5 for 5: Nutrients Seniors Need and How to Get Them

Better

As we age, the body’s digestion process slows and requires we understand what nutrients we need most. In this article, we take a look at nutrients you may be missing as well as some great beverages packed with them.

Why Do Our Nutritional Needs Change as We Age?

As the human body ages, many changes take place that may require people to alter their lifestyle, activity and diet. 

One reason that dietary needs change in seniors is that, as we age, we become less active. When physical activity decreases, metabolism slows and the body’s energy requirement can drop. This means that seniors typically need to eat less to satisfy the body’s energy requirement.

Older adults’ abilities to absorb and utilize nutrients also becomes less efficient, meaning that their nutritional requirements actually increase. Unlike other age groups, weight loss can be dangerous in some older adults because it can signal decreases in muscle mass, which over time can lead to falls or weaker bones.

Additionally, chronic conditions and medications can impact nutrition requirements for older adults. Factors such as any changes in dental health and bowel habits; diseases requiring less salt or sugar intake; difficulty swallowing; as well as lack of mobility or transportation may all impact nutrition requirements, so it’s important to consult your doctor in considering appropriate nutritional requirements. 

How is Food Intake Affected?

A publication from the Institute of Medicine suggests that aging is often associated with a loss of appetite and changes in taste and smell. This alone may lead to more limited food choices and lower intake of healthful foods.

With these changes in mind, older adults need a nutrient-dense diet. Diet quality has an immense impact on physical condition, cognitive condition, bone health, eye health, heart health and the immune system.

What Nutrients Do Seniors Need Most?

When it comes to nutrition, it’s important to consider dietary changes first and foremost, as opposed to taking supplements. The goal of dietary recommendations is to guide a healthy, balanced diet and lifestyle; whereas taking too many supplements may come with health risks. Before making any decision about whether to take supplements is a good practice, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider. Your doctor can help advise on tailoring a customized and well-balanced diet that can help you get the nutrients you need. 

Calcium

Starting off our list of nutrients is an essential building block for bone and overall health. Calcium is a nutrient that seniors may be deficient in due to changes in taste or high-fat or cholesterol related health complications.

Calcium is a well-known mineral that is necessary for life. Most commonly understood as a vital nutrient for bone health, calcium carries a wealth of other health benefits. Calcium also enables our blood to clot, our muscles to contract and our heart to beat. Fun fact, about 99% of the calcium in the body is in your bones and teeth!

Every day, calcium is lost through skin, nails, hair, sweat, urine and feces. As the body can not produce its own calcium, it is important to get enough of it. Without enough, your body draws calcium from your bones. This is ok once in a while, but, per the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), it can lead to weaker bones which makes them easier to break.

So how much calcium do seniors need? The amount of daily recommended calcium depends on both your age and sex. For women older than 50, the NOF recommends roughy 1,200 milligrams per day. For men between 50 and 70, the recommendation is 1,000 milligrams while increasing to 1,200 milligrams once they are 71 and older. Foods rich in calcium are dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt – for example, 1,000mg of calcium is present in about three 8-ounce glasses of milk. However, calcium may also be found in many non-dairy sources as well, including: spinach, kale, okra, collards, soybeans, and white beans.

Vitamin D

Like calcium, vitamin D is a building block for bone health and strength. Seniors often lack vitamin D because of changing food taste or lack of sunlight exposure. However, there remains much debate around what constitutes the suggested vitamin D level, so it is important to consult your doctor.

While calcium contributes to strengthening bones, vitamin D is needed to absorb  calcium and protect your bones. Vitamin D also contributes to muscle health, immune health and protecting older adults from Osteoporosis.

Vitamin D deficiency can be a common problem among older adults, and it can lead to health complications. For one, a deficiency in vitamin D may leave older adults’ bones weaker and more susceptible to fractures and breaks, especially in the case of a fall. In addition to taking care of your bones, visit our blog to read tips on fall prevention for seniors.  

There are three primary sources of vitamin D; food, especially fish and dairy, supplements and sunlight. The body, when exposed to direct sunlight, produces vitamin D. The easiest (and cheapest) way to obtain vitamin D is through our neighborhood star. 

