Nutrition for Older Adults

I like to browse the American Dietetic Association’s website ( on a regular basis, as there is a lot of great nutrition advice and information provided there. I was recently talking to some guests about healthy aging, and some nutritional concerns for older adults. The ADA website contains good information about healthy aging, so I thought I’d do a quick summary of some of the important points.

  • In general, following the plate method for meal planning is a great way to eat healthy at any age. By making 1/2 of our plate fruits and vegetables, 1/4 or our plate whole grains, and 1/4 of our plate lean proteins, we can ensure that our bodies are getting a good balance of nutrients for optimal health.
  • As we age, our bodies generally require less calories for weight maintenance. It becomes important to eat foods that are nutrient dense, or foods that contain a lot of good nutrition but are lower in calories. Focus on eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats.
  • Try and eat a variety of foods. Vary the color of your fruits and vegetables, as the different color pigments contain unique phytochemicals that help fight different diseases. Try and eat a variety of grains, particularly whole grains, as this will help increase fiber content. Eating fish, beans and legumes is a great way to meet protein needs, and these foods also provide other benefits like fiber and/or omega 3 fats.
Appart from these general recommendations, there are a few special nutrient needs that older adults should keep in mind, including:
  • Calcium and Vitamin D: Requirements for calcium and vitamin D are higher for older adults, specifically to help minimize any bone losses that are occurring. A good way to meet the recommendations are to include 3 servings of vitamin D-fortified low-fat dairy each day. Alternately, dairy alternatives like soy, almond or rice milk would work as well. Just make sure they are calcium and vitamin D-fortified. Other foods that are high in calcium include: fortified breakfast cereals, dark leafy green vegetables, and canned fish with soft bones. If you take a calcium supplement, make sure it also contains vitamin D.
  • Vitamin B12: A lot of adults over age 50 don’t get enough vitamin B12. This vitamin is mostly found in animal products, so lean meats and fish are good sources. Some foods have B12 added, like fortified breakfast cereals. Talk to your doctor or dietitian to see if you might benefit from a vitamin B12 supplement.
  • Fiber: Many older adults find it difficult to get adequate fiber to help with bowel regularity. Fiber is also great for reducing blood cholesterol and helping control blood sugars. Try to eat plenty of foods rich in fiber, like whole grains, beans, peas, nuts and seeds, and fruits and vegetables. If you are increasing your fiber content, make sure to drink plenty of fluids as well, as this can assist in reducing constipation.
  • Potassium: Getting adequate potassium is important, particularly in reducing blood pressure. Eating foods high in potassium, while at the same time reducing sodium intake, can help to lower blood pressure. In general, fruits and vegetables are good sources of potassium. For more information on potassium and a list of high-potassium foods, click here.
For more information about healthy aging and good nutritional practices for older adults, click this link to the ADA website. The website is a great source of sound nutritional advice. Hope you find it helpful.
Rachel Cope MPH, RD,CD