As the human body ages, there’s a whole onslaught of health stuff going on inside! While many people believe that this is the perfect time to let loose on your diet, it’s actually one of the most important periods in your life to take diet seriously and adjust for optimal healthy aging.
For instance, per the National Council for Aging Care and the World Health Organization, “a majority of the diseases that older people suffer are as a result of lack of proper diet.”
In order to manage the changes in your body, it’s important to regulate your diet. This includes adding the appropriate nutrients to support age-related bodily changes, while also making sure to avoid some of the more dangerous foods for older adults.
Aging 101: What’s Going On
Yes, we’re all going to grow older. It’s going to happen to all of us at one point or another. But, what does that exactly mean? Well, there are a few bodily changes to keep an eye out for.
First and foremost, be prepared for decreased sensitivity. Basically, as the human body ages, the “senses become numbed down [and] it takes more energy and time to trigger a stimulus.” This includes your “sense of smell and taste,” which may also decrease your appetite. An aging body is also more susceptible to poor dental health, — such as “missing teeth, receding gums that cause your teeth to be shaky, mouth sores, and jaw pain” — memory loss, — such as “dementia and Alzheimer’s disease — physical difficulties, — such as weaker muscles and bones, which increase the risk of arthritis and disability, and even macular degeneration — in which your eyesight grows weaker.
All of these changes can lead to one of the most pervasive issues of old age, depression. Luckily, your nutrition can play a leading role in helping you to either prevent or manage the symptoms of old age!
In order to stay as healthy as possible as we grow older and increase the quality of our lives, it’s important to make sure we consume the proper nutrients. Getting the right nutrients in the appropriate amounts will help keep us out of the hospital, keep our organs and systems functioning, and will allow our bodies to continue doing most of the things we love as we age! Here are ten of the most crucial nutrients to make sure you’re getting in your diet.
1. Omega Fatty Acids
Omega fatty acids are integral parts of our diet, yet they happen to be temperamental nutrients. Too little or too much can “contribute to a number of chronic diseases.” So, it’s important to hit that goldilocks perfection!
There are three main types of omega fatty acids: omega-3 fatty acids, — polyunsaturated fatty acids including Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which the human body can’t make and has to source from diet — omega-6 fatty acids, — also polyunsaturated fatty acids sourced from diet alone, yet with a slightly different chemical design — and the less commonly known omega-9 fatty acids — these are “non-essential” monounsaturated fatty acids, meaning the body can produce these and they happen to be “the most abundant fats in most cells in the body.”
Omega fatty acids have been connected with improved heart health, better mental health, promotion of bone health, decrease risk of dementia, and are known inflammation fighters. On top of that, omega fatty acids have been “found to slow down the progression of Macular Degeneration (AMD) — a condition that leads to poor vision,” as well as a reduced “risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”
When it comes to the omega-3 fatty acids, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends a “minimum of 250–500 mg combined EPA and DHA each day for healthy adults,” while the recommended dietary allowance for “alpha-linolenic acid is 1.6 grams per day for men and 1.1 grams per day for women.” Omega-6 fatty acids are recommended based upon a ratio to omega-3 fatty acids. For instance, the recommended “ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is 4:1 or less.”
Foods high in the omegas include oils, — particularly olive oil, avocado oil, and nut oils — nuts, — particularly almonds, cashew, and walnuts — seeds, — particularly sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, and chia seeds, and soybeans.
Calcium “is a nutrient that builds strong bones,” “keeps the nerves and muscles working,” and it also “plays a role in keeping the heart healthy.” When it comes to bone strength, it turns out that the amount of calcium we get as kids and teens protects us “against bone loss later in life.” Therefore, it’s super important to make sure your child is getting the proper amount of calcium throughout their adolescent life. Plus, a calcium deficiency — in conjunction with a vitamin D deficiency — can lead to a disease called rickets, which “softens the bones and causes bow legs, stunted growth, and sometimes sore or weak muscles.”
One of the most common aging conditions is osteoporosis — a “bone disease that occurs when the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone, or both.” Oftentimes, this can be caused by not enough calcium consumption throughout life, beginning in adolescence. If the body is not receiving enough calcium from your diet, it steals it from your bones, making them weak and prone to fragility, fractures, and breaks.
The World Health Organization recommends that people aged above the age of 50 consume 1200 mg of calcium daily. This translates to 4 cups of fortified orange juice, milk, soy, or almond milk.
