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Eating and Aging: How to Adapt as Nutritional Needs Change

As the body changes with age, so do nutritional needs. While starting healthy habits early in life can help put you in the best position to deal with aging gracefully, it’s never too late to start eating right! And sometimes, that ‘perfect diet’ needs a few modifications as the years roll on.

There are few specific areas that older adults can target to help adapt to changing nutritional needs. Take a look at how the body changes – and what you can do to tailor your diet to thrive in the golden years.

Nutritional Needs Change as We Age

Caloric intake is perhaps the most significant change that can be shocking for those experiencing the aging process. For most older adults, fewer calories are needed to sustain a healthy lifestyle. That ideal target of about 2,000 calories per day that worked in your 30s and 40s can drop down to a mere 1,600 calories for senior women, depending on lifestyle.

Why? It may sound like common sense, but the truth is that most seniors don’t engage in as much physical activity as they did in their younger years. Thus, not as much energy is needed. With that said, this reflects a general pattern. If you’re a person who falls in love with exercise past 50, then your caloric intake needs are more likely to stay the same – or even increase, depending on how drastic the lifestyle change.

In addition to a slower pace of life, other factors like metabolism changes (the metabolic rate decreases), changes in appetite (taste buds may weaken), and musculoskeletal changes (shrinking muscle mass) contribute to the need for fewer calories.

But don’t let the changes get you down! It’s a completely natural part of the aging process. Stay focused on maintaining lots of protein in your diet to stay sharp physically and mentally.

How to Counter Age-Related Deficiencies

There are also age-related deficiencies that older adults will want to become aware of and shift their diet to suit. Here are 3 key things to look out for.

  • B Vitamins – Around age 50, the stomach typically starts making less gastric acid, which causes the ability to absorb vitamin B12 to decrease. Adapting your diet to include more B12 is a good move, as this vitamin is linked with blood flow and nerve health. Fortified cereals, like Total or Malt-o-Meal, are rich in vitamin B12 – and other nutrients, for that matter. Liver, sardines, and clams are additional sources of vitamin B12 to consider.
  • Calcium – This is another common deficiency that seniors deal with. While some research suggests that high calcium intake in your teens and twenties is the best way to lower the risk of osteoporosis, it’s still a good idea to keep calcium a big part of the diet as a senior to strive for optimal bone health. Keep the kale coming!
  • Decreased Thirst – This one usually comes as a surprise, so don’t let it sneak up on you. The sensation of being thirsty declines significantly with age. While that may not seem like a big deal, it can become a problem if you aren’t actively drinking enough fluids to stay hydrated. Dehydration is linked with blood pressure, digestion, and all sorts of things that you don’t want to throw out of whack. The takeaway? Don’t wait till you’re thirsty. Continue drinking fluids regularly throughout the day.

Nutrition is an integral part of health and wellness. Stay in tune with your body and remember – it’s okay to make needed changes to your diet and lifestyle to stay it tip-top shape.

(As a side note, eating changes are necessary through perimenopause and menopause as well.  And I’ve built a plan to incorporate all of them.  Check out the Menopause Weight Control Plan!)

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Dr. Candice Seti


California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Personal Trainer

Dr. Candice Seti

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