Three Key Nutrition Considerations for Older People

incorporate these three things into your diet to stay healthy as you age

By Michael Ormsbee, PhDFlorida State University
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, The Great Courses Daily

Having thriving health in your later years is easily within your reach. It does, however, require some special attention. Professor Ormsbee explains what you should focus on.

elderly couple shopping for healthy food
Make sure you incorporate adequate amounts of protein, vitamin D, and calcium in your diet during your older years. (Image: Shutterstock/NDAB Creativity)

Nutrition for Older People: Calcium

In addition to protein, two other nutrition considerations that older people should pay attention to are vitamin D and calcium. To help maintain bone mass and prevent the loss of bone that occurs when bone resorption exceeds bone formation, it is a good idea to eat calcium-containing foods like dairy products, green leafy vegetables, and fruit—or you can simply use a calcium supplement.

The average intake of calcium in older populations is between 650 and 800 milligrams (mg) per day, but it should be 1,000–1,200 mg/day. Omnivores can get the recommended amount by combining multiple food sources throughout the day. 

For example, one cup of milk, a packet of oatmeal, a cup of yogurt, and a six-ounce (oz) portion of salmon would be good. For plant eaters, you might try a glass of orange juice fortified with calcium and other foods like an ounce of almonds, four ounces of tofu, half a cup of soybeans, and a slice of calcium-fortified bread. 

You can also use a calcium supplement. Calcium supplements are available in two forms: calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. 

Calcium carbonate is designed for people with ample stomach acid—typically younger individuals. As we age, though, the production of stomach acid can also decline. For older people, using a calcium citrate—which is naturally a little acidic—will help with the absorption of calcium.

Vitamin D and Dehydration

Additionally, about 90% of men and women over age 51 do not meet the recommended vitamin D intake of 600–800 international unit (IU). You should make an effort to get some sun exposure and maybe supplement with vitamin D to ensure you meet your needs.

Along with getting proper nutrition, dehydration is also a concern for older people. Usually, your kidneys respond to changes in blood volume and salt concentration by producing a hormone called antidiuretic hormone or ADH. 

This hormone does what it sounds like, stopping or slowing diuresis (the production of urine) to conserve water. In older people, even though ADH is produced, there are fewer nephrons or active components of the kidney for the ADH to act on, and the nephrons are less responsive in general.

Dehydration can also be an issue since older individuals have a decrease in thirst sensation. Thus, even when dehydrated, older people do not respond with the same level of thirst as a younger person.

You can see that a lower perceived level of thirst would probably lead to less fluid intake and exacerbate dehydration. Between the reduced ability to respond to dehydration and a reduction in thirst, older people can have major issues with regulating body water content. 

Staying Healthy: Final Message

A key message for older people is that even if you don’t have the urge to drink fluids, you might need to. Experts have often said thirst cannot be used as a reliable indicator of the fluid requirements of older individuals.

Overall, even though the most common nutrition recommendations might work for a lot of people with different goals, certain populations have some very specific needs. This includes considerations for vegetarians and vegans as well as nutritional concerns for both young people and older people. 

Even more details must be taken into consideration when you begin to incorporate specific diseased populations. In general, total caloric intake, protein content, micronutrient needs, and hydration status are areas to think about as you continue your quest for optimal health.

This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for The Great Courses Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for The Great Courses Daily.
Dr. Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University.

Michael Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University. He received his MS in Exercise Physiology from South Dakota State University and his PhD in Bioenergetics from East Carolina University.

About Kate Findley 441 Articles
Kate is a writer, novelist, and blogger living in Los Angeles. She has been writing for The Great Courses since 2017. It incorporates her two favorite things: writing and learning.