Nutritional requirements of the elderly


Nutrition is the process of breaking down food and substance taken in by mouth to use for energy in the body. By practicing a healthy diet many of the known health issues can be avoided.

By the time we reach adulthood, the majority of our growth and development will be well and truly over, meaning a healthy and active lifestyle. In doing this, adults will be able to keep risk of developing age and weight related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity to an absolute minimum. Adults should really know and understand their dietary needs by this stage of their lives.

No matter what age we are the body needs a diet made up of lots of healthy and nutritious foods in order to function correctly. The basic components of any diet should include a combination of the following:

  • Protein from meat, fish and eggs.
  • Five portions of fruit and vegetables per day.
  • Carbohydrates from brown rice, potatoes, cereals, whole wheat pasta and couscous.

What we need to avoid also remains the same as we age and it is advisable to limit the amount of salt and alcohol we consume.

Importance of vitamins, minerals and food groups


The elderly should get 4.700 milligrams of potassium per day, while limiting their consumption of sodium to 1.500 milligrams per day. Increase potassium intake with fresh fruits, vegetable, milk and milk products. Having the proper sodium and potassium, they decrease risk of high blood pressure, kidney stones and bone loss.


Calcium is an essential component for the maintenance of healthy bones, but unfortunately may begin to be reabsorbed back into the body from the bones as we get older. This condition is known as osteoporosis and eventually leads to weakening of the bone tissue which leaves bones brittle and fragile. In order to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and to keep the bones healthy, individuals can obtain calcium from milk and dairy foods such as yogurt and cheese, leafy green vegetables and calcium fortified cereals.


Iron deficiency is common in adults, particularly seniors. Iron helps transport oxygen through the blood, and so not consuming enough iron from blood can cause fatigue and issues with blood clotting.

According to Colorado State University, elderly over 51 years old should take 8 milligrams of iron per day. Without iron in the blood, the organs and tissue will receive less oxygen than they usually would lead to tiredness and lethargy (This is known as iron deficiency anaemia). Iron can be found in green leafy vegetables, dried fruits and organs of meat.


This essential nutrient has a variety of benefits. From muscle health to keeping the immune system boosted. Magnesium aids in keeping blood sugar and blood pressure levels stable and helps promote a regular heart beat.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, women over the age of 70 should take 320 milligrams of magnesium per day while men over 70 should take 420 milligram per day to get maximum benefit.


Zinc is required for the maintenance of healthy immune system and is most commonly found in meat, shell fish and whole meal bread. So without zinc in the body, the person is at risk of having infection.


Play an important role in virtually all the important events in the body including the production of energy, hormone, immune cells and neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain).

Vitamin C

Vitamin C assists the body in its formation of collagen which is needed to heal wound and repair bone and teeth. It is also needed to make skin ligaments blood vessels and tendons and its antioxidant. Getting enough vitamin C is especially important as you get older because of its role in preventing diseases particularly those which you are more susceptible as you age. Vitamin C helps to fight heart disease by regulating cholesterol level in the blood, fight free radicals that cause cataracts and helps protect against cancers of the oesophagus. Recommended intake is 90 milligrams per day for men and 75 milligrams per day for women.

Vitamin A

This nutrient is important for you as you get older because it helps you to maintain your vision and normal function of your body organs. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for the elderly is 900mg for men and 700mg for women above the age of 70. A good source of vitamin A is spinach, orange, pepper and mango.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium thus slowing the rate of calcium loss from bones. A key source of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight, though it is important to supplement your diet with food which are rich in vitamin D such as fish and egg. As you get older, you may need to introduce a vitamin D supplement to your diet because you may be unable to process enough from the sunlight and your diet alone.

B Vitamins

There are several types of vitamin B and they have different functions within the body, including helping to break down energy from food, keeping the skin, eyes and nervous system healthy and helping to form red blood cells provided that you eat a well balanced diet including whole grains and cereals. You should be getting all you need. However, as we get older, it becomes harder to absorb vitamin B12 which is found in meat, salmon, milk, egg, etc. Elderly who are vitamin B deficient are at risk of anaemia and neurological problems such as memory loss.


Bowel problems can become an issue as we age and many elderly adults do suffer from constipation. In order to keep bowel issues and irritation to a minimum, elderly people should include an adequate amount of fibre in their diets as this will help to ensure the digestive system is healthy and in working order. Good sources of fibre include whole grains, cereal, rice, fresh fruits and vegetables.


As we get older, the body’s ability to conserve water gradually decreases and perception of thirst becomes less sensitive. However, dehydration can result in drowsiness and confusion among other side effects. So it is important to keep hydrated throughout the day even is we do not feel thirty. Fluid intake does not necessarily mean just water and also include non-drinks such as tea, coffee and fruit juice.


The recommended intake is difficult to apply to all older people but a figure of 0.75 -0.8g of protein per kilogramme of body weight should meet all requirements. It is essential that any older patient with a medical condition requiring an increase in protein is provided with an adequate intake. However, this does not mean protein intake should be routinely increased because of the general could decline in kidney function, excess protein could unnecessarily stress kidney.


The elderly are advised to get 45 to 65 percent of calories, or about 130 grams from carbohydrates. Most carbohydrates should be complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes and other starchy vegetables, legumes and whole grains such as brown rice. Complex carbohydrates do not result in a quick insulin response like sugary food such as cake and candy. Glucose tolerance declines in the elderly and complex carbohydrates will regulate glucose.


Energy requirements decline with increasing age but it is essential that the nutrient density of diet remains the same. An energy intake reduced to less than the energy of the older person can result in poor nutritional status.

Every person has specific energy requirements. Someone who is underweight requires an increase in energy intake and conversely an overweight elderly requires a decrease in energy intake.

Recommended daily nutrient intake

Male aged 71 and above per day

Vitamin A             –        900mg

Vitamin C             –        90mg

Vitamin D             –        20mg

Vitamin E             –        15mg

Vitamin B6           –        1.7mg

Vitamin B12         –        2.4mg

Folate                  –        400mg

Iron                      –        8mg

Calcium               –        1,200mg

Niacin                  –        16mg

Fluid                    –        5 to 8 glasses everyday


Female aged 71 and above per day

Vitamin A            –        700mg

Vitamin C            –        75mg

Vitamin D            –        20mg

Vitamin E            –        15mg

Vitamin B6           –        1.5mg

Vitamin B12        –        2.4mg

Folate                  –        400mg

Iron                      –        8mg

Calcium               –        1,200mg

Niacin                  –        14mg


Factors that affects the consumption of a good diet by the elderly

  1. Little or no appetite
  2. Problems with eating or swallowing
  3. Limited income may cause restriction in the number of meals eaten per day.
  4. Isolation:
  • Elderly who live alone may lose desire to cook because of loneliness.
  • Difficulty in cooking due to disabilities, lack of access to transportation to buy food.

5. Chronic illness.


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Special Nutrition Need of Old Adults.

Alan S. R. (1992), “Nutrient Intakes and Dietary Patterns of Older Americans: A National Study,” Journals of Gerontology 47, no. 5 (1992): M145-50.

Duyff, Roberta Larson (2002). American Dietetic Association’s Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, 2nd      Edition. John Wiley and Son’s, Inc 2002.

National Institute of Aging (2007). National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of State, Why population Aging Matters: A Global Perspective (Washington, DC: National Institute on Aging, 2007).

Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter, April 2007.

World Health Organization: Nutrition for Older Persons.

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