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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Myths & Facts About Food and Nutrition After 60

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Never before has so much good nutritional advice been available from so many sources -- from nutrition facts panels on food labels to books by highly respected experts.

But there’s plenty of misinformation out there, too. For seniors looking for reliable information about healthy aging and nutrition, separating facts from fiction can be tricky. Most standard dietary advice is geared to middle-aged Americans, not seniors. Only recently have researchers looked closely at the specific nutritional needs in older adults. Their findings have toppled more than a few myths about nutrition and aging.

Recommended Related to Healthy Seniors

Nutrition Challenges When You're Older or Sick

Like many things in life as we get older, eating can be a challenge. The sense of taste, like the other senses, diminishes as we age. Appetite and taste can also be affected by medications. In addition, dental problems can make it difficult or painful to chew food. Loss of appetite can make it difficult to get adequate nutrition, especially when you’re sick or not feeling well. What can you do to be sure you’re getting the nutrients you need? “No single strategy works for everyone,” says Kathleen...

Read the Nutrition Challenges When You're Older or Sick article > >

Myth: Once you reach your 60s, metabolism slows down and you need fewer nutrients.

Fact: While it’s true that older people typically require fewer calories than young adults, they actually need more of certain nutrients. The reason: As we age, our bodies are less efficient at making or absorbing some vitamins and minerals. The skin’s ability to generate vitamin D from sunlight declines. The body’s ability to absorb B12 also decreases.

“With age, the requirements for calcium, vitamin D, and B12 may all increase,” says Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, senior scientist and director of the cardiovascular nutrition laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.

Because seniors typically need fewer calories yet more of some key nutrients, they must take special care to eat nutrient-rich foods.

Myth: Older adults don’t need to worry about becoming overweight or obese.

Fact: Excess weight is a growing problem even among older Americans, says Lichtenstein. The culprit for people of all ages is simple: Consuming more calories than needed. Those extra calories are then stored as body fat. Excess body fat increases the risks of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Myth: If you don’t have a weight problem, you can eat whatever you like.

Fact: “Being overweight certainly increases the risk of chronic illnesses,” says Nancy Wellman, RD, past president of the American Dietetic Association. “But even if you’re slim, a poor diet can raise your risks of developing any of these chronic diseases.” Diets overloaded with saturated fat are linked to cardiovascular problems, for example. The bottom line: Following healthy nutrition advice is important whether you’re thin or fat.

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