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What vitamins and nutrients do I need as I get older?

Donna Feldman
Nutrition & Dietetics
Getting older doesn't change the vitamins and other nutrients needed for health. An 80 year old needs the same nutrients as an 18 year old. The difference is in how much of those nutrients you need.

People usually find they eat less as they get older. Metabolism slows down and appetite decreases. Elderly people who are inactive due to illness need fewer calories than a younger active person. But intake of vitamins and minerals needs to stay roughly the same. This leaves very little room in the diet for empty calorie junk food.

Protein intake can fall off for a variety of reasons.
  • less interest in cooking meals, especially high protein meat
  • reliance on easy snack foods, typically high carbohydrate items
  • problems with chewing and swallowing
High protein foods should be included at every meal. Easy-to-prepare protein foods include milk, yoghurt, cheese, nut butters, canned fish and eggs. Meal replacement shakes, like Ensure, are also good options.

Bones can thin as people age, especially if calcium and vitamin D intake were inadequate for years. According to the US RDI, people over age 50 should get 1200 mg of calcium daily, the amount in 4 cups of milk. Both calcium and vitamin D are found in dairy products, some fortified foods or supplements. Bones health also depends on adequate protein intake, another reason to include plenty of high protein foods every day.

Vitamin B12 can be tricky for the elderly, because absorption may be decreased by medications or poor digestion. B12 is found only in animal foods like meat, milk and eggs, so if intake of those is poor, B12 status may be affected. If a deficiency is diagnosed, high dose supplements or even injections may be recommended, since the amount present in food may not be sufficient.

Some older people get the impression they need massive doses of all vitamins and minerals with age. This isn't true; an adequate intake is just fine. The best senior multiple vitamin supplements contain no more than 100% of the Recommended Intake amounts. In some cases, such as with minerals, the amounts will be less than 100%. That shouldn't be a problem, because older people, like younger ones, should be getting plenty of nutrients from healthy food choices. No one should depend on pills for nutrition.
As more and more baby boomers reach 60 years of age, the idea of what it means to age is changing. However, don't forget that our bodies have different nutrition requirements as we get older in order to maintain an active lifestyle.

While all of us age differently, there are some nutrients that most older adults need to give closer attention. Muscle mass deteriorates more quickly with age, so protein needs remain and may even increase. In addition to protein, calcium and vitamin D are important to maintenance of bone health. Folate, vitamins B6 and B12, along with zinc, are also necessary nutrients for older adults.

If an older adult has trouble maintaining their appetite, it helps to eat more smaller meals and snacks throughout the day. For more help, contact a registered dietitian.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.