The importance of nutrition in healthy aging is well established. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that poor diet and inactivity causes 310,000 to 580,000 deaths per year and are major contributors to numerous diseases and conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and stroke, among others.
So what should you be eating in order to age well? Here’s what the research tells us.
Nutrition’s effect on the brain
In addition to increasing overall health and longevity, diet plays an important role in maintaining a healthy mind.
What about specific nutrients? Are there things that seniors need more than younger adults? Possibly. Here are some specific nutrients that people may need as they age.
Calcium and Vitamin D
As we age, our bones lose density. This can be particularly true for women. To help combat this, seniors may need to supplement their diets with calcium and vitamin D, which work together to strengthen bones. While many turn to dairy products to accomplish this goal, there are other foods that are high in calcium and have the added benefit of having no cholesterol. These include dark leafy greens, broccoli, almonds, and white beans. Sardines are also high in calcium. Additionally, greens have Vitamin K, another nutrient necessary for bone health. Foods high in vitamin D include fatty fish such as salmon, beef liver, egg yolks, and foods fortified with vitamin D.
Seniors are at a higher risk for vitamin B12 deficiency, which may lead to tingling in the extremities of the body, fatigue, and even memory loss. A study conducted found that seniors with low levels of B12 had a greater risk of brain shrinkage and a decline of cognitive skills. Food rich in vitamin B12 include meat, fish and eggs.
Your cells need magnesium to maintain proper muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, blood pressure as well as making protein and DNA. Magnesium is particularly important to maintain heart health. Heart disease disproportionately affects older adults and magnesium has been shown to improve heart health. Too little magnesium in your diet can also render vitamin D ineffective. Magnesium can be found in fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains, beans and seeds.
This article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Speak to your doctor and/or a registered dietitian if you have questions about your nutritional needs.