As we get older, our bodies change. Eating a varied, balanced and healthy diet can help to maintain good overall health, and at this stage in life, it's more important than ever to make sure your diet is packed with essential vitamins and minerals, to help you keep as strong and fit as possible. To achieve this, you should aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day.
There are other positive lifestyle choices that can become healthy habits, such as drinking plenty of fluids (six to eight glasses a day is a good target for most people), exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep, and making time to relax. Further changes that can benefit your health include maintaining a healthy weight, keeping alcohol consumption under the limits recommended by the government, and stopping smoking if you're a smoker.
For some people, getting older can lead to a lack of important nutrients in their diet. This may be due to:
- Decreased taste – As you get older, the number of tastebuds you have actually decreases. Food can seem less enjoyable and you may lose some enthusiasm for eating
- Loss of appetite – You may not be as active as you once were and may therefore have less of an appetite. This tendency to eat less makes it harder to get the necessary nutrients needed to stay healthy
- Inefficient absorption – As we age, our bodies can become less efficient at absorbing certain nutrients that the body needs
You can't stop the ageing process, but you can help reduce its impact on your health with positive lifestyle choices. It's possible to get all the nutrients you need from the food you eat, but if you're struggling with this, supplementing your diet can help maintain good health.
So what are the key nutrients to consider when you're over 50?
You get this important nutrient through exposure to sunlight on the skin. Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium, which we need for strong bones. When blood calcium levels are low, it can lead to a loss of bone mass.
Vitamin D can also maintain healthy teeth, as well as the normal function of muscles and the immune system.
The government recommends that all adults should take a daily 10mcg (microgram) supplement throughout autumn and winter. This is because there isn't enough sunshine to generate healthy levels of vitamin D during these months, and vitamin D is only found in low levels in food.
Calcium is an important mineral for maintaining healthy bones. It can also help to reduce the loss of bone mineral in post-menopausal women aged 50+. To achieve this, you should consume 1200mg calcium daily from all food sources. Calcium can be found in green leafy vegetables, soy products, cheese, yoghurt, milk, nuts and fish where you eat the bones.
If you're concerned that you'e not getting enough calcium from your diet and would like to consider a calcium supplement, speak to your doctor for advice.
This essential B vitamin is important for red cell production, immunity, and keeping our nervous system healthy.
You should be getting all the vitamin B12 you need if you eat a varied and well-balanced diet. However, as you get older, it can become harder to absorb vitamin B12, which is found in foods like meat, cod, salmon, milk, cheese, eggs and fortified cereals. Taking a supplement can therefore be helpful for some people. According to government dietary recommendations, adults need 1.5mcg of B12 daily. Most multivitamins contain B12 but you can also find it as a single ingredient supplement.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are omega-3 fats which contribute to heart health. DHA also plays a role in maintaining normal brain function, and helps support normal vision.
As part of a balanced diet, you should consider eating two portions of fish a week, including one of oily fish such as salmon, fresh tuna, sardines and mackerel. If you struggle with this for any reason, you may want to consider taking a supplement. Both fish oil and vegetarian micro-algae-based supplements are available.
Would I benefit from taking a supplement?
If you have specific health concerns, you're taking any medicines, or you're concerned you might have a deficiency, it's best to consult your doctor before taking any supplements. If you're simply looking to support your health, your pharmacist can advise you on which particular supplements might be suitable for you.