Getting adequate nutrition can be a challenge as you get older. With age, the number of calories you need begins to decline. Every calorie you consume must be packed with nutrition in order to hit the mark.
Even then, you may fall short. "As we get older, the body becomes less efficient at absorbing some key nutrients," says Katherine Tucker, RD, PhD, chair of the department of health sciences at Northeastern University in Boston. In addition, the ability to taste food declines, blunting appetite. Some foods become difficult to chew or digest.
Several key nutrients in particular may be in short supply as you get older. Here are the top vitamins and nutrients to look out for -- and how to get enough.
B12 is important for creating red blood cells and DNA, and for maintaining healthy nerve function. “Getting enough B12 is a challenge for older people because they can’t absorb it from food as well as younger people," says Tucker. "Even if your diet contains enough, you may be falling short."
How to hit the mark: Eat more foods rich in B12. The richest sources include fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products. Talk to your doctor about whether you should take a B12 supplement.
You may have heard of folate. Too little of this essential B vitamin is known for contributing to anemia and increasing the risk of a pregnant woman having a baby with a neural tube defect. Older people whose diets don’t include a lot of fruits and vegetables or fortified breakfast cereals may be falling short.
How to hit the mark: Now that breakfast cereals are fortified with folate, deficiencies are less common. "Still, if you don’t eat breakfast cereals or plenty of fruits and vegetables, it’s wise to ask your doctor if you should take a supplement that contains folate," says Kathleen Zelman, RD, director of nutrition for WebMD.
Calcium plays many roles in the body. But it is most important for building and maintaining strong bones. Unfortunately, surveys show that as we age, we consume less calcium in our diets. "Calcium is so essential that if you don’t get enough, your body will leach it out of your bones," says Zelman. Coming up short on calcium has been shown to increase the risk of brittle bones and fractures.