Adult Nutrient Needs – Eating For Healthier Aging

To live life to its fullest at any age good nutrition is important. There are adult nutrient needs that are specific to mature adults which are not the same for infants, children or adolescents whose nutrient needs are for growth and development. Once adulthood is reached growth and development has peaked and is now on the decline, so the goal is to maintain the body in good condition for the rest of the adult life cycle, by seeking to fulfill adult nutrient needs.

The adult still has adult nutrient needs and requirements for energy and nutrients such as protein, carbohydrate, fat, water, and vitamins and minerals, with some of these requirements at reduced levels and others at higher levels.

Adult Nutrient Needs Energy Requirements

The adult nutrient needs energy requirements of the adult become less as we age due to our reduced physical activity and reduced muscle mass. By engaging in physical activity such as exercise the loss of energy requirements can be delayed.

The decline in total energy expenditure related to aging is 10 kilocalories per year for men, and 7 kilocalories per year for women. In other words depending on the level of activity that an adult is engaged in he or she will likely need to consume less calories in their later years. These needs will depend on other factors as well as activity such as lean body mass and the presence or absence of disease and particularly debilitating disease.

Adult Nutrient Needs Protein Requirements

As we age as part of our adult nutrients needs our calorie needs decrease but our protein needs remain constant, which results in a need for more protein in our diet. For men, on average 56 grams/per day of protein are required and for women 46 grams/day of protein, this is in order to maintain an adequate muscle mass through muscle protein synthesis. There must be continued protein synthesis to build muscle mass so that the individual will have the physical strength to carry their activities of daily living.

Adult Nutrient Needs Carbohydrate Requirements

The carbohydrate needs should be in the form of complex carbohydrates since foods of simple carbohydrates provide little nutrient value. One complex carbohydrate, fiber has a number of benefits, such as preventing constipation, diverticulosis, reducing the risk of heart disease, reducing the risk for diabetes, and helping to promote a healthy body weight.

Carbohydrates in the complex form should make up 45-65% of a healthy diet. The AI (adequate intake) that is recommended for fiber intake for adults over 50 is 30 grams/day for men and 21 grams/day for women.

In order to achieve this level of fiber in the diet, five or more servings of fruits, vegetables and whole grain cereals or breads high in bran should be consumed along with adequate hydration ideally in the form of water to avoid constipation and dehydration since fiber absorbs water in the gut.

Adult Nutrient Needs Fat Requirements

Although excess dietary fat can lead to obesity which can in turn lead to an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer, unlike younger people who should restrict their dietary intake of fats, older persons should not be afraid to consume adequate amounts of milk, red meat and poultry and fish in order to have adequate intakes of dietary protein, and adequate amounts of minerals such as iron, calcium, and zinc, and adequate vitamin intake of vitamin D and vitamin B12.

If the older adult is healthy with a low risk of heart disease they should obtain 20-35% of their daily calories from fat, with no more than 8-10% of those calories from saturated fats. The cholesterol intake should be limited to no more than 300 milligrams/day. Those at risk for heart disease must limit their intake of saturated fat and cholesterol to even less per their physician’s instructions.

The bottom line is that older adults still need some fat intake to obtain adequate nutrients and should not eliminate them altogether because this can result in even more problems in the form of inadequate vitamins and minerals needed for bone health and other functions in the body but should do so in reduced amounts if the risk for heart disease is present.

Adult Nutrient Needs Water Requirements

Water is the most important nutrient for life, without it we can’t live very long, however in older adults water intake could become inadequate due to a reduced response to thirst and reduced kidney function and can lead to dehydration.

The recommendation for fluids for older adults is the same for younger adults, 3700 milligrams/day for men and 2700 milligrams/day for women and these fluids should come from a combination of foods and appropriate liquids.

Adult Nutrient Needs Vitamin and Mineral Requirements

In older age although our energy needs decline our need for certain vitamins and minerals remains constant. In some cases declines in absorption that are age related can result in the needs for increased uptake of vitamins and minerals; therefore, older adults must continue to consume nutrient dense foods.

Vitamin D deficiency can lead to brittle bones and the risk for fractures and promote osteoporosis which is common to older adults. Vitamin D deficiency can also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

For adults aged 51-70 an AI of 10 micrograms/day is recommended and for adults 70 and older an AI of 15 micrograms/day. Younger adults only need 5 micrograms/day.

B Vitamin deficiency of vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and Folate is associated with an increase in cardiovascular disease and mortality, and since roughly 10-30% of older adults lose their ability to absorb vitamin B12 from food, this is a case where their physician may recommend supplementation through fortified foods for adults over 50. The recommended amount of vitamin B12 for all adults over 51 is 2.4 micrograms/day.

Calcium deficiency is related to bone loss and a higher incidence of fractures especially of the hip in older adults who are already experiencing age-related bone loss, thus it is extremely important for older adults to have an adequate intake of calcium in their diet.

For adults aged 31-50 years the recommended AI for calcium is 1000 milligrams/day and for adults aged 51 and older the recommended AI is 1200 milligrams/day.

Zinc deficiency is relatively uncommon; however, zinc helps to combat stress and helps to keep immune functions at optimum levels, as a result older adults who often have marginal zinc intakes and who often undergo a great deal of stress related to their health may become deficient, but should not supplement since zinc supplementation comes with its own risks, adequate levels of zinc should be consumed in the diet.

Magnesium deficiency due to inadequate intake is rare and generally appears in those older adults with malabsorption syndrome or alcoholism.

Iron deficiency can result in older adults who limit their sources of iron from red meat, fish and poultry. This should be monitored in older adults since such factors as a decline in the sense of taste, economic factors, poor dentition or a combination of factors can result in what should normally not be a deficiency due to the more than adequate levels of iron that can be obtained from the diet.

The levels in women also drop after menopause to the same level as for men, a recommended RDA (recommended dietary allowance) of 8 milligrams/day.

About Vitamin and Mineral Supplementation

Over the years increased use of dietary supplements including vitamins and minerals has increased. Although some older adults may feel the need to supplement, food is still the best and most natural source of vitamins and minerals. Care must be taken in using vitamins and mineral supplements since some vitamins and minerals in large amounts can be toxic and also can interfere with the absorption of other nutrients or interfere with the absorption of prescription medicines.

An excessive use of supplements by older adults can result in hypervitaminosis and some key vitamin toxicities to watch out for are:

• Vitamin A – the need for this vitamin decreases with age and supplementation may lead to liver dysfunction, bone and joint pain, headaches and other problems.

• Vitamin C – taking large amounts of this vitamin can increase the likelihood of kidney stones and gastric bleeding.

For further information about vitamin and mineral supplementation including a nice chart click on the link to

Adult Health Concerns - Chronic Nutrition Related Conditions

For other information about adult nutrient needs click on the link to

For other information on nutrition some great references are:

• Nutrition – Fourth Edition by Paul Insel, Don Ross, Kimberley McMahon, and Melissa Bernstein

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