Food is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and eating well can help older adults stay healthy for longer. Your nutrient needs will change as you get older, so here is some advice on healthy food choices and supplements.
Portions become smaller for older adults
As you age, your energy (calorie) needs decrease, so you’ll need to eat smaller portions of food to stay at a healthy weight. You can make the most of the calories you do eat by using Canada’s Food Guide. These guidelines will help you get the nutrients you need, even if you eat less food overall.
Vitamin and mineral needs may change for older adults
Even if you eat a wide variety of healthy foods, as you get older some vitamins and minerals become harder for the body to absorb, or you may need a different amount than when you were younger.
Older adults should pay special attention to:
Vitamin B6: This vitamin is essential for a healthy immune system and you need more after age 50. Good sources include potatoes, beans, meat, chicken and fish. If you think you’re not eating enough of these foods, check with your doctor about taking a supplement.
Vitamin B12: This vitamin is found in meat, chicken, fish and milk products. Up to 30% of adults over age 50 may have trouble absorbing vitamin B12, and may need supplements or B12 injections. Your doctor can perform a simple blood test to check your vitamin B12 status.
Vitamin D: We can make vitamin D from the sun’s rays, but cold and dark Canadian winters mean many older adults do not get enough. Health Canada says that in addition to eating vitamin D-rich foods like milk and fish, everyone over age 50 should take a supplement with 400 IU of vitamin D daily.
Calcium: To keep bones strong, daily calcium needs increase to 1200 mg at age 50 for both women and men. The best sources include milk, cheese, yogurt and fortified soy beverages. Talk to your doctor if you do not eat three servings of milk and alternatives each day, since you may need calcium supplements.
Iron: Iron needs decrease in women over age 50 (from 18 mg of iron down to just 8 mg daily). Men need 8 mg for all of their adult life. Good sources of iron include beef, poultry, beans, leafy greens and fortified breakfast cereals.
A multi-vitamin may be needed for older adults
In most cases, choosing foods based on Canada’s Food Guide will provide all of the vitamins and minerals that your body needs. However, low-dose multi-vitamins can help if your daily calorie intake is low or if your food choices are poor. If you do use a multi-vitamin, pick one that is specially made for people aged 50+ (it will say on the package).
Do you have more questions about what nutrients you need as you or a loved one get older? Connect with a dietitian.
Concerned about malnutrition? Here are some signs that a friend or loved one may not be reaching their nutritional goals:
- Decreased appetite
- Problems chewing and swallowing
- Tooth loss or pain
- Weight changes
- Unable to cook or shop
- Less social contact
- Taking lots of medication
- Not enough money to buy food
If you notice these signs and are worried, ask your friend to speak with their doctor or contact the local public health unit.
More information about nutrition in older adults can be found here:
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Last Update – May 16, 2022