When it comes to calcium, you may think your best bet is dairy, yet there are many other dairy-free, plant-based options to source that much needed nutrient! Some of the best sources include leafy greens, nuts and seeds, — such as almonds, chia seeds, and sesame seeds — legumes, — such as white and navy beans — grains, — such as millet and amaranth — fruits, — such as oranges, dried figs, and baobab fruit — and veggies — such as broccoli and bok choy. A few other awesome calcium sources include spirulina, tofu, soy yogurt, blackstrap molasses, and tahini, but these may be a bit harder to sneak into your kids daily menu!
Iron is a “mineral found in plants and animals and all living things” and it happens to be an “important component of hemoglobin, the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body,” by carrying “oxygen in the blood, so oxygen gets to where it needs to go.” When someone suffers from an iron deficiency, it means “the body can’t make hemoglobin and makes fewer red blood cells,” which means that the “tissues and organs won’t get the oxygen they need.”
Anemia — referring to an iron deficiency — is quite common in elderly adults and is oftentimes caused by chronic disease, vitamin B12 deficiency, folate deficiency, or simply not getting enough iron from diet. It generally presents with “fatigue, weakness, and dyspnea,” as well as pallor of the skin.
Make sure to diversify your sources of iron! A few great sources include seeds, — hemp, pumpkin, and chia — nuts, — cashews, almonds, peanuts (and peanut butter!) — leafy greens, legumes, oats, some fruit, — prunes, raisins, and figs — a few grains, — quinoa and teff — and cacao beans, plus 100 percent raw cacao.
4. Dietary Fiber
While fiber is a type of carbohydrate, it’s harder for the body to break down meaning it bulks up our stool and ferments within the digestive system, feeding our bodies and creating rhythmic digestion. There are two types of fiber — soluble and insoluble — and we need both! High fiber consumption has also been linked to lower cholesterol and the prevention of heart disease and diabetes.
As the human body ages, the “digestive system slows down,” plus “walls of the gastrointestinal tract thicken and the contractions are slower and fewer which may lead to constipation.” Fiber-rich foods will help “promote proper digestion by moving food through the digestive tract” providing a wonderful, natural, and healthy way to avoid age-related constipation.
When it comes to sourcing fiber from your diet, you’ve got lots of options! Yet, some of the most fiber-rich plant-based sources include lots of fruits — the highest being pears, strawberries, avocado, apples, raspberries, and bananas — certain veggies — the highest being carrots, beets, broccoli, artichoke, sweet potatoes, and Brussels sprouts, — legumes, — the highest being lentils, kidney beans, split peas, and chickpeas — grains, — the best sources are oats and quinoa — and nuts and seeds — the highest being almonds and chia seeds. Plus, don’t forget dark chocolate! A great kid-friendly fiber source.
5. Vitamin D
Commonly known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is an essential nutrient that is “need for [overall] health and to maintain strong bones.” When it comes to aging adults and the elderly, it’s all about keeping those bones strong! Vitamin D also helps nerves to carry “messages between the brain and every body part” and is an integral part of our immune system’s ability to “fight off invading bacteria and viruses.”
Vitamin D is an important part of the calcium absorption process and a deficiency can lead to a condition called osteomalacia characterized by “soft, thin, and brittle bones.” When it comes to aging, specifically, a combination of calcium and proper vitamin D intake helps “protect older adults from osteoporosis.” A deficiency in older adults and the elderly can contribute to “muscle weakness, hip fractures, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and poor general health.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — per the Food and Nutrition Board (a national group of experts) — recommends that adults up to 70 years of age consume around 600 international units of vitamin D, while adults over the age of 70 consume around 800 international units.
While vitamin D is difficult to source directly from plant-based foods, there are a few to try out! First off, mushrooms are pretty much the only natural source of vitamin D, besides sunshine that is. You’re not totally out of luck if you want to avoid a supplement though. You can also source vitamin D from fortified foods such as “soy milk, almond milk, and oat milk,” as well as some breakfast cereals (watch out for excess sugar in these).
6. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is not only one of the more difficult nutrients to source from a solely plant-based diet, but it’s also one of the important vitamins to increase as you age.
Vitamin B12 is a “nutrient that helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells,” and also helps prevent “a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia that makes people tired and weak.” The absorption process of vitamin B12 is two-step: first, your stomach separates the vitamin from the food-based protein using hydrochloric acid, and, second, the vitamin then combines with a “protein made by the stomach called the intrinsic factor.”
When it comes to seniors, this complicated process of absorbing vitamin B12 into the body becomes more laborious and therefore older adults oftentimes suffer a deficiency of this vital nutrient. It’s been found that “up to 62 [percent] of adults over the age of 65 have less than optimal blood levels of this nutrient.”
