What Nutrients Do Our Bodies Need More of as We Age?
Slower metabolism is one factor that contributes to various vitamin deficiencies as we get older.
Getting older is quite the emotional and physical roller coaster. Our metabolism slows down, our senses can change, and, if we aren’t careful, our bones can become brittle.
Julia Maher, an Allegheny Health Network dietitian, notes there are a number of nutrients we need more of as we age.
“We definitely need more protein, more vitamin B12, more vitamin D, more calcium — especially for women — and fiber. Of course, these needs are based on each person’s unique needs.”
Maher says slower metabolism can contribute to a decline in energy levels and appetite, particularly once we reach age 60 and beyond. Changes in our sense of smell and taste — which also can occur as we age — can also spark an aversion to certain foods.
“Depending on your age, you might skip meals or opt for something less nutrient dense or more processed, which is not good,” she says.
There are also some vitamins, like B12 and D, that we absorb less of as we age, Maher adds.
“Sometimes it’s caused by the medications we are taking. For instance, if you take proton pump inhibitors for GERD or acid reflux, those naturally lower your B12 absorption. Taking diuretics for high blood pressure can lead to dehydration,” she says.
She advises getting our nutrients and vitamins from foods instead of using supplements, unless we are truly deficient. Some vitamins may not be absorbed at all, and too many vitamins can lead to toxicity.
So, what do you need to do to make sure you are feeding your bodies with the best nutrients to keep everything working like a well-oiled machine?
“You should definitely have a source of protein with every meal,” she explains. “That can be your meats like chicken, turkey or lean pork or beef. It can also be cheese and crackers or peanut butter. I’m a huge fan of beans. They provide that one-two punch for both protein and fiber. They’re the original superfood and they’re relatively cheap.”
Remaining active is also key to staying healthy as we age.
“I’m not saying you have to sweat your butt off to remain active,” Maher stresses. “I encourage my patients to walk as often as they can, either outdoors or on a treadmill. Take the stairs. Park far away. It’s also nice to have a walking partner.”
Maher also encourages patients who are able to perform weight-bearing exercises like dancing and tennis to maintain muscle mass while supporting their bones.
“We tend to think of our bones as this rigid, unchanging part of ourselves. But, our bones are made up of tissues and cells that are regenerating to help replace old bones. As we get older, they lose that ability, which makes us more prone to fractures and falls,” she adds.
Women, for example, can lose up to 20% of their bone mass after menopause due to a drop in estrogen levels. One in 10 women over the age of 60 worldwide has the brittle-bone disease osteoporosis, according to the Endocrine Society.
When metabolism slows, you also may start gaining weight as you age. What if you have trouble shedding those pounds?
Maher notes lifestyle changes, like tweaks to your diet, are the first steps to take. There are also many modified exercises that can help you burn calories, with free tips on YouTube.
She says there are also underlying conditions or factors out of some patients’ control that prevent them from losing weight — like different medications. She recommends patients struggling with this to contact their doctors and consult with a weight-loss specialist.
Sometimes isolation can lead to poor eating habits. She recommends senior citizens who feel isolated to seek a senior activity center such as Vintage Senior Services on North Highland Avenue in East Liberty to remain active and to maintain a balanced diet.
“Nutrition is so individualized; it is based on genetics, hormones and lifestyle factors. I recommend discussing your overall health with your doctor and a registered dietitian to make sure you are meeting your own unique needs,” Maher says.