Vital Nutrients for Aging Well

Couple buying groceries
May 8th, 2024

Maintaining a healthy diet is a timeless mantra: load up on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains. But as we age, our bodies require special attention to certain nutrients either because they’re needed in greater quantities for optimal functioning or because older adults tend to fall short in these areas.

The good news is that bolstering your intake of these essential nutrients can often be as simple as tweaking your diet or incorporating targeted supplements (after consulting your physician, of course). Here’s a rundown of six key nutrients older adults should prioritize and how to integrate more of them into daily meals.

Six Key Nutrients to Prioritize


Typically, older adults exhibit a reduced appetite compared to their younger counterparts, leading to lower calorie intake and, consequently, diminished nutrient consumption. However, this isn’t the sole reason why seniors should pay attention to increasing their calcium intake.

With age, the intestines become less proficient at absorbing calcium, exacerbating the issue. Compounding matters, the kidneys struggle to retain this vital nutrient, resulting in more significant losses through urine. This poses a significant concern considering calcium’s crucial roles in the body. While renowned for its pivotal role in bone health, calcium also contributes to blood clotting, heart rhythm regulation, and nerve impulse transmission. Inadequate calcium availability prompts the body to leach it from bones, potentially resulting in porous and brittle bones, predisposing individuals to conditions like osteoporosis and osteomalacia. Fragile bones heighten the risk of fractures and falls, further complicating matters.

To safeguard bone health and maintain optimal calcium levels, aim for three servings of calcium-rich foods and beverages daily. Optimal choices include milk, dairy products, dark leafy greens, canned fish with edible bones, tofu, and fortified plant-based options like beverages, cereals, and fruit juices.

Additionally, consult your doctor regarding the necessity of calcium supplements to bolster your bone health regimen.

Vitamin D:

Vitamin D earns its nickname, “the sunshine vitamin,” because sunlight triggers its synthesis in the skin. However, aging poses a challenge as older adults often receive minimal sunlight exposure, compounded by the reduced efficiency of aging skin in producing vitamin D even with exposure. Consequently, ensuring adequate vitamin D levels becomes a pressing concern for seniors.

This nutrient plays a pivotal role in calcium absorption and is integral to bone growth and remodeling. Insufficient vitamin D levels can result in thin, brittle, or misshapen bones, potentially leading to osteomalacia in adults and increasing the risk of osteoporosis, especially when combined with inadequate calcium intake.

While only a handful of foods naturally contain vitamin D—such as fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel, as well as fish liver oils, beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, and certain mushrooms—fortified foods significantly contribute to vitamin D intake in American diets. Fortified options like milk, breakfast cereals, orange juice, and yogurt offer accessible sources of this nutrient. Prioritize fortified products by checking nutrition labels when making selections.

For those supplementing with calcium or multivitamins, ensure they include vitamin D, and discuss your vitamin D status with your healthcare provider for personalized guidance.

Learn more about the significance of vitamin D for senior health here


As an older adult, prioritizing fiber in your diet holds numerous benefits, starting with its ability to alleviate constipation—an increasingly common issue with age due to gastrointestinal changes and certain medications. Fiber adds bulk to stool and accelerates food movement through the digestive tract, serving as a natural remedy for constipation.

But the advantages of this super-nutrient don’t end there. Research from the American Diabetes Association indicates that half of Americans aged 65 or older have prediabetes, making fiber crucial in managing and preventing type 2 diabetes. By slowing down digestion, fiber aids in stabilizing blood sugar levels. Furthermore, ample fiber intake is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol levels, and weight management.

According to the latest Dietary Guidelines, individuals aged 51 and older should aim for 22 to 28 grams of fiber daily, varying by gender. Meeting this target is achievable as fiber is abundant in various foods. Excellent sources include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain bread, cereals, pasta, and legumes like beans and peas. Incorporating fiber-rich meals into your daily routine can be simple—try starting your day with oatmeal topped with berries, enjoy a vibrant salad with plenty of veggies and beans for lunch, and opt for whole-grain pasta paired with your favorite protein for dinner to meet your fiber goals effortlessly.

Vitamin B12:

Vitamin B12 deficiency is a prevalent concern among individuals over 50, given its pivotal roles in red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis.

Natural sources of vitamin B12 primarily include animal products such as fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy. However, plant-based eaters, including vegetarians and vegans, can access this nutrient through fortified breakfast cereals, nutritional yeast products, and supplements. It’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating new supplements into your diet.

It’s worth noting that B12 deficiency often stems from poor absorption rather than inadequate consumption. Collaborate with your doctor to pinpoint any absorption issues or deficiencies and devise an appropriate course of action.


Sodium and potassium are electrolytes with contrasting effects on blood pressure. Studies indicate that simultaneously reducing sodium intake and increasing potassium consumption may positively influence high blood pressure.

If your blood pressure exceeds 120/80 and you are in good health otherwise, consider enhancing your dietary potassium intake. This can be achieved by incorporating potassium-rich foods such as bananas, sweet and regular potatoes, apricots, raisins, dates, spinach, tomatoes, avocados, cantaloupe, oranges, peas, fat-free or low-fat milk and yogurt, halibut and tuna, and lima beans.

However, it’s essential to exercise caution: excessive potassium intake can be detrimental, especially for individuals with kidney disease. Therefore, it’s crucial to discuss your intentions to boost potassium intake with your healthcare provider to ensure it aligns with your overall health needs.

Healthy Fats:

For decades, the word “fats” carried negative connotations akin to a four-letter word. However, it’s important to recognize that not all fats are created equal, and there’s no need to fear them when making mindful choices.

Avoiding trans fats found in margarine, baked goods, doughnuts, certain microwave popcorn varieties, and some biscuits is advisable. Additionally, while more research is needed to fully understand the impact of saturated fats, it’s wise to limit their consumption.

Opt instead for beneficial fats such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, abundant in nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, and fish. Increasing intake of these healthy fats can contribute positively to your overall health and well-being.

Enhancing Your Health

By prioritizing these nutrients, older adults can better support their health and vitality, ensuring they enjoy a fulfilling and active lifestyle for years to come.

In addition to dietary adjustments, incorporating regular physical activity tailored to individual abilities and interests can further enhance overall well-being. Activities such as walking, swimming, yoga, or tai chi not only strengthen muscles and bones but also improve balance and flexibility, reducing the risk of falls and injuries. Remember to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new exercise regimen, especially if managing chronic health conditions.

Moreover, staying socially engaged and mentally active is crucial for maintaining cognitive function and emotional health in older age. Joining clubs, volunteering, pursuing hobbies, or engaging in lifelong learning opportunities are excellent ways to stay connected and stimulated.

Lastly, prioritize regular health check-ups and screenings to detect and manage any health issues early on. Partnering with healthcare professionals and staying proactive in managing one’s health is key to aging gracefully and maintaining a high quality of life.