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Age-related changes in your body can impact your nutritional needs. An increase in body fat, lower metabolism, loss of bone and muscle mass, and smell and taste changes can affect your food preferences, how often you eat, and how your body absorbs nutrients, according to Colorado State University (CSU).

Proper nutrition is essential for healthy aging and lowers risks for chronic health issues like heart disease or cancer, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Here’s a look at how dietary needs change with age and how to ensure you’re getting enough essential nutrients.

How Body Changes Impact Dietary Needs with Age

Many body changes occur as a natural part of aging. As you get older, muscle mass decreases and slows down your metabolism, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Your metabolism converts what you eat and drink into energy to sustain crucial body functions like breathing, circulating blood, and digesting food.

Lower basal metabolic rates, hormonal response changes, slower digestion, and a decline in smell and taste can cause older adults to take in less calories, according to a Journal of Nutritional Health and Aging report.

As you age, the challenge is to consume fewer calories but take in the same nutrients — and maybe more — compared to when you were younger. Striking this balance helps ensure proper nutrition.

So, how can you handle these changes and make sure your body gets enough of what you need?

Eat Nutrient Dense Foods

Nutrient-dense foods have fewer calories and higher nutritional value. They are packed with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, with less added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium, according to the American Heart Association. To add nutrient-dense foods to your diet, choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and skinless poultry, to name a few.

Eat Protein

Losing muscle mass as you get older can impact your strength, function, and independence, according to a Nutrients study. Getting enough protein helps improve muscle health. Lean meats, poultry, seafood, beans, peas, and lentils are good protein sources.

Registered Dietician Nutritionist for Mayo Clinic Health System Kristi Wempen recommends 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight daily. That’s about 75 to 90 grams of protein for a 75 KG person (160 lbs.) Wempen also recommends spreading your protein intake throughout the day instead of getting it all in one meal.

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Essential Vitamins and Minerals

Age-related illnesses, long-term medications, and other factors can impact the absorption of specific vitamins and minerals and cause deficiencies as you age. The USDA MyPlate Plan for Older Adults lists potassium, calcium, vitamin D, dietary fiber, and vitamin B12 as essential for adults age 60+.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is common with aging, and Mayo Clinic regularly recommends it for older people. Vitamin B12 “plays a role in red blood cell formation, cell metabolism, nerve function, and bone health.”

The USDA Current Dietary Guidelines offer the following sources of these essential nutrients:

  • Vitamin B12: Fortified breakfast cereals, meats, fish, shellfish, and eggs.
  • Potassium: Baked potato with skin, sweet potato, cooked spinach, stewed tomatoes, snow peas, and white beans.
  • Calcium: Nonfat and low-fat yogurt, low-fat and skim milk, cooked spinach, and fortified orange juice.
  • Vitamin D: Salmon, canned light tuna, tilapia, low-fat and nonfat milk and yogurt, low-fat American cheese, and fortified orange juice.
  • Fiber: High-fiber ready-to-eat cereal, whole wheat crackers, oat bran, cooked artichoke, cooked navy beans, green peas, black beans, and lentils.

Stay Physically Active

Staying physically active is also essential for healthy aging. Older adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, according to USDA guidelines. Strength training, weight-bearing exercise, and resistance activities help bone and joint health.

Be sure to discuss physical limitations and restrictions with your doctor before starting any new fitness routine.

Drink Lots of Water

Staying well-hydrated is critical. Drinking water promotes good kidney function and eases constipation, according to CSU. Thirst can decline with age. So, don’t wait to drink until you are thirsty. Instead, drink water and other healthy beverages throughout the day, a total of about nine glasses daily for women and 13 glasses daily for men.

Other Nutrition Tips

Here are some more tips to enhance meals and help you get the nutrients you need.

  • Season your food with lemon juice, rosemary, basil, and other spices if you have a decreased smell and taste.
  • Eat foods with different colors and textures to add variety to your diet. For example, add chickpeas, sunflower seeds, and mild red peppers to salad — top cereal with blueberries, nuts, or granola.
  • Maintain dental health or wear properly fitting dentures for easier chewing.
  • Whenever possible, make eating more enjoyable by eating with others.

Understanding how your nutritional needs change with age and getting enough essential nutrients will help you maintain a healthy aging lifestyle!

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