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Diet and Nutrition

Nutrition for over 60 year olds

04/15/1998

Question:

What nutritional advice would you give an older adult?

Answer:

In general, the dietary recommendations for older adults are quite similar to those recommended for the younger population. I would encourage you to visit the website below describing the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Certain nutrition factors do take on increased significance with advancing age. I'll detail a few of them for you:

1. Eat your fruits and veggies. Fruits and vegetables are important sources of many nutrients. While most people know about the major vitamins, there are many other nutrients found in fruits and veggies which can't be replaced by merely taking a multivitamin supplement. Not only do these foods contain important nutrients, but Mother Nature packages them in ways that allow nutrients to work together effectively. Get at least five servings a day.

2. Keep saturated fats in the diet to a minimum. Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the U.S. Saturated fats, found in abundance in fats derived from animal products (cream, whole milk, butter, lard, bacon, etc.) increase blood cholesterol. Thus saturated fats can contribute significantly to one's risk of heart attack and stroke.

3. Increase your intake of monosaturated fats. Oils rich in monosaturated fats (olive, canola and sunflower oils) appear to improve blood cholesterol. The ideal quantity of monosaturated fats in the diet is currently under extensive study. Until specific guidelines come out, I would recommend minimizing your use of fats in the diet, but when you need to use an oil, choose one rich in monosaturated fats.

4. Make sure you get enough calcium. Osteoporosis is a serious disease in older adults. White females in the U.S. are at the greatest risk for breaking hips and having other osteoporosis related injuries. Males and non-white females have a lower, but still significant risk of osteoporosis. A diet rich in calcium helps slow the rate at which osteoporosis develops. The recommended daily dose for older adults is 1200 mg/day. Calcium can be found not only in dairy products such as milk or yogurt, but can increasingly be found in orange juice, sparkling water, tofu and a variety of foods and beverages. Three to four servings a day will provide the needed calcium. If you don't get enough calcium in your diet, I strongly encourage you to take a supplement - either a vitamin (consider one with added Magnesium and Vitamin D) or a calcium carbonate containing antacid (i.e. TUMS)

5. Consider a glass of wine. It looks as though Americans who relax with a glass of wine with dinner have an small advantage when it comes to heart disease. Several recent studies have yielded conflicting results about whether the benefit comes with any alcoholic beverage or with red wines. Too much alcohol is definitely dangerous. At most, I recommend a single alcoholic beverage daily for women: two beverages should be the maximum for men.

6. Take a Vitamin E supplement (200-400 IU). Several studies suggest that Vitamin E plays an important role as an antioxidant in protecting the body from injury. Vitamin E may help decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, improve immune functioning and help slow the aging process. The jury is still out on the benefit of taking large doses of other antioxidants such as Vitamin C and beta-carotene. At high doses, these other antioxidants may actually cause, rather than protect against injury.

7. Get plenty of Vitamin B-12. Many older adults can't absorb Vitamin B-12 efficiently. This disorder, called pernicious anemia, is caused by a deficit of a protein required for the uptake of Vitamin B-12 in the intestines. Fortunately, many people can actually absorb a small amount of Vitamin B-12 if they take large enough doses. Unfortunately, it's not clear what that dose should be. A regular multivitamin probably isn't enough. Look for a B-complex enriched multivitamin with at least 25 micrograms of Vitamin B-12.

7. While you're at it, get some Vitamin B-6 and folic acid, too. Scientists have recently been studying yet another risk factor for cardiovascular disease, homocysteine. When the body is deficient in Vitamin B-6 or folic acid, levels of homocysteine build up and can accelerate atherosclerosis (the development of blockages in arteries). Again a B-complex multivitamin containing 1 mg of folic acid and Vitamin B-6 may be protective. Studies have not yet been completed that confirm that this type of supplementation decreases the risk of heart disease, but modest supplementation with B-complex is relatively safe and may soon be proven to be very beneficial.

Related Resources:

U.S. Dietary Guidelines

For more information:

Go to the Diet and Nutrition health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Jill Foster, MD
Formerly, Assistant Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati