There's wisdom in the saying "You are what you eat." At LifeStream at North Phoenix Senior Living Community in Phoenix, AZ, we see firsthand how the healthy, nutritious meals we serve positively impact our residents. We strive to ensure the foods we serve provide the essential vitamins seniors require. In this post, we'll explore some key nutrients that many older adults need.
In addition, some seniors simply struggle to prepare their own meals. They may lack mobility or find it challenging to get to the store to buy groceries. Or, they simply may not feel like cooking an entire meal for only one person.
The following are some of the most common vitamin deficiencies in seniors.
Vitamin D helps the nervous and immune systems function properly, and your body needs it to absorb calcium for strong bones. Our bodies can manufacture vitamin D in response to sun exposure. However, this process slows down with age. Although severe vitamin D deficiency is rare in the U.S., nearly 25% of people don't get enough to adequately support bone health.
To increase your vitamin D intake, look for cereals, orange juice, yogurt and milk fortified with the nutrient. Savor grilled or baked fatty fish like salmon and tuna several times a week, and top off salads and soups with freshly chopped mushrooms. You can also head outdoors to soak in the sunshine. Just be sure to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 beforehand to protect your skin from UV rays.
Vitamin C helps protect your body from free radicals that damage cells and drive the aging process. Your body also needs it to make cartilage to insulate your joints and heal wounds, and it aids the immune system in fighting off infection. People who eat a limited variety of food, suffer from kidney disease, smoke or previously smoked are more likely to be deficient in vitamin C.
Increase your intake of vitamin C by enjoying oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, kiwi and cantaloupe as alternatives to candy when you want something sweet. Add sliced red and green bell peppers, juicy tomatoes and chopped broccoli to salads and sandwiches. Vitamin C content can be reduced by cooking, so it's generally best to enjoy these foods raw.
Vitamin B12 is vital for healthy blood and nerve cells and allows your body to create the genetic material needed for cellular generation and growth. Seniors sometimes don't have enough hydrochloric acid in their stomachs to fully absorb vitamin B12 from foods, which can lead to deficiency. Tiredness and weakness are two of the most common signs of low B12 levels.
To get your daily dose of vitamin B12, fill one-fourth of your plate with lean protein like fish, clams, poultry, lean cuts of beef or pork or eggs at every meal. Milk and dairy products are also rich in the nutrient. For vegans, B12-fortified breakfast cereals are available.
Calcium isn't a vitamin, but the mineral deserves a spot on this list anyway. That's because calcium deficiency is common among adults over the age of 50. This is especially true among women, as changes that occur after menopause can reduce how much calcium you absorb. Without adequate calcium levels, seniors may develop low bone density and become more at risk for bone fractures.
Enjoying one to two servings of dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt is a good way to increase calcium intake. Other foods that are rich in calcium include sardines, kale and broccoli. You can also find orange juice, milk substitutes and cereals fortified with calcium.
Like vitamin C, vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects cells and tissues from free radical damage. It plays a role in immune health, drives many important reactions in the body and widens blood vessels to reduce the risk of blood clot formation. According to the U.S. Office of Dietary Supplements, most Americans don't get the recommended daily amount of vitamin E in their diets.
Use small amounts of healthy food oils like sunflower and safflower for cooking. Munch on a handful of nuts and seeds as a crunchy, satisfying snack, and eat more green veggies like broccoli and spinach.
For some older adults, supplements can bridge the diet gap and prevent nutritional deficiencies. However, getting too much of a vitamin can also cause health problems. That's why it's essential to talk to your medical provider about your specific nutritional needs. They can order blood work to determine if you have any vitamin deficiencies and provide you with tips on how best to deal with any nutrient shortfalls.
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