Currently, there are no recommended daily quantities of vitamin B12 specifically for seniors. With that said, adults over the age of 18 years of age are recommended to consume at least 2.4 mcg daily. Of course, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider if you believe you may have a deficiency. A study of over 100 older adults found that supplementing “500 mcg of vitamin B12 [was] found to normalize B12 levels in 90 [percent] of participants.”
Much like vitamin D, vitamin B12 is mostly found in animal-based products and is somewhat difficult to source solely from plant-based foods. Of course, there are lovely workarounds for us plant-based eaters! For instance, most alternative milk, breakfast cereals, and juices have been fortified with vitamin B12. It’s also a good idea to include nutritional yeast in your pantry, as this is another great source of vitamin B12! Speak with your doctor about including a vitamin B12 supplement into your diet as well.
Potassium is one of those essential minerals that your body just can’t produce on its own. Potassium is not just a mineral, but it’s also an electrolyte, which “conduct electrical impulses throughout the body.” On top of that, this diverse nutrient is also vital for a “range of essential bodily functions” including blood pressure, normal water balance, muscle contractions, nerve impulses, digestion, heart rhythm, and your body’s pH balance.
Older adults, unfortunately, have been found to not get enough potassium in their diet. A survey specifically found that “many older Americans do not take the recommended 4700 mg of potassium daily,” which can cause issues with blood pressure, kidney stones, and can even affect the strength of your bones. A potassium deficiency may also cause extreme fatigue, muscle spasms, weakness, irregular heartbeat, and nausea.
Due to a lack of nutritional information and studies, there are no government-mandated recommended daily intake guidelines for potassium intake. With that said, organizations — such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the UK, Spain, Mexico, and Belgium — “have recommended consuming at least 3,500 mg per day through food.” On the other hand, countries such as the “US, Canada, South Korea, and Bulgaria, recommend consuming at least 4,700 mg per day.”
Luckily, potassium is found in many plant-based foods. Some of the best sources include fruits, — specifically, avocado, “apricots, bananas, kiwi, oranges, and pineapples” — vegetables, — specifically, beet greens, yams, “leafy greens, carrots, and potatoes” — whole grains, beans, — specifically, edamame and soybeans — and nuts.
You’ve probably heard about magnesium as a great way to naturally calm anxiety and reduce bodily stress, yet this mineral does far more for the body! Magnesium is an important nutrient “for many processes in the body, including regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure and making protein, bone, and DNA.” In fact, magnesium “plays a crucial role in 300 physiological functions.”
Much like vitamin B12 and potassium, as the body ages, it becomes more laborious and harder to absorb those vital nutrients that keep our bodies healthy. This follows suit with magnesium.
Per the National Institutes of Health, the average daily recommended amount of magnesium changes depending on gender. Women over the age of eighteen are recommended to consume at least 310 to 320 milligrams of magnesium daily. Men over the age of eighteen are recommended to consume at least 400 to 420 milligrams of magnesium daily. With that said, for those that fear a deficiency, it’s recommended to speak with your healthcare provider for recommended increased dosage advice.
Magnesium is one of those minerals that’s super easy to find in plant-based foods! Some of the best sources include all leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Specifically, bananas, coffee, and cacao, all contain higher levels of magnesium.
9. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is one of those highly recommended vitamins to help you avoid getting sick. That’s because this nutrient — also called ascorbic acid — is great for boosting your immune system. Of course, vitamin C does so much more than just that. This water-soluble nutrient “acts an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals,” is necessary “to make collagen, a protein required to help wounds heal,” and boosts the “absorption of iron from plant-based foods.” But that’s not all! Vitamin C also “helps form and repair red blood cells, bones, and tissues.”
As humans age, the “need for vitamin C only increases as they become more susceptible to illness and disease.” On top of that, vitamin C has been linked to preventing “macular degeneration, heart disease, osteoporosis, [and] cancer.”
The recommended daily dose of vitamin C for seniors depends on gender. For senior women, it’s recommended to consume 75 milligrams on a daily basis. For senior men, it’s recommended to consume 90 milligrams per day. Vitamin C is resplendent in the plant-based world including all leafy greens, veggies, and fruits, as well as chestnuts, sauerkraut, kimchi, apple cider vinegar, cacao beans, and superfood berries — such as mulberries, goldenberries, goji berries, and camu camu.
