When you think about all of the different processes that occur in our bodies on an average day, it is quite fascinating. In order for us to function optimally and allow our bodies to perform day-to-day activities, we need to consume the appropriate amount of nutrients. As we age, it is fundamental for our health and vitality to make sure we are getting the important nutrients our bodies need to live a long, healthy, vibrant life. Below you will find what I believe to be five very important nutrients for older adults.
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D has the reputation to be one of the most deficient vitamins within one’s diet. Since it is known as “the sunshine vitamin,” it is especially important for those living in climates with reduced sunlight to get enough vitamin D. Consuming adequate amounts of vitamin D is important for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, maintaining healthy bones, and reducing the risk of cancer and other diseases.
Foods that contain higher amounts of vitamin D include salmon, mushrooms, fortified cereal, tofu, dairy products, and eggs. Supplementation of vitamin D is recommended for those not receiving regular sun exposure. Generally 5,000 IU per day will increase levels within the optimal range of 50-80 ng/mL. Check with your doctor or health provider and get your vitamin D tested to see where your levels are and ask for their recommendation in regards to vitamin D supplementation.
Omega-3 is an important nutrient due to its many health benefits – specifically, its ability to reduce inflammation, increase cognitive function, and enhance eye health. There are different types of omega-3, EPA and DHA, primarily found in certain fish, and ALA, found in plant sources such as nuts and seeds. Flax seed is a plant-based source of omega-3s that provides great benefit for those not consuming animal products, just be sure to grind the seeds or purchase the flax pre-ground to increase your body’s ability to absorb the nutrients.
For those of you who do not consume fish high in omega-3 on a regular basis, such as wild Alaskan salmon; supplementing with omega-3 fish oil is recommended for optimal health and aging. The source of fish oil is important to address – choosing a supplement that is free of mercury and is obtained from fresh ocean waters will provide increased health benefits.
Calcium is found in many different foods, with the most commonly heard dietary source being dairy products. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and plays an important role in muscular function, bone health, and regulating heart rhythm.
From childhood to adulthood, it is crucial to consume enough calcium to reduce the loss of bone density and prevent osteoporosis. Calcium is found in dark leafy greens, cheeses, milk, yogurt, broccoli, almonds, and canned fish. The recommended amount of calcium per day is estimated to be around 1,000-1,200 milligrams for adults.
Magnesium helps with blood glucose regulation, energy, and detoxification. Foods rich in magnesium include avocado, leafy greens, black beans, and pumpkin seeds. Those who experience muscle aches and pains should increase their magnesium due to its ability to help with nerve and muscular function.
Our bodies deplete magnesium when we have an increased amount of stress or when we overexert ourselves; therefore supplementation or consuming foods higher in magnesium is oftentimes recommended.
Glucosamine is a natural chemical that is found within our body. As many of us age, our levels decrease and we may experience joint pain. Glucosamine helps with keeping the cartilage within joints healthy. Unfortunately, there are not any natural food sources of glucosamine, therefore supplementation is used to aid in joint pain. Ask your health care provider about specific dosage before starting on glucosamine.
As we age, numerous changes occur in our bodies and how and what we eat may be some of the largest dietary changes we experience. Consuming your nutrients through food is most important, however sometimes food isn’t enough – maybe we have a lack of appetite or the food that is served is out of our control and we don’t have the ability to do our own grocery shopping anymore. Our bodies require numerous amounts of nutrients to function on a daily basis, therefore eating a well-balanced diet sometimes requires adding in supplementation, which is important for long-term health, longevity, and vitality.
Ashley Graven, RD, CPT
Life Time Fitness
Registered Dietitian/Weight Loss Coach
Certified Personal Trainer