If you are active, taking good care of yourself, and eat right, do you need to think differently about nutrition when you are over 60? The short answer is no – all the same basic principles apply, but there are a few subtle differences that can make an impact.
Nutrient density is key
As we age, caloric needs tend to decrease by about 300 calories per day. Even if you still exercise regularly, you simply don’t burn through energy the same way you did in your 20s and 30s. This means it is crucial to ensure that when you do eat you are getting maximal nutrition. One simple rule is that whenever you eat a meal, make sure it contains some form of protein and a vegetable or fruit. By following this rule you are getting blood sugar stabilizing effects and brain chemistry building blocks from the protein, as well as micronutrients, energy and fiber (more blood sugar stabilization) from the veggie or fruit. By starting with these fundamentals you are less likely to default to a quick and easy carbohydrate/fat only meal and you are powering your body with the nutrients it needs.
Nutrient needs don’t change over time, but how we get them sure does
Seniors produce less stomach acid (which is the main trigger for most digestive enzymes) so fewer nutrients are well absorbed out of our food. This is compounded by the common use of acid blocking drugs that are used to treat heartburn. If you are on this class of drugs for longer than a few months, you are at higher risk of certain nutrient deficiencies like Vitamin B12.1 Other common nutrient deficiencies include calcium, vitamin d, zinc, magnesium, folic acid and Vitamin B6. One simple home remedy that can help (as long as you are not on acid blocking drugs) is to start your day with a glass of warm water with either the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon or a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. This gives the digestive system a wake-up call to pay attention and start digesting.
Dehydration is very common with age in part due to the brain’s thirst sensor not working as efficiently. A key to a healthy diet over 60 is making sure that drinking water is habit, not just in response to thirst. Start your day with a full glass of water and keep diuretic beverages like coffee to less than 2 cups per day.
Here’s what to base your diet on at any age
A healthy diet for active people is much the same at any age. Base your diet on vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, whole grains, eggs, free-range animal products, and cultured/fermented foods. Avoid highly processed foods, too many refined carbohydrates, and artificial colors or sweeteners. Over the age of 60 be careful to stay well hydrated, eat nutrient dense foods, and optimize your digestion.
Dr. Alethea Fleming, ND is a passionate advocate for naturopathic geriatric medicine. A 2007 Bastyr University graduate, she also earned a certificate in Gerontology from the University of Washington. Dr. Fleming is the owner and lead physician of the Vital Aging Clinic in Anacortes, Washington where she provides primary care to all adults as well as adjunctive geriatric care. Dr. Fleming is active in multiple community organizations as well as a member of WANP, AANP and OncANP. In her off hours, Dr. Fleming can be found hiking the beautiful trails of Fidalgo Island, spending time with her wonderful husband and son, or with her nose firmly in a good book.
- Lam JR, Schneider JL, Zhao W, Corley DA Proton pump inhibitor and histamine 2 receptor antagonist use and vitamin B12 deficiency. JAMA 2013 Dec 11;310(22):2435-42.