For daily intake, the NOF recommends that both men and women aged 50 and older should aim for 800-1,000 international units (IU) daily. But, they also note that some people need more vitamin D, and a safe upper limit is 4,000 IU per day for most. As mentioned before, there remains some controversy around what constitutes the suggested vitamin D level, so it is best to consult your doctor to help determine the best amount of vitamin D you need. 

Fiber

Dietary fiber is a plant-based nutrient that plays a major role in digestive health. Even though fiber is a carbohydrate, it cannot be broken down into digestible sugar molecules. Fiber deficiency is very common in the United States. Per WebMD, most Americans only get about half of the recommended daily allowance (RDA).

Fiber yields a number of benefits that contribute to your overall health. Most notably, fiber aids in digestion. Per LiveScience.com, fiber “improves digestion by increasing stool bulk and regularity,” thus helping to maintain colorectal health. Fiber also helps your body by lowering cholesterol, regulating blood sugar and may even lead to a decreased risk in colorectal cancer.

Low-fiber diets often lead to constipation or irregularity in bowel movements, weight gain and reduced energy. When fiber is not sufficient it also leads to an imbalance in blood sugar levels and inefficiency in the colon.

For older adults, the RDA varies between men and women. In men older than 50, the Institute of Medicine states the RDA should be at least 30 grams per day. For women, the recommendation is at least 21 grams per day. 

Excellent sources of everyday fiber include:

Fruit

  • Raspberries (1 cup = 8.0g
  • Apple, with skin (1 medium =4.5 g)
  • Banana (1 medium = 3.0g)
  • Strawberries (1 cup=3.0g)

Vegetables

  • Green peas, boiled (1 cup=9.0g)
  • Broccoli, boiled (1 cup chopped = 5.0g)
  • Potato, with skin, baked (1 medium =4.0g)
  • Sweet corn, boiled (1 cup = 3.5g)

Whole Grains

  • Spaghetti, whole-wheat, cooked (1 cup = 6.0g)
  • Barley, pearled, cooked (1 cup = 6.0g)
  • Quinoa, cooked (1 cup = 5.0g)
  • Brown rice, cooked (1 cup = 3.5g)

Additionally, there are plenty of fiber supplements available too if you are worried about getting enough.

Potassium

Often underestimated, potassium is a mineral that hosts a number of benefits for your body. According to Healthline.com however, “surveys show that many older Americans don’t get the recommended 4,700 mg of potassium a day.”  

Note: As with calcium and vitamin D, supplements are not great sources of this mineral, and can actually lead to dangerous side effects. Dietary changes are strongly recommended over supplements to help balance appropriate nutrient intake.

So, what is potassium good for? Potassium is essential for regulating fluid balance, boosting your nervous system, regulating heart contractions and maintaining proper kidney function. With fluid balance, potassium regulates the amount of intracellular fluid (ICF) or the amount of water inside your cells. Consuming potassium is essential for healthy cells and to maintain balance within the body. 

Potassium is also a wonderful way to naturally lower blood pressure for seniors with hypertension (high blood pressure). For people with this condition, it is recommended that you eat between 3,500 mg and 5,000 mg a day.

Too little potassium can lead to a number of complications in the body. Via the NIH, potassium deficiency can increase blood pressure, deplete calcium in bones and increase the risk of kidney stones. A deficiency in potassium may also lead to a condition known as hypokalemia, which, if unchecked, may lead to respiratory failure, paralysis and a breakdown of muscle tissue. 

With the potential dangers in mind, potassium plays a huge role in maintaining your overall health. As mentioned above, the RDA for potassium in older adults is 4,700 milligrams. You can obtain potassium through fruits, certain vegetables, lentils, dairy, poultry and fish. Luckily, potassium is easily attainable through a lot of different foods.

Excellent food sources of potassium, as well as how much they contain in a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving include: Beet greens, cooked: 909 mg, Yams, baked: 670 mg, White potatoes, baked: 544 mg, Soybeans, cooked: 539 mg, Avocado: 485 mg, Sweet potato, baked: 475 mg, Spinach, cooked: 466 mg, Edamame beans: 436 mg, Salmon, cooked: 414 mg, and Bananas: 358 mg.

