How Nutritional Needs Change As You Age
As you age, changes occur in your body that can affect your nutritional needs. The aging process affects the body’s absorption of many nutrients. For example, you’re less able to absorb nutrients such as calcium. This change occurs because as you age your stomach secretes less hydrochloric acid, which may reduce the amount of calcium absorbed. Your body also excretes, or eliminates, more nutrients. For example, hormonal changes may result in more calcium being excreted through the kidneys. So with these examples in mind, you need to take in more nutrients to absorb the same amount, or you may become deficient in that vitamin or mineral.
As you age, focus on increasing the levels of the following nutrients:
- Calcium: Hormonal changes may decrease calcium absorption as it increases loss of calcium through the kidneys. In addition, you may become lactose intolerant (lose some of your ability to digest lactose, the sugar in milk). Because of this condition, some people decrease their intake of dairy products, which are good sources of calcium. But you still need to get the calcium from somewhere. Most people don’t eat enough dairy products or veggies to get adequate calcium from their diet and should consider supplementation. The amount of calcium can vary with age or medical conditions, but in general adults should have about 1,000 mg a day, and if you’re over the age of 50 increase the dose to 1,200 mg daily.
- Iron: Iron is necessary to carry oxygen to your cells, but it’s difficult to get all you need because most foods contain only a little iron. The best source of iron is in red meat, but you can also get iron from poultry, fish, whole grain or enriched breads and cereals, dry beans, and some fruits and vegetables. Women over age 50 should get 50 mg of iron a day where as men only need 10 mg.
- Vitamin C helps you absorb more iron from foods, so be sure you include foods with vitamin C (such as citrus fruits, greens, and tomatoes) in the same meal as foods with iron.
- Taking too many iron supplements can be lethal. Talk to your doctor before taking iron supplements. A less common, but very serious problem, more often found in men, is caused by excessive absorption and storage of iron. This condition is known as haemochromatosis. Over time, iron builds up in body tissues and because the normal body can’t increase iron excretion, the absorbed iron accumulates in the body. This excess iron can damage organs like the liver and heart, and may contribute to heart disease.