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Why the Idea of a “Healthy Diet” Changes as You Age

When asked about caring for the health of yourself or a loved one through diet and weight management, many nutritionists recommend “shopping the perimeter” of the supermarket for minimally processed foods. This includes plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, lean proteins (chicken, fish, and occasionally red meat), whole grains, and for some, low fat dairy products. You should also drink 8-10 glasses of water each day and limit salt and alcohol.

Nutritional Needs by Age

While these guidelines hold true for most people, our nutritional needs vary slightly depending on our age and even our gender. Supplementation may be necessary if vitamin and mineral needs are not met through diet.


Once we reach adulthood, most of our growth and development is complete and we should focus on maintaining a healthy weight.

  • Women between 19 and 50 should have at least 14.8 mg/day of iron to prevent iron deficiency and anemia.
  • Limit saturated fats (found in animal products) to keep your cholesterol low and your heart healthy.
  • Avoid processed sugars to help prevent Type 2 Diabetes.
  • Consume high fiber, nutrient-dense carbohydrates from whole grains and produce to maintain energy.
Pregnant Women

Pregnant women should take in an extra 300 calories per day. However, it’s still very important to maintain a healthy weight for the sake of you and your baby.

  • At least 70 mg/day of Vitamin C. Good sources are oranges, grapefruit, broccoli, and brussels sprouts.
  • 4 mg/day of Folic acid. Eat 2-4 servings of fruit and 4+ servings of dark green leafy vegetables each day to prevent neural tube defects. Your doctor may also recommend supplements.
  • 1000 mg/day of Calcium. Calcium is important for building strong teeth and bones as well as muscle and nerve function. If you don’t consume enough calcium, your body will take it from your bones, eventually leading to osteoporosis.
Senior Adults (women over 50 and men over 60)

As adults reach their 50’s and 60’s, the focus is on preventing the onset of age related diseases such as dementia, arthritis, and depression.

Here are a few dietary guidelines:

  • Increase your intake of oily fish (mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout and fresh tuna) to 2-4x/week. The Omega 3 fatty acids help prevent heart disease, alleviate some symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, preserve eye health, prevent cognitive decline, improve immune function, and lessen swelling in joints.
  • Iron intake, which can be found in lean meat, can be decreased to 8.7 mg/day.
  • Our bodies normally produce Vitamin D with sun exposure. As we age, our skin is less efficient. Eat oily fish and eggs, and use supplements to reach 10 mcg/day.
  • Hormone changes cause a decline in Calcium in older people. Eat dairy products, vegetables, and take supplements to reach 1,200 mg/day
  • Too little Vitamin B and folate in the diet can lead to tiredness, depression, and increased risk of stroke and dementia. Eat green vegetables for folate and meat, fish, eggs, dairy products for B12.

If you need some assistance tracking your food, maintaining a regular exercise schedule, or logging health information, there are a variety of apps for your smart phone that can assist. No matter your age, good nutrition is a must for staying healthy, disease free, and young at heart.

About Author:

Augustine “Gus” Farias, co-founder of Sonoma Home Health, has over 20 years in the senior care industry from home health, assisted living and hospice care.