Protein

Last on our list of essential nutrients for seniors is protein. For any balanced diet, protein is an especially important nutrient to regularly incorporate into your meals. Changing tastes and dietary restrictions often impact how much protein older adults consume.

Protein is most well known for contributing to muscle growth and repair, but has other benefits as well. Protein is a major building block for cell growth in your hair, skin, nails, bones and internal organs. Additionally, protein is essential for healing from injuries, keeping your fluid levels balanced and maintaining healthy vision.

As essential as protein is, a deficiency may lead to quite a few health complications. Protein deficiency can cause hair thinning, brittle nails and flaky skin. Additionally, protein deficiency leads to a loss of muscle mass, a higher risk of bone fractures and increased severity of illnesses and infections.

For older adults, protein has a significantly higher RDA than for younger people. The normal RDA is around 0.8 grams/kilograms of bodyweight (g/kg). However, older adults need almost double that, and their protein intake should increase to anywhere between 1.2 and 1.5 h/kg per day. To find you personalized RDA, multiply your weight by the number 0.36 to get your recommended intake (in grams) per day. 

There are a lot of great sources of protein. Foods high in protein include lean meat, fish, chicken and eggs, however there are also a lot of non-meat sources of protein as well.  For both meat-eaters and non-meat eaters alike, non-meat sources of protein are important. Not only are non-meat sources of protein less expensive, we actually don’t need to eat meat every day, nor should we. Foods like chickpeas, lentils and beans are great non-meat sources of protein, however, you’ll want to make sure that any canned foods are low-sodium (low-salt). To learn more about protein and its importance, check out our Live Better Blog to learn about the best protein-rich foods for seniors.

Nutritional Drinks for Seniors

Now that we have laid out the most essential nutrients for seniors to incorporate into their diets, let’s take a look at some low-calorie drink options. Above all, water is always the best drink option for adults. However, for anyone who has certain health conditions or may have trouble eating regular foods — smoothies, shakes and teas can also be serve as great drink options for an additional nutritional boost. 

Smoothies

Starting off our list of nutrient-packed drinks for seniors are smoothies! Highly-customizable and delicious, smoothies are a great way to get the essential nutrients that you need. Smoothies can be an especially great option for anyone who may be hesitant to eat their vegetables or who may have difficulty with their teeth. However, smoothies may be dangerous for anyone who may have difficulty swallowing and are also not advised for anyone who may be diabetic, as some fruits can be very high in sugar. 

Smoothies can help control your weight, cravings and make you feel full. Smoothies generally have a higher calorie content than normal beverages because there is so much good stuff packed into one. As with other dietary supplements, these are great sources of extra calories, however smoothies shouldn’t replace complete meals. However, many smoothies have ingredients in them that are also the best foods for improving memory.

When it comes to recipes, here are three awesome smoothies guaranteed to provide you with what you need:

Smoothie Nutrition Facts
Babe Ruth Strawberry Pineapple Smoothie

  • 1 cup strawberries
  • ½ cup pineapple
  • 1 cup banana
  • 2 cups orange juice
  • ½ cup greek yogurt
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
Calories: 149

Fat: 1g

Protein: 4g 

Sodium: 17mg

Carbohydrates: 26g 

Fiber: 6g

Sugars: 18g

Calcium: 6% DV

Potassium: 21% DV

Ultimate Breakfast Smoothie

  • 1 medium banana
  • ½ cup sliced strawberries
  • ½ cup blueberries
  • ¼ cup lowfat Greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp almond butter
  • ½ cup baby spinach
  • ½ cup almond milk
Calories: 300

Fat: 11g

Protein: 12.5g

Sodium: 135mg

Carbohydrates: 40g

Fiber: 7g

Sugars: 22g

Calcium: 20% DV

Potassium: 15% DV

Supercharged Kale-Avocado Smoothie

  • 1 cup coconut water
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp matcha powder
  • 1 cup fresh kale, stemmed
  • 1 cup fresh spinach
  • ¼ ripe avocado
  • 2 pitted dates
  • 1 cup ice
Calories: 200

Fat: 8g

Protein: 3g 

Sodium: 70mg

Carbohydrates: 32g 

Fiber: 7g

Sugars: 21g

Calcium: 14% DV

Potassium: 26% DV

 

Shakes

Shakes and smoothies are very much alike, both combine a number of different fruits, veggies and nutrients to provide you with a super drink to maintain health. So, what’s the difference?

