The Senior Diet: Eating Over 60
As our bodies age, the nutrition it requires changes as well. Below, our guide to eating for your health when you're over 60.
Many things change as we age, and diet is no exception. Indeed, eating the right foods is particularly important for seniors, and can make all the difference not only in how we feel on a daily basis, but in warding off serious diseases which rise in incidence the older we get. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), lack of proper diet accounts for the majority of diseases seniors suffer from. With a few alterations and the right knowledge, however, seniors can leverage their diet to become healthier than ever. Below, a guide to eating over 60.
Milk and yogurt are your friend.
One of the most significant ways to keep bones healthy and strong is by consuming calcium, the essential mineral that is abundant in dairy products as well as some vegetables and fruits. Calcium doesn’t naturally occur in our bodies, but without it our body can’t build and maintain strong bones, which is particularly important as our bodies age. What’s more, if we’re not consuming enough calcium, our bodies begin to reabsorb them from existing supplies, which can lead to brittle bones or even osteoporosis.
Unfortunately, studies show that the more we age, the less calcium we tend to have in our system. This is due to diet as well as the fact that kidneys become less able to retain calcium the older we get.
The good news is that calcium is easy to integrate in the diet. It’s present in large quantities in milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products, as well as green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, seeds like chia seeds and poppy seeds, and nuts like almonds.
For people over 50 years old, WHO recommends consuming 1,200 mg of calcium per day. That comes out to around 4 cups of cow’s milk or almond milk.
Drinking enough water's more important than ever.
Our body’s ability to conserve water diminishes the older we get. Indeed, the amount of water in our bodies decreases by about 20% by the age of 80 compared to our twenties. What’s more, our thirst sensation begins to diminish as well, meaning we feel less thirsty even if our body needs water. As a result, seniors are especially prone to dehydration, which can make us lethargic and tired. Dehydration also slows down vital processes in the body which require certain amounts of water, from our organs’ successful absorption of nutrients to body temperature regulation to keeping body tissues moist enough they can cushion joints.
Seniors should aim to drink at least 1 cup of water per 20 pounds of body weight per day, even if they’re not thirsty.
Acquaint yourself with B12.
B12 is a powerful B vitamin that plays an array of important roles in the body, from keeping nerves functioning properly to helping the bloody form new red blood cells and make DNA. It has also been shown to help prevent an array of health issues, including heart disease, osteoporosis and anemia. As essential as this vitamin is to our health, the body can’t naturally produce it, so it needs to be consumed. And as we get older, our body becomes less able to properly absorb the vitamin as our body begins secreting less hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Indeed, studies have shown that up to 20% of people 50 years old are deficient in vitamin B12.
B12 almost exclusively occurs in animal products, including milk, eggs, fish, poultry and red meat. Experts recommend aiming for 2.4 micrograms per day. If you’re suffering from a more drastic B12 deficiency, your doctor might also want to put you on a B12 supplement.
It’s important to note that as harmful as B12 deficiencies can be for seniors, they often go undiagnosed. This is because the symptoms from a B12 deficiency can often mimic symptoms of other issues, and more often than not progress so slowly that symptoms aren’t noticed until they become extreme.
If you’re a senior, look out for these symptoms of a B12 deficiency:
- Memory problems
- Walking difficulties
If you’re suffering from one or more of these issues, check in with your doctor to see if you might be at risk of a B12 deficiency.
Stock up on bananas.
Potassium is an essential mineral which helps keep bones strong, cells functioning properly, and blood pressure low, all of which are particularly important to senior health. Unfortunately, studies repeatedly show that the majority of older Americans fail to get the recommended 4,700 mg of potassium daily.
Bananas are probably the most well-known source of potassium, but hardly your only option! Potassium can be found in a range of foods, from avocados and leafy greens to nearly any kind of bean and fruits like watermelon.
Potassium supplements have also become increasingly popular among seniors as an easy way to meet their daily target. However like almost any other mineral, consuming too much potassium can be just as bad for your body as consuming too little. Therefore, always check with your doctor before starting on a supplement.
Fiber is key.
A fiber-rich diet can help address a number of health concerns that are common among seniors, from high cholesterol and blood sugar levels to weight gain. Fiber also plays an important role in healthy digestion, which is of particular import for seniors, as our digestion slows the older we get. Fiber serves to correct some of this diminished function, helping move food through the digestive system so digestion is completed properly. It can also relieve constipation, which happens much more frequently in older age as the walls of our gastrointestinal tract thicken. Fiber can also help reduce cholesterol levels in the body and is a great tool to maintain a healthy weight, as it keeps you full for a long time.
Fiber-rich foods include beans and legumes, whole grains, vegetables such as arrots, beets and broccoli, and fruits like berries, pears and apples.
Experts recommend males over 51 years old should aim to consume 28 g of fiber per day, and 22.4 g for females.