How Nutrition Needs Change with Age

From birth to adulthood, nutrition needs continuously change to support growing bodies, brains and overall development. In mid- to late adulthood, changes such as softening bones and declining muscle mass warrant special attention to certain nutrients.

These nutrients play a role in the aging process:

Protein. After age 30, adults lose about 3% to 8% of their muscle mass each decade until age 60, when the rate of decline is even higher. Getting enough protein, about 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight, helps maintain muscle mass. Protein alone isn’t responsible for building muscle, so it’s important to pack in various types of physical activity, such as stretching, strength training and cardio. Excellent protein sources include lean meat, fish, beans and tofu.

Calcium and vitamin D. Bones tend to soften, lose mass and become brittle over time. Women’s calcium needs increase around age 50, or after menopause. Men older than 70 and postmenopausal women should aim to consume 1,200 mg of calcium daily along with vitamin D to help absorb the calcium. Here are some calcium-rich foods:

  • Dairy products, like milk, cheese and yogurt
  • Calcium-fortified plant-based milk, juice and breakfast cereals
  • Tofu and edamame
  • Dark leafy greens like spinach or kale
  • Broccoli
  • Beans
  • Chia seeds and almonds

Vitamin D can be absorbed through sunlight, is found in fatty fish and is enriched in many dairy and dairy alternative products.

Fiber. The digestive system moves food through our gut via a series of muscle contractions. As we age, this process slows. Making sure you get enough fiber helps move things along. For those older than 50, this means at least 30 grams per day for men and 21 grams for women. Great sources of fiber include whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables — especially berries and avocados.

Antioxidants. The risk for developing a chronic illness — like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and many cancers — increases with age. Consuming a diet rich in antioxidants has been shown to reduce the risk of the development of these conditions and has shown promise in preventing age-related changes. Fruits and vegetables, especially colorful produce such as berries, are great sources of antioxidants.

Omega3. Omega-3 fatty acids can help protect brain health, eye health and diminish risk factors for heart disease. Omega-3 acts as a building block in the brain, plays a structural role in the retina and can help reduce triglycerides. Fatty fish, walnuts and flax seeds are great ways to pack in this key nutrient.

Fluid needs. As we age, detecting thirst becomes more difficult. Because those physical reminders may not be as strong, keeping a water bottle filled and close throughout the day is a good way to keep up the fluid intake. Drinking water promotes hydration and helps bowel function.

By ensuring adequate consumption of necessary nutrients, older adults can prevent age-related malnutrition and maintain a healthy, functioning body. It’s important to consult with a doctor or health care professional regarding any significant diet changes and before incorporating dietary supplements as part of a regular regimen.

Shanthi Appelö is a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more health tips, visit

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