How Do Your Nutrient Needs Change as You Age?

With age, your body’s calorie requirements for weight maintenance fall — thanks to lower physical activity levels, lean body mass loss (not just from your muscles; your brain shrinks in size, too!), and more (1, 2). But this doesn’t overturn the importance of eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet. In fact, it’s the opposite. It becomes even more pressing now. Because, despite having to eat fewer daily calories overall, research suggests that your body needs more of certain nutrients beginning in your 50s (3).

Which nutrients are we talking about, exactly? Continue reading to find out.

#1: Protein

You used to lift grocery bags threatening to spill over easily but now struggle with pushing a cart that's nowhere near full load around the store. Been wondering why you don't feel as strong as before? One word: sarcopenia — an age-related, involuntary loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength (4). Sarcopenia begins as early as age 40 and, without intervention, may result in you losing as much as half of your muscle mass by the time you hit 70 years old.

Worryingly, all that muscle mass loss doesn’t just leave you feeling weak. Sarcopenia is one of the most important causes of functional decline and loss of independence in older adults (carrying out the tasks of daily life becomes impossible) (5, 6, 7). The condition is also associated with several chronic conditions, including insulin resistance, faster progression of cardiovascular diseases, and a higher risk of mortality (8).

Um … wow. Is it time for the good news yet? Yes, research shows you can slow or even reverse sarcopenia (9, 10). A key thing you could do is eat enough protein — to the tune of 1.0 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (11). So, if you weigh 55 kg, that’ll work out to a protein intake of 55 to 66 grams daily (roughly 200 grams of cooked chicken breast) (12).

Here are a few more protein tips to keep in mind if you’re:

  • On an animal-based diet: Choose lean, calorie-wise protein sources, such as white-fleshed fish, pork loin, lean beef, shrimp, and egg white.
  • On a plant-based diet: Eat a wide variety of plant protein sources to ensure you get enough of all 9 essential amino acids (13).
  • Unable to hit your protein requirements via food: Consider “filling in the gap” with a high-quality protein powder.

#2: Calcium

You might not realize (or feel) it, but your body’s constantly breaking down old bone and replacing it with new bone. The rate of bone breakdown vs formation changes throughout your lifetime; when you’re (14):

  • < 25 years old: Your body builds more new bone than it breaks down, so bone density increases.
  • 25 to 50 years old: Relatively equal amounts of bone breakdown and formation. Bone density tends to stay stable.
  • > 50 years old: Bone breakdown outpaces formation, so bone density decreases.

The decrease in bone density increases your risk for osteopenia (low bone density that's not yet in the osteoporosis range) and osteoporosis (15, 16). For the uninitiated, osteoporosis weakens bones until they become so brittle that even mild stresses, such as sneezing, could cause a break. Women are particularly susceptible for 2 reasons: 1) they often have smaller and less dense bones than males, and 2) menopause results in a fall in bone-bolstering estrogen levels (17, 18).

So, how can you strengthen your bones to minimize your osteoporosis risk? Answer: get enough calcium. The daily calcium intake recommendation for adults aged 19 to 50 is 1,000 mg. Here's how much more you need if you’re a (19):

  • Woman, > 50 years old: +200 mg (i.e., 1,200 mg daily)
  • Men, 19 to 70 years old: +0 mg (i.e., 1,000 mg daily)
  • Men, > 70 years old: +200 mg (i.e., 1,200 mg daily)

Most dairy sources of calcium are products like milk, cheese, and yogurt. But if you're lactose intolerant or on a plant-based diet, rest assured that you can also get calcium from nondairy options, such as almonds, fortified cereal, and fortified almond or soy milk.

#3: Vitamin D

Calcium isn't the only nutrient your body needs to keep your bones strong. There's also vitamin D, partly because it helps with calcium absorption (20, 21, 22). According to the National Academy of Medicine, individuals between the ages of 1 and 70 should consume at least 600 IU daily, while those over 70 should get 800 IU (23).

Now … it’s 100% possible for your skin to produce all the vitamin D your body needs. But that’s only with adequate sun exposure (FYI, what’s “adequate” depends on several factors, such as your skin pigmentation and geographical location) (24). In other words, you should still strive to include foods rich in vitamin D. Great examples include salmon, sardines, dairy products, and fortified juices.

