DECATUR, Ill - When teaching nutrition education classes to seniors, Caitlin Mellendorf, registered dietitian and University of Illinois Extension nutrition and wellness educator, regularly hears that after years of cooking for themselves and their families, easy meals like cereal and milk or a bag of popcorn are the ones they eat. “As an occasional meal, this is okay,” Mellendorf says. “But for the seniors who say they do this often, we talk more about why nutrition is still important even after age 50.”
Seniors and older adults are a unique segment of the population when it comes to nutrition. Metabolism slows as part of normal aging, meaning seniors have lower energy needs – as measured by calories –than adults 50 years of age or younger. This means, in general, seniors do not need to eat as much food.
However, as a part of normal aging, seniors need to increase their intake of some vitamins and minerals. For example, calcium needs in females increase after age 50 and increase for males after age 70, according to recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Male and female seniors also need more vitamin B-6 after age 50, and more vitamin D after age 70.
When vitamin and mineral needs do not change for seniors, such as with vitamin B-12 or iron, seniors may not efficiently absorb some vitamins and minerals due to normal aging processes or medication use.
Thus, seniors have the challenge of getting enough vitamins and minerals without overeating, which can lead to weight gain and chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of 2015-2016 showed that around 40% of adults age 60 and older were obese.
When preparing meals at home, seniors can use the MyPlate food guide as a model for healthy eating. When eating out at restaurants or other food establishments, order extra fruits and vegetables since these contain many needed vitamins and minerals, and utilize senior nutrition programs with delivery or congregate meal sites. Benefits of senior nutrition programs include that seniors do not have to cook, all meals meet set nutrition standards, and meals are provided at low cost or with donation. Seniors can also participate in Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Programs around Illinois which provide funds to redeem for fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets.
For any questions on nutrient concerns, speak with your primary healthcare provider or a registered dietitian.
For additional resources, view MyPlate for Older Adults from Tufts University and the Healthy Eating As We Age section of ChooseMyPlate.gov.
Writer: Caitlin Mellendorf, MS, RD, Nutrition and Wellness Educator, University of Illinois Extension
ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities
Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness
Macon Extension Office
3351 N. President Howard Brown Blvd., Decatur, IL 62521