When it comes to senior nutrition, eating a healthy diet is essential for maintaining a normal body weight, reducing the risk of disease and living a longer life. Although most are able to get all of the necessary vitamins from the foods they eat, one in four seniors do not get enough from diet alone. According to the FDA, there are 13 essential vitamins that the body needs for a variety of functions. Knowing which vitamins are most important for senior wellness and the recommended daily intake can help you decide whether or not to take vitamin supplements as part of your overall health plan.
Vitamin A – Important for maintaining normal vision, Vitamin A is found in fish, dairy products and dark skinned fruits and vegetables. However, according to the Institute of Medicine, it may take twice as many fruits and vegetables to get the necessary amounts of Vitamin A than previously thought. For someone who eats little dairy or fish, it may be difficult to eat enough in order to get the recommended dose of 700 micrograms for women and 900 micrograms for men. Without enough Vitamin A in your diet, it is possible that vision could be impaired.
The B vitamins are all important for a variety of body functions, but the most important for seniors are B1 (thiamine) and B12.
B1 (thiamine) – Thiamine aids in converting food into energy and also is necessary for healthy brain and nerve cells. This is especially important for seniors for memory care, as B1 may help fight against Alzheimer's disease. Thiamine is found in animal liver, whole grains and enriched breads. The recommended daily dose is 1.2 mg for men and 1.1mg for women.
B12 – Found in lots of fatty fish, B12 is important for red blood cell and nerve health. Many people over the age of 50 do not get enough B12, and the FDA recommends that people in this group consume their B12 intake from fortified foods and supplements. A daily dose is 2.4 mcg for men and women.
Vitamin C – As an immune system booster, Vitamin C does not prevent illnesses like a cold, but it can shorten the length of sickness. Good food sources for Vitamin C are citrus fruits, potatoes, strawberries, broccoli and leafy greens. The Institute of Medicine recently increased the daily recommended intake to 75 mg per day for women and 90 mg for men.
Vitamin D – Studies have shown that Vitamin D is important for maintaining bone health and can provide protection from cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disease, heart disease and dementia and Parkinson's disease. It also helps the body absorb calcium. People over the age of 70 need a daily dose of 800 international units (IUs) everyday. For those under 70, the dose is 600 IUs. Most people get a natural source from sunlight, but if you live in an area where sun exposure is limited, other sources are supplements, fatty fish and some fortified juices.
Vitamin E – A major antioxidant, Vitamin E has been shown to decrease the risk of dementia in older adults, but can also reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease by preventing cell damage. Men and women should consume 15 mg of Vitamin E daily for senior wellness.
Calcium – The majority of calcium in your body is stored in your bones and teeth. As the most plentiful nutrient in the body, calcium is essential for maintaining strong bones, especially for older adults and women. Osteoporosis is five times more likely to develop in women than men, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Getting enough calcium helps with muscle function, heartbeat, hormone secretion and the nervous system. For female adults age 50 and over and men over 71, the recommended dose per day is 1200 mg. For men between 50 and 70, the recommended dose per day is 1000 mg. Calcium can be found in several foods such as dairy products, spinach, broccoli, beans, tofu, some fish and almonds. If you aren't getting enough calcium in your diet everyday, you doctor may recommend taking a calcium supplement as either a tablet or chewable.
Vitamin K – This vitamin is found in leafy greens and is important for bones and blood clots. Like calcium, it has been suggested that a deficiency of Vitamin K could lead to osteoporosis or other bone related disease. The recommended daily dose for women is 90 mcg and 120 mcg for men.