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Nutrition Tips for Older Adults: Wellness, Aging and Diet

Quick Answer

A healthy diet is important at any age, but older adults need to be especially careful about getting proper nutrition. In this article, we discuss the main recommendations from medical and governmental guidance.

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Detailed Answer

There’s a lot of nutrition and diet information available to us in books, articles, podcasts and more. Eat more vegetables! Cut carbs! Reduce your sugar! Try the carnivore diet! Try the Mediterranean diet! Try the {insert newest fad} diet! Drink our new supplement! Try these pills! And so on.

It’s all a bit exhausting, isn’t it? You’re just trying to stay reasonably healthy.

Fortunately, there’s nutritional and dietary information out there that isn’t motivated by selling you a book, or specific supplements, or otherwise biased toward something that will financially benefit the person spreading the information.

At LTC News, our mission is centered around providing comprehensive insights on aging, caregiving, health, lifestyle, long-term care, and retirement planning to enhance awareness and inform decisions. To that end, below you’ll find takeaways and recommendations for diet and nutrition as you age.

Nutrition for the older adults over 50 is one of the most important factors that contributes to quality of life and longevity in old age. Whether you’re preparing your own meals or helping a loved one with theirs, knowing what to prioritize is important.

As with any dietary advice, your specific situation (allergies, medical conditions, etc.) should be discussed with a physician. The sources we’ve drawn from are governmental and medical websites that exist for informational and educational purposes, but no dietary plan is right for every single person.

Getting the Proper Nutrients

Most sources will recommend a variety of nutrients for adults as early as 40+ years of age. These can be important at any age, but particularly so for older individuals, since the consequences of poor nutrition can be more dire.

Loss of muscle mass, inability to perform activities of daily living, and increased isolation can be the result of a poor diet. To that end, here are some recommendations and considerations:

Protein Intake for Adult Adults

Protein intake can be important for a variety of lifestyles, but as you age, you’ll naturally lose muscle mass. It can be difficult to maintain muscle mass without ample protein and lifestyle habits.

The USDA recommends seafood, dairy or fortified alternatives such as beans, peas, and lentils.

While these aren’t the only sources of usable protein, and other government sources also reference lean meats, those above are recommended because they are also sources of other nutrients important for older populations, such as calcium, B vitamins, and fiber. We’ll talk about some of these in more detail below.

Risks of Protein Deficiency

Chronic pain, difficulty maintaining an active lifestyle, and risk of injury can accompany a loss in muscle mass. The fact that it’s more difficult to maintain as you age can lead some to underestimate their protein needs. Make sure you or your loved ones are getting healthy sources of protein to avoid these complications.

Numerous specific health complications can arise as a result of lack of adequate protein. These include:

  • Sarcopenia - this involves a loss of muscle mass surrounding the skeleton. The resulting loss of strength can affect quality of life and also greatly increase the chance of injury.
  • Slower Healing - repairing bone and tissue after an injury takes bodily resources, including protein.
  • Immune Deficiency - we don’t normally think of protein as contributing to our immune system, but proteins are involved in the creation of antibodies that we need to fight off diseases.
  • Risk of Injury and Degradation of Vital Functions - Whether it’s related to bone density and strength, your body’s ability to keep its hair, skin and nails healthy and hardy, or general fatigue that can accompany protein deficiency, there are numerous risks of this type that can occur.

Calcium Requirements for the Older Adults

You have more calcium in your body than any other mineral!

Calcium deficiency can lead to pain and injury at any age. It’s vital in maintaining bone health, which includes internal bones and teeth.

Several food types are rich in calcium. These include:

  • Dairy products such as milk and cheese
  • Many green vegetables, primarily leafy greens
  • Canned sardines and salmon
  • Various calcium-enriched foods and drinks

It’s important to be careful that in taking care of your calcium, you’re not overeating in other areas. Some calcium-enriched foods or dairy can be high in sugar or saturated fats, which can be detrimental in large quantities.

Still, calcium intake is vitally important for your health and safety as you age. Ensuring that you’re getting enough of it should be a priority in your diet.

Risks of Calcium Deficiency

Much like protein intake that we discussed above, there are myriad health risks associated with calcium deficiency. Here are some of the most common:

  • Osteoporosis - Related precursor conditions such as osteopenia can also occur. Both are characterized by decreased bone density.
  • Tooth Decay and Gum Disease - Dental health is part of overall health, and the pains and long-term risks associated with oral health can affect one’s overall health as well.
  • Hypocalcemia - This is a lesser-known condition where you can experience spasms, cramps or similar sensations as a result of calcium deficiency. Calcium is involved in regulating several organs, including the brain, and function can be impaired without proper calcium intake.
  • Injury Risk - Whether it’s a diagnosed condition like osteoporosis or simply a weakening of the bones, the risk of fractures and breaks increases.
  • Height Loss - Spine integrity as you age relates to your height and can degrade with age and lack of calcium.
  • Erratic Sleeping - It’s not terribly well-known that calcium helps to regulate your sleep cycles by being a vital part of what your body produces to sleep soundly, but your sleep (and thus waking) habits can be affected if you’re not careful.

Vitamins & Other Nutrients

A complete roundup of vitamins and nutrients that are important would take a lot longer. Balanced, holistically healthy diets are important for a number of reasons.

