Aging without Dairy in Your Diet
As you age, your dairy-free diet will need to meet changing requirements. For example, your metabolism declines over time. You need fewer calories to maintain the same body weight when you’re 70 as compared to when you were 30.
Some evidence shows that aging may diminish your body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients. This diminished nutrient absorption happens because of changes in your physiology (the way your body functions, including the cells, tissues, and organs in your body) that make absorption less efficient. Vitamin B12, calcium and vitamin D are necessary for good health as you age.
Vitamin B12 is a nutrient you need for the proper functioning of enzymes that help to regulate the metabolism of amino acids and fatty acids. Recommended dietary intakes of vitamin B12 are small — only 2.4 micrograms per day — but you need to pay special attention to this nutrient as you age.
As you get older, your body may produce less stomach acid, and stomach acids help the body absorb vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products, such as meats, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, and other dairy products. So when you go dairy-free, you remove a common source of vitamin B12 from your diet.
Older adults are encouraged to eat foods that are fortified with vitamin B12, such as many cold cereals, or to regularly take a vitamin B12 supplement. This advice is especially important for vegetarians, vegans, or those who are limiting their intake of animal products, including dairy products.
Calcium and vitamin D
Recommended intakes of calcium and vitamin D increase with age. If you don’t drink cow’s milk, which is concentrated in calcium and fortified with vitamin D, you must make sure you’re getting enough of those nutrients from other sources — especially women, who are susceptible to osteoporosis, a calcium-deficiency disorder that can cause brittle, easily broken bones.
Because you need less food as you get older, and because your need for certain nutrients increases, it’s as important as ever to eat well when you’re making the transition to a dairy-free diet. The best way to do that is to focus on eating whole foods — those that are as close to their natural state as possible — to ensure that you’re getting your required amounts of vitamins and minerals.
When starting your dairy-free diet, you want to strive to get what you need from food, not supplements. Food is the most foolproof source of essential nutrients, including those that haven’t yet been identified by science and those that aren’t packaged in a pill or tablet. Save supplements for times when you want a stop-gap measure or extra insurance if you think you may not be eating right. Just keep in mind that supplements don’t replace an overall healthful diet.