Alright, it’s not necessarily a nutrient, but water is essential for a healthy body. Along with preventing dehydration — which comes with its own slew of issues — your “body uses water in all its cells, organs, and tissues to help regulate its temperature and maintain other bodily functions.” With that said, we’re constantly losing water via “breathing, sweating, and digestion,” therefore it’s incredibly important to keep up that water intake.
According to Tufts University, drinking at least “eight glasses of water daily” is incredibly important to senior health. As the human body ages, the “ability to conserve water decreases, so you don’t feel thirsty as often,” with that said you still need just as much water intake.
If you just simply can’t get into drinking plain old water all day, mix it up with some hydrating beverages such as this Cran-Pomegranate Kombucha Mocktail, this Spicy Carrot Clementine Juice, this Good Morning Beet Juice, or this Raw Turmeric Ginger Smoothie.
While it’s incredibly important to make sure you’re getting the right amounts of necessary nutrients, it’s also important to be aware of those nutrients that you may not really need anymore.
For instance, many older adults suffer from some sort of gastritis, which causes lower stomach acid. This condition can be aggravated by certain high acidic, high fat, and high citrus foods. Another issue to contend with is that as you age you don’t need as many calories, which means older adults need to adjust their diets for lower caloric intake. On top of that, as the immune system is oftentimes a bit weaker in older age, it’s important to avoid foods that may cause infections, poisoning, or sickness.
Seniors and the elderly should avoid products such as raw foods that may cause food poisoning, — such as raw eggs, unpasteurized products, and sushi — and foods that can cause infection, — such as sprouts and deli meats. It’s also recommended that seniors steer clear of grapefruit, as this citrusy fruit “can intensify the effects of a few drugs and possibly make them dangerous.”
Lastly, it’s important for aging adults to avoid consuming high amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates! As our bodies age, it becomes more difficult to regulate weight, blood pressure, and heart health and these ingredients are known aggravators of all these health issues.
Now you know what you need on a daily basis, but what’s the best more creative, and delicious way to get these nutrients into your daily regimen? Luckily, there are a ton of recipes that not only meet but also exceed the minimal nutritional goals for aging. Here are a few recipes to get you on your way and inspire you!
1. Superfood Quinoa Stuffed Mushrooms
This Superfood Quinoa Stuffed Mushrooms recipe by Florian Nouh is the perfect simple, yet delicious dish to make for dinner! It’s rich in vitamin D from those mushrooms, and magnesium, potassium, and calcium from superfood quinoa. On top of that, you’ll get a delicious mixture of pomegranate seeds, tahini, and maca root, all of which are filled with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
2. Smoky Sweet Potato Soup
Sweet potato is not only a superfood for pregnant moms, but it’s also a wonderful superfood for aging adults! This Smoky Sweet Potato Soup recipe by Jackie Sobon not only provides an abstract source of liquid — to help avoid age-related dehydration — but it’s also rich in vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, and offers a small dose of dietary fiber.
3. Pistachio Cake
While spinach is a great leafy green for all ages, it’s especially necessary for aging adults. Along with a slew of vitamins and minerals, this leafy green is a source of dietary fiber, vitamins A and C, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. This Pistachio Cake recipe by Gabrielle St. Claire is a super creative way to get spinach into our diet! Next to spinach, you’ll also get a dose of omega fatty acids from those pistachios!
4. Fig and Walnut No-Knead Bread
Walnut is one of the best sources of those hugely necessary omega fatty acids! This Fig and Walnut No-Knead Bread by Taavi Moore combines omega fatty acid-rich walnuts with fiber-rich figs, applesauce, and flaxseed making this a perfect, yummy way to start your day and wake up your digestive system.
5. Coconut Cucumber Smoothie
Coconut water is an excellent way to boost hydration without succumbing to the monotony of plain old water! This Coconut Cucumber Smoothie recipe by Kerry Harling combines hydrating coconut water with vitamin C-rich lime juice and omega fatty acid-rich almond butter!
Learn How to Cook Plant-Based Meals at Home!
Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammation, heart health, mental wellbeing, fitness goals, nutritional needs, allergies, gut health, and more! Dairy consumption also has been linked to many health problems, including acne, hormonal imbalance, cancer, prostate cancer and has many side effects.
For those of you interested in eating more plant-based, we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest plant-based recipe resource to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy! And, while you are at it, we encourage you to also learn about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet.
Here are some great resources to get you started:
For more Animal, Earth, Life, Vegan Food, Health, and Recipe content published daily, subscribe to the One Green Planet Newsletter! Lastly, being publicly-funded gives us a greater chance to continue providing you with high-quality content. Please consider supporting us by donating!