Smoothies are primarily juice-based, and often contain significantly more fruits, veggies, greens, etc. than shakes do. Often lower in calories, smoothies carry all the benefits of the foods that they are made with, making them an all-around powerhouse for nutrients.

Shakes on the other hand are primarily dairy based. Usually made with milk and ice, shakes have a thicker, more viscous consistency than smoothies. While most adults should try to get their nutrients via whole food because of the added benefits to the gut of digesting whole food, shakes can be especially helpful for people with dementia or other diseases that decrease their appetite. They are not however a great idea for people who are already overweight or have diseases like diabetes. 

To make your own shakes, we have picked out a few of our favorite recipes:

Shake Recipe Nutrition Facts
Apple and Great Grains Shake

  • 12 oz water, milk, or yogurt
  • 2 scoops vanilla flavored protein
  • 1 apple, core removed, and sliced into wedges
  • 1 cup of spinach
  • 2 tbsp of almonds
  • ¼ cup of uncooked oats
  • Ice as needed
  • Cinnamon to taste
Calories: 539

Fat: 12g

Protein: 55g

Sodium: 147mg

Carbohydrates: 54g

Fiber: 10g

Sugars: 28g

Calcium: 26% DV

Potassium: 21% DV

Chocolate, Peanut Butter and Banana Shake

  • 12 oz water, milk, or yogurt
  • 2 scoops chocolate flavored protein powder
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup of spinach
  • 2 tbsp of natural peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp cacao nibs or dark cocoa powder
Calories: 585

Fat: 22g

Protein: 50g

Sodium: 276mg

Carbohydrates: 38g

Fiber: 9.7g

Sugars: 20g

Calcium: 26% DV

Potassium: 23% DV

Superfood Shake

  • ½ cup frozen cherries
  • 8 oz water
  • ½ cup chopped raw beets
  • ½ cup frozen strawberries
  • ½ cup frozen blueberries
  • ½ banana
  • 1 scoop chocolate whey protein (OPTIONAL)
  • 1 tbsp ground flaxseed
Calories: 329

Fat: 4g

Protein: 28g 

Sodium: 150mg

Carbohydrates: 52g

Fiber: 11g

Sugars: 31g

Calcium: 15% DV

Potassium: 30% DV

 

Tea

As mentioned before, the best drink for most adults is water.  However, if you don’t like drinking plain water, tea without any added honey, sugar or sweetener can also serve as another nutritional and beneficial drink for seniors. Even though most teas do not have significant amounts of the nutrients we listed above, tea can still have profound benefits to your health.

One well-known benefit of tea is that it carries a lot of antioxidants. These are crucial for protecting your body and cells from toxins. Also, tea is, on its own, calorie free! This can be a great beverage if you are seeking a healthy substitute for caffeine, or if you are trying to manage or lose weight. However, as with other supplements, be sure to tell your doctor if you’re drinking a lot of a particular tea, as some can interact with medications. 

Below, are some great teas for seniors and their benefits:

Chamomile Tea Benefits:

  • Effective sleep aid
  • Soothes anxiety
  • Lowers blood sugar
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Treats cold symptoms
Ginger Tea Benefits:

  • Aids with digestion
  • Reduces heartburn
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Improves blood circulation
  • Boosts your immune system
Green Tea Benefits:

  • Improves brain function
  • Boosts metabolism
  • Boosts immune system
  • Enhances dental health
  • Linked to decreasing cancer risk
Rosemary Tea Benefits:

  • Reduces inflammation
  • Improves digestion
  • Enhances memory
  • Prevents brain aging
  • Linked to decreasing cancer risk
Eucalyptus Tea Benefits:

  • Aids with respiratory issues
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Antibacterial properties
  • Lowers blood sugar
  • Enhances dental health

For more information on healthy eating, be sure to visit our Live Better Blog for posts about brain-boosting foods, eating clean and green and so much more!