Seniors: Stay Healthy and Happy with Good Nutrition

Amy Long Carrera, MS, RD, CNSC, CWCMS
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
10/27/15  2:46 PM PST
Updated October 24, 2018

Americans over 65 will represent more than 19 percent of the population by 2030. And they’re expected to live another 18.8 years beyond age 65, on average. Keeping those years healthy, productive and enjoyable is critical. Read this article to gain some senior nutrition tips.

Older adults are particularly vulnerable to poor nutrition status. Aging is associated with reduced muscle mass, decreased thirst and appetite, taste changes and other factors that may contribute to malnutrition. Good nutrition can improve health and functional status.

Nutritional Needs

Seniors typically need fewer calories, largely in part because they are less active. This doesn’t always translate to less food, though. It’s important to maximize intake of nutrient-dense foods: those that contain higher amounts of protein, vitamins and fiber.


Muscle loss associated with aging can put seniors at risk for reduced function, illness and infection. Protein needs for this population may be higher than 1 gram per kilogram of body weight daily – more than the 0.8 gm/kg requirement for healthy younger adults. Aim for 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal from lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, nuts and seeds.



Most seniors don’t meet the recommended intake of 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories per day. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are good sources of fiber to aid in regularity, improved levels of blood cholesterol and glucose levels. They also provide important vitamins, minerals and plant compounds that help prevent chronic disease.


Vitamin D and Calcium

These nutrients play important roles in bone health and the prevention of diabetes, certain cancers and immune function. If you are over 70 years old, you need between 1,000 and 1,200 milligrams of calcium and at least 600 International Units of vitamin D per day. Since it may be difficult to meet estimated needs with food alone, talk to your doctor about taking calcium and vitamin D supplements. A simple blood test can determine if your vitamin D level is within normal ranges.


Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid

Vitamin B12 deficiency is fairly common in older adults and can affect cognition, mood and nerve function. Good sources include fortified cereals, fish, beef and dairy products. Deficiency in folate levels is not as common because grains and cereals are fortified with the folic acid. Ask your doctor if you need to take B12 or folic acid supplements in addition to a healthy diet.



Antioxidants inhibit cancer-causing free radicals. Eating foods high in vitamins A, C and E as well as beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene and selenium can prevent or delay vision problems related to age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. These nutrients may also help to prevent or delay cognitive decline and dementia. Enjoy brightly-colored fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices.



Decreased thirst sensation and fear of incontinence may contribute to dehydration in advanced age. Dehydration can lead to constipation, confusion, functional decline and increased risk of urinary tract infection. Aim for at least 8 8-ounce glasses of water daily unless your doctor advises you to drink more or less due to health conditions.




Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Food and Nutrition for Older Adults: Promoting Health and Wellness. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012;112:1255.

Dietary Guidelines For Americans 2015-2020

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