Over the Hill and on a (Dinner) Roll: Nutrition for Senior Citizens
Contributed by Courtney Nalivka, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital

As we age, eating right and staying active are an important part of staying healthy. There are different nutrient needs across the lifespan but certain nutrients become more important the older we get. This article will highlight those nutrients, plus cover other nutrition topics for seniors.

Nutrients and Aging:
Calcium and Vitamin D become more important for older individuals to maintain healthy bones. It is recommended elderly folks consume three servings of Vitamin D fortified low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt each day.  Not a dairy eater?  Not a problem. Calcium and Vitamin D can be found in fortified cereals, fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables, and milk alternatives such as soy milk and almond milk.  If you are still not eating enough Calcium and Vitamin D, a multi-vitamin with Vitamin D or individual supplements are an option.  The Recommended Daily Allowance for Calcium is 1000 mg/day for males aged 51-70 and 1200 mg/day for females aged 51-70. After age 71, the RDA for Calcium is 1200 mg/day for males and females.

Vitamin B12 plays an important role in neurological function.  It helps maintain healthy nerve cells and helps develop our DNA and RNA. Vitamin B12 works well with Folic Acid to make red blood cells and to help iron work better in the body.  Check with your doctor about determining your Vitamin B12 levels and to determine if supplementation is necessary.  Vitamin B12 can be found in fortified cereals, lean meats, and some fish/seafood.

Fiber plays many roles in our body but it is mostly known to help with regularity.  Fiber can also help with blood sugar control, heart health, and weight management.  Fiber can be found in whole grain breads, cereals, pastas and beans, legumes, and lentils.  The skin and peels are notably high in fiber on fruits and vegetables.

Higher amounts of potassium, along with lower amounts of sodium may help lower your risk of high blood pressure. Fruits and vegetables, along with low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt are good sources of potassium.  Make sure you speak to your doctor about your potassium intake if you have kidney disease.

Knowing the type of fats in your diet is helpful in preventing or reducing risk of heart disease. Limit your intake of saturated fats and trans fats. These type of fats are found in higher fat cuts of meat and higher fat dairy products. Trans fats are found in processed foods such as margarine or shortening.  Aim to eat more unsaturated fats such as plant based oils, nuts, avocados, and fish.

Inflammation and Diet:
Inflammation is the body’s method of healing in response to injury or exposure to a harmful substance, such as when the skin is healing from a cut. However, chronic inflammation occurs when your immune system attacks your own cells, which can lead to autoimmune diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohn’s Disease, or skin conditions such as Psoriasis. This chronic inflammation can lead to heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.

There is limited evidence to suggest how certain foods impact inflammation at this time. There is some research to support that certain foods suppress inflammation but it uncertain how often or how much of this food we need to eat to reap this benefit. More research is needed in this area to make more specific recommendations or conclusions about diet and inflammation.


There are some general diet recommendations of foods that may help reduce inflammation.  

• Aim to fill half your plate with a variety of fruits and vegetables.

• Incorporate more plant based proteins into your diet such as beans, nuts and seeds.

• Choose whole grains more often than refined grains.

• Include more heart healthy fats in your diet such as unsaturated fats from fish, plant based oils, avocados, and nuts and seeds.

• Fresh herbs and spices will add extra anti-oxidants to your foods and won’t be high in sodium.

Remember that specific nutrition guidelines for inflammation are limited at this time and that diet isn’t the only factor that impacts inflammation.  Getting good quality sleep, maintaining a healthy weight, and engaging in regular physical activity can improve symptoms of inflammation.


Foods to Help Boost Your Memory:

There may be many reasons why you are feeling forgetful but what you are eating can play a major role in brain health. One of the best ways to improve brain function and memory is to encourage good blood flow to the brain, much like we encourage good blood flow to the heart. A Mediterranean Diet helps keep the aging brain sharp and growing evidence supports foods in a Mediterranean Diet can improve memory, alertness, and cognitive function.


The following are examples of foods that have been known to improve brain function.

• Getting adequate vegetables, especially cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and dark leafy greens, may help improve memory.

• Blackberries, blueberries, and cherries are rich sources of anthocyanins and other flavonoids that may boost memory function. They are also rich in anti-oxidants that fight off free radicals, which are cancer causing cells.

• Omega-3 fatty acids may improve memory in young adults.  Rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, tuna, sardines, and herring. Aim for fish twice a week to meet these goals. You can also get omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil or seaweed supplements.

• Walnuts are also a great source of heart healthy fats that are not only good for our cardiovascular health but also can improve memory.


Healthy Weight & Resistance Training

Many men and women are living active lifestyles well into their 80s and 90s these days.  Activity level and eating habits have been shown to play a role in the quality of life for the aging population. Nutrient rich foods and activities can make a big difference in strength, energy levels, and become even more important as we age.

As we age we require fewer calories but more of certain nutrients as mentioned above. Food choices need to be focused on quality instead of quantity.  Nutrient dense foods will provide more nutrition per calorie than less nutrient dense foods.

In this stage of life it is not necessary to be going on any “fad diets” or extreme weight loss plans. The goal is to eat fewer calories but more nutrient dense foods.  Diets that eliminate food groups can create nutrient deficiencies and can lead to loss of lean muscle mass.  Aim for a stable weight and if you want to lose a few pounds work with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for help in reaching this goal safely.

Lastly, our muscle health plays a critical role in our overall health.  We are able to stand, walk, balance, and even breathe because of our muscles.  The goal at this point in life is to maintain muscle mass and not lose it.  Consistent resistance training is helpful to prevent sarcopenia, slow muscle loss that naturally occurs as we age, and osteoporosis.  Resistance training two times per week and consuming sufficient protein can help reverse or partially reverse sarcopenia.  Osteoporosis can lead to weak bones and fractures but adequate intake of Calcium and Vitamin D, along with resistance training and weight bearing exercise can help reduce progression of the disease.

Resistance training can happen in your own home without any necessary gym memberships or expensive equipment.  Free weights and using your own body weight are great ways to incorporate resistance training into your routine.  The American College of Sports Medicine recommends resistance training 2-3 times per week for 20 minutes. They recommend a target of 8-12 reps per set, working up to 2-3 sets.

Now that you know what nutrients to increase in your diet and how to incorporate resistance training into your routine, go enjoy those Golden Years!  
For more information, visit www.eatright.org or call 775.748.2094