Turning 50 is a milestone for many people. The half-century mark comes with new rules for medical tests and often brings a couple of health-related signals indicating that it’s for some dietary changes. Even if you have packed away a healthy 50 years or more, our nutritional needs change over time. Gradual dietary tweaks may be wise in order to ensure your golden years are, well, golden.
To help you determine what nutrition your body needs as you age, it can be helpful to schedule a consultation with a registered dietician. To give AgingCare readers a head start, I asked Jeanna Freeman, RDN, to provide us with some rules of thumb for senior nutrition. As the clinical dietician at Blakeford, an elder care and senior living provider in Nashville, Tennessee, Freeman works with elders of all ages and abilities to help them improve their health through smart eating.
8 Tips for a Healthy Diet After 50
“First, let’s remember that diets are individualized,” Jeanna urges. “Every diet for every age group is different based on the individual. However, there are some tips that are suitable for most seniors.”
Below, Jeanna provides eight excellent rules of thumb for caregivers and seniors who wish to be proactive about their health and quality of life.
- Protect Your Bones
As we age, our bones weaken due to decreased mobility and mineral loss. Increasing vitamin D and calcium intake to three times per day is appropriate to prevent osteoporosis or to keep the condition from worsening. Many foods such as cereal, bread and juice are fortified with both of these important dietary components. The National Osteoporosis Foundation also recommends enhancing the calcium content of recipes by adding a two to four tablespoons of nonfat powdered milk. Each tablespoon contains 50 mg of calcium and can help you reach your total daily recommendation.
If you don’t think you’re getting adequate minerals and nutrients from the food you eat, see a registered dietician, nurse practitioner, or doctor to get a prescription for a multivitamin. Our bodies need adequate vitamin D in order to absorb calcium, but it can be difficult to achieve adequate intake through food alone. If you have symptoms of weakening bones or already suffer from osteoporosis, a multivitamin with vitamin D added is the more suitable choice.
- Boost Energy Levels
When you reach your fifties, you may feel a change in your daily energy levels. This is normal to an extent, but a vitamin B12 deficiency may also be to blame. If you test as B12 deficient, find a daily supplement. Feeling lethargic obviously isn’t ideal, but accepting a slump in energy can lead to decreased mobility and activity, which contribute to osteoporosis, heart weakening, and alterations in bowel movements. Your health is all one big, interconnected circle, so do what you need to in order to stay active and lead the life you want. Dietary sources of B12 include beef liver, mackerel, sardines, red meat, yogurt and fortified cereals.
- Factor in Fiber
A common disease found in people 50 and older is type 2 diabetes. Dietary fiber is beneficial for slowing down the release of sugar into the bloodstream, which decreases and stabilizes blood glucose levels. Fiber is also important for digestive function, lowering cholesterol, and helping maintain a healthy weight. It will help you stay regular, even if you are not able to be as active as you’d like. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that males 51 and older should consume 28 grams of dietary fiber each day and females 51 and older should consume 22.4 grams. Plant foods (beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains) are the best source of fiber and tend to be nutrient dense as well. A win-win!
- Swap Out Salt
Once the 50s approach, blood pressure may become an issue. Taking table salt away is one step towards a healthier start for your heart. Try seasonings such as garlic powder, onion powder, dill, paprika, pepper, citrus and fresh herbs instead. There are many low-sodium and sodium-free alternatives you can cook with that add a great deal of flavor and little or no salt. Be aware of the sodium content of your favorite sauces, condiments, and packaged and prepared foods as well. The best way to closely monitor your sodium intake is to prepare home-cooked meals using fresh ingredients.
- Watch Your Weight
Nearly every senior asks me about how much they should eat to maintain a healthy weight because they are worried that they may gain a few pounds while recovering from surgery or a health setback. The general Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is listed below for senior men and women of different activity levels. However, keep in mind that this is just an overview. Even caloric intake must be personalized for some individuals, depending on whether they need to maintain a healthy weight or lose/gain a few pounds.
Daily Calorie Requirements for Seniors
Women aged 51+
Men aged 51+
Sedentary (not active)
2,200 to 2,400
2,000 to 2,200
2,400 to 2,800
- Gut Health = Good Health
Prebiotics and probiotics are sometimes called “nutrition boosters.” Prebiotics are natural, non-digestible food components that enhance gastrointestinal (GI) function and calcium absorption (which is great for those who suffer from bone loss). You can increase your prebiotic intake by eating things like asparagus, garlic, bananas, and whole grain foods.
Probiotics are good bacteria naturally found in the gut. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to treat urinary tract infections (UTIs) and other infections, but these medications kill both good and bad bacteria and can negatively affect your GI system. To maintain healthy gut flora and help your system recover more quickly after taking the medications, take a daily probiotic supplement.
- Improve Your Immune Function
Inflammation is involved in a number of different diseases such as atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and even cancer. As we all know, these conditions are prevalent in seniors, especially since our immune systems tend to weaken as we age. Research says that at least half of your plate should consist of vegetables and fruit at each meal. Opt for healthy animal proteins, like fatty fish (salmon) and lean poultry (boneless skinless chicken breast), and whole grains as your source of carbohydrates and starch.
Make a point of avoiding added sugars and saturated fats and increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids and flavonoid-rich foods. Flavonoids are plant compounds that have shown antiinflammatory, antithrombogenic, antidiabetic, anticancer, and neuroprotective benefits. Dark berries, cocoa, tea, soy, citrus fruits, red wine, and nightshade vegetables are just a few examples of ingredients that are high in these phytonutrients. This diet will help your immune system to fight back.
- Nourish Your Skin
Lastly, don’t take dry, delicate skin lightly because it’s just a “sign of aging.” Be proactive and use vitamins E and C to help maintain your skin’s integrity. Sunflower seeds, almonds and spinach are excellent sources of vitamin E, and bell peppers, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, and cauliflower), and berries pack a great deal of vitamin C. Adequate hydration is crucial for improving skin elasticity and resilience as well. If your skin is in good shape, it won’t be damaged as easily, and any injuries you incur will heal much faster. This includes everyday bumps and scrapes around the house, incisions from surgery, and pressure ulcers. Don’t forget that eating to support your skin will have both cosmetic and health benefits!
Take Control of Your Diet
It’s often difficult to understand why some people pass away at age a young age and others live well into their nineties. The body works in mysterious ways, but being proactive at any age is key. Help your body fight whatever comes your way through proper nutrition. Learn to know your body and care for it in every way you can.
I like to tell my patients a quote I read at a hospital while I was still in college:
“Medicine is sick care. Nutrition is health care.”
People of all ages should consider this quote while striving to increase their health and quality of life.
For specific information on seniors' nuritient, vitamin and mineral requirements, visit Daily Dietary Guidelines for Individuals Age 51 and Older.