A few key nutrients are mentioned by expert sources, though, as being worthy of special attention.

The body’s ability to absorb B12 decreases with age, for example, and certain medications can hinder this as well. Foods rich in B12 or B12 supplements are worth considering for anyone who may be in danger of a deficiency.

Such a deficiency can contribute to a number of health issues, including chronic fatigue, issues with memory loss, problems with one's digestive system, and an increased risk of various diseases.

Fiber, Vitamin D and Potassium are some of the others mentioned specifically for older adults. It’s not that these are the only nutrients important to a healthy diet, but that older adults struggle more frequently with these in getting healthy amounts as part of their diet.

A thorough assessment of your dietary habits, and a discussion with your doctor, can help to identify areas of concern or focus for you or your loved one.


You’ve probably heard about the advice to drink eight glasses of water per day. According to leading medical advice, this is a reasonable goal. However, leaving it there ignores a lot of context.

For starters, eight may be too much or too little depending on your level of exercise and activity.

Additionally, many people take the idea of eight glasses of water a bit too literally. Water can come from a lot of different sources. Fruits and vegetables have water in them, and drinks of various sorts will have water as their main ingredient. Even caffeinated drinks such as tea and coffee are often more hydrating than not, particularly for people who ingest them regularly.

While water itself is often a healthier option than other drinks, the point is that it doesn’t need to be your only source of hydration.

Drinking when you feel thirsty, before and after exercise (and during, as needed) and with meals is a good rule of thumb to make sure you’re staying properly hydrated.

Maintaining an Active Lifestyle

Yes, our focus here is on diet, but it’s hard to discuss wellbeing and health in one’s diet without also discussing your overall lifestyle.

We mentioned protein intake to maintain muscle mass earlier, for example. But without regular activity, this can still be a challenge.

Health benefits of regular activity are numerous, and include:

  • Reduced risk of chronic diseases
  • Better mental health
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Increased cognition

In short, it’s a key part of any healthy lifestyle and can’t be ignored when talking about dietary recommendations.

Activity also leads to an increase in appetite, because your body needs more fuel to function properly. So the two go hand-in-hand. Finding ways for you or your loved ones to stay active is important in making the most of your dietary choices.

Making Mealtime Fun and Simple

So what does this look like in practice? You have a big list of dietary priorities, but how do you make it work on a regular, habitual basis?

You find ways to streamline the process and to make meals that are fun to prepare and eat.

If time or cooking skill are issues, tools like instant pot cookers can help to make multiple meals in record time. Preparing meals in bulk on a weekend is already a common practice for many families, to avoid eating out too often. Adopting similar habits can help to eat healthier and avoid fast food or expensive takeout.

Cooking with a partner or friend, with music playing in the background (why not cook and dance?), or finding ways to incorporate activity (grilling outside when it’s sunny, etc.) can all mix things up to make the experience more enjoyable.

If you’re preparing meals for someone else, involving them in the process can also make them more invested in eating everything you prepare. A wonderful meal is wasted if it sits in the fridge.

Dietary Plans: Pitfalls to Avoid

Some of the recommendations here will hopefully be familiar to you. They include choosing foods low in added sugar, saturated fats, and sodium.

Alcohol is another area of concern for many. While drinking habits can be harmful at any age, alcohol can also be seen as “empty calories.” Stated differently, it’s calories without many beneficial nutrients. So alcohol can make you feel full, but before you’ve gotten enough nutritional value from other foods or drinks.

Some other pitfalls to avoid are more closely related to the lifestyle recommendations we mentioned above. They can include:

  • Don’t skip meals or wait a long time to eat when you feel hungry or thirsty.
  • If meal preparation is an issue, 
  • Don’t eat alone if isolation causes issues mentioned above such as skipping meals or failing to prepare them properly.
  • Find ways to exercise and stay active, since diet alone will not be enough to maintain muscle mass, cognitive and emotional health.

Food Safety

Preparation and storage of food is vital to keeping food safe. This can become more difficult for older adults as they slow down, eat less, and make fewer trips to get food.

Some items to keep in mind as you assess the food situation for yourself or a loved one:

  • Expiration Dates. If food is past its expiry date, it could be spoiled.
  • Cleaning Foods. This is especially important for any produce.
  • Separating Foods. Seafood, poultry eggs and raw meats are at the greatest risk of carrying disease when uncooked, so keep them separate from other foods.
  • Cooking Properly. Raw or undercooked foods can be dangerous.
  • Proper Storage. Keeping foods properly chilled or frozen can help them keep longer.

Getting sick from food is never fun, but the risks are increasingly dangerous as you age, up to and including being potentially fatal. Properly maintaining food is one of the easier ways to mitigate this risk.

Caregiving Services Near You

If you continue to struggle to have a healthy diet, it may be worth considering professional caregiving options.

Loved ones often provide unpaid caregiving services, but many family members can’t provide constant or daily assistance that some older Americans need. Research your caregiving options on the LTC News Care Directory.

Diet & Wellness: a Tandem Endeavor

Healthy eating is a lifelong endeavor, but if you haven’t formed healthy habits already, or someone you’re caring for hasn’t, a poor diet can become an increasingly scary health risk in old age.

Knowing what to look for in a healthy diet, and forming a plan to keep eating healthy is essential to not just a long life but to enjoy your golden years more fully, with more energy and joy as a result of your diet and activity.

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