That said, it can be hard to meet your vitamin D needs solely through dietary sources (especially for those on a plant-based diet). So, vitamin D supplements — e.g., Dr. Danielle’s delicious vegan Vitamin D3 + B12 Gummies — may be worth considering.

Beyond helping you meet your daily vitamin D requirements (for optimal calcium absorption and strong bones), vitamin D supplements could also have an additional positive effect: a lower risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular events. A 2023 study published in the British Medical Journal randomly assigned a large sample of older adults between 60 and 84 years old into 2 groups (25):

  • Group 1: Placebo
  • Group 2: Vitamin D supplement daily (up to 5 years)

At the end of the study, the researchers compared data between those in the placebo group and those who were still taking vitamin D. They found that compared to the former, the rate of major heart problems (e.g., heart attack, stroke, and procedures to treat coronary artery disease) was slightly lower in the vitamin D group.

A major win for vitamin D supplementation!

#4: Vitamin B6

Protein preserves muscle mass, and calcium, alongside vitamin D, helps with bone density. What about vitamin B6? Also known as pyridoxine, vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin that plays many roles in the body, including (26):

  • Metabolism
  • Immune function
  • 100+ different enzyme reactions in the body
  • Maintaining healthy cognition during aging (based on preliminary evidence)

And as you age, your body needs more of it. The current dietary guidelines for daily vitamin B6 intake are as follows (27):

  • 19 to 50 years old: 1.3 mg
  • Woman, > 50 years old: 1.5 mg
  • Man, > 50 years old: 1.7 mg

Why the increased vitamin B6 needs? Well, studies show that age decreases B6 absorption, increases B6 breakdown, and impairs B6 phosphorylation (28). The great news is that you can find vitamin B6 in a wide variety of foods, from meat to vegetables to fruits. Foods that are particularly brimming with vitamin B6 include chickpeas (1 cup gives 1.1 mg), beef liver (28.3 grams gives 0.9 mg), salmon (28.3 grams gives 0.6 mg), and chicken breast (28.3 grams gives 0.6 mg) (29).

Foresee difficulties meeting your daily vitamin B6 requirements? It’s OK, there’s help available. Dr. Danielle’s Organic B Complex delivers 2 mg of vitamin B6 per cherry lemonade (naturally) flavored drop, alongside 4 other B vitamins — B7 (biotin), B3 (niacinamide), B9 (L-5 methyl-tetrahydrofolate), and B12 (methyl-cobalamin).

#5: Vitamin B12

Speaking of vitamin B12 … it’s another nutrient you need more of as you age. See, 2 things need to happen for your body to absorb vitamin B12 from the food you eat (30):

  1. Hydrochloric acid removes vitamin B12 from the food
  1. Vitamin B12 combines with a protein called intrinsic factor (which is made by your stomach)

Unfortunately, research shows that aging is often associated with reduced stomach acid and intrinsic factor output (31, 32). This, in turn, means your body becomes less effective at extracting vitamin B12 from foods (it gets less of it) than before. And that’s bad news. Vitamin B12 helps your body make oxygen-carrying red blood cells. So, vitamin B12 deficiency may cause symptoms such as weak muscles, numb or tingling feeling in the limbs, trouble walking, nausea, irritability, and fatigue (33).

So, how much vitamin B12 should you take daily? For adults over 14, the recommended daily intake for vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg (34). But if you’re over 50 years old, research suggests that anywhere between 500 to 1,000 mcg daily may be beneficial (35). Good sources of vitamin B12 include organ meats, clams, sardines, beef, and fortified cereal.

And, as usual, consider a vitamin B12 supplement if you cannot meet your daily requirements via foods alone. If you're looking for a 100% pure vitamin B12 supplement (with no additional "active" ingredients), look no further than Dr. Danielle’s Organic Methyl Vitamin B12. Just 1 spritz gives you 1.5 mg (that’s 1,500 mcg!) of vitamin B12.

See a healthcare professional for tailored recommendations

It’s important to note that the nutritional recommendations outlined above apply to the general population. That means it might not work as well for you, especially if you have any underlying medical conditions, dietary restrictions, etc.

Before making any changes to your dietary patterns or starting on new supplements, ideally, you should consult a healthcare professional (doctor or registered dietitian) for their informed advice.

To Your Health and Happiness, Doctor Danielle

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