meat, poultry, fish, beans, and eggs should also be part of the daily diet as we age.
The caloric requirements for an older adult are 1600–1900 calories per day.2 Calcium supplementation requires special emphasis in the older years, as our bones become weaker with age. Eat at least 2–3 servings of calcium-rich foods daily to avoid bone fractures. NIH advises people older than 65 to take 1200 mg of calcium supplement per day.
|One Serving Equals|
|Grain||Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese|
One slice of bread 1/2 bagel or hamburger bun 1-oz ready-to-eat cereal 1/2 cup cooked pasta or rice 5-6 small crackers
1 cup milk or yogurt 1.5 oz natural cheese 2 oz process cheese
|Fruits and Vegetables||Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts|
1 cup raw, leafy vegetables
1/2 cup cooked, chopped, or canned
3/4 cup juice
1-3 oz cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish 1 oz of meat equivalents 1/2 cup cooked dry beans 1 egg or 2 egg whites 2 tablespoons peanut butter 1/3 cup nuts
Vitamins D protects against diseases and helps absorb calcium from the intestines.3 It is recommended to get 20–30 minutes of sunshine daily for a sufficient amount of vitamin D.
Vitamin C helps absorb iron from plant sources. Poor dietary habits (junk food, processed foods, etc.) and smoking may lead to low levels of vitamin C. To get enough vitamin C, eat citrus fruits, melons, tomatoes, green peppers, and berries.4
- With advancing age, smells and tastes become dull, affecting appetite. To compensate for the decline in sensory functions, try to intensify the smell, sight, and feel of food to make the food more appealing.
- Dry mouth may be a complication of certain medications or other health conditions. Choose soft and moist foods if you experience dry mouth.
- Constipation can be a problem in old age, so choose moist foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and a high fiber diet to prevent constipation.5
Safety in the Kitchen
With age, many physical difficulties can interfere with food preparation in the kitchen. Stamina and physical strength decrease with age and you may find some tasks are more difficult than they used to be. To be safe, the following measures should be taken:
- Wear flat, rubber-soled shoes, and immediately wipe up spills so you don't slip and fall.
- Remove throw rugs from the kitchen to prevent falls.
- Sit while working at the table.
- Organize the kitchen so that everything is in easy reach. Avoid climbing.
- Use a loud timer to avoid overcooking, burning, or boiling over pans.
|A Day of Good Nutrition - Sample Menu|
|1 oz. whole grain cereal||1|
|1 cup 1% milk||1||1|
|coffee or tea||1|
|6 oz. tomato juice||1||3/4|
|1/2 raisin bagel||1|
|2 oz. lean ham||1|
|lettuce and tomato||1|
|2 graham crackers||1|
|8 oz low-fat yogurt||1|
|1 glass water||1|
|3 oz broiled chicken breast||1|
|1/2 cup rice||1|
|1/2 cup cooked carrots||1|
|1/2 cup cranberry sauce||1|
|1/2 cup vanilla pudding (low-fat)||1|
|1 glass water||1|
|cup of tea||1|
- Stechmiller JK. Understanding the role of nutrition and wound healing. Nutr Clin Pract. 2010;25(1):61-68. doi:10.1177/0884533609358997
- Foote JA, Giuliano AR, Harris RB, Giuliano AR, Harris RB. Older Adults Need Guidance to Meet Nutritional Recommendations. J Am Coll Nutr. 2000;19(5):628. doi:10.1080/07315724.2000.10718961
- Nair R, Maseeh A. Vitamin D: The “sunshine” vitamin. J Pharmacol Pharmacother. 2012;3(2):118. doi:10.4103/0976-500X.95506
- Chambial S, Dwivedi S, Shukla KK, John PJ, Sharma P. Vitamin C in Disease Prevention and Cure: An Overview. Indian J Clin Biochem. 2013;28(4):314. doi:10.1007/S12291-013-0375-3
- Yang J, Wang HP, Zhou L, Xu CF. Effect of dietary fiber on constipation: A meta analysis. World J Gastroenterol. 2012;18(48):7378. doi:10.3748/WJG.V18.I48.7378