As you age, you need to make a concerted effort to get more of some nutrients and less of others. In most cases, it's not because your body actually needs more or less of the nutrient now, but that your body's ability to absorb or retain it has changed, your eating and other lifestyle habits have changed, or you are more vulnerable to diseases that can be affected by too little or too much of a nutrient.
As a result, you need to know which nutrients to boost and which ones to cut back on, as well as how to make the most of dietary sources. This knowledge can mean the difference between maintaining your good health as you age and being vulnerable to life-threatening diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
This article will discuss how your nutritional needs change as you age and it will also give you a breakdown of the different types of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your body needs (and does not need) as you age.
Continue to the next page to find out which vitamins are most important for seniors.
Vitamin Requirements for Seniors
Vitamins play an important role in virtually all the important events in the body, including the production of energy, hormones, enzymes, immune cells, and neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain). Vitamins can be divided into two general categories: fat-soluble (A, D, E, and K) and water-soluble (the B's and C). It doesn't take much of any one vitamin to meet your needs.
While proteins, carbohydrates, and fats are measured in grams, vitamins are measured in milligrams (one-thousandths of a gram) micrograms (one-millionths of a gram), and International Units (an international standard of measurement that varies depending on the potency of the vitamin). But those microscopic amounts have powerful health-promoting properties. Although we tend to think of supplements when we talk about vitamins, food -- not supplements -- should be your primary source.
Fruits and vegetables are the primary sources of water-soluble vitamins and some fat-soluble vitamins (beta-carotene, which the body converts to A; E; and K). Fortified dairy products are the primary dietary source of vitamin D. Your skin also manufactures some vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, which explains its nickname: "the sunshine vitamin."
Getting adequate amounts of the following nutrients is especially important now that you're over 50:
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Recommended Intake: Men: 1.3 milligrams a day; Women: 1.1 milligrams a day
This B vitamin makes it possible for your body to access energy from the food you eat, and it helps each of the body's cells produce its own energy. It also plays an important role in maintaining your vision and keeping your skin healthy. Riboflavin is required for the production of niacin, another B vitamin.
While the recommended intake for riboflavin doesn't actually increase with age, the fact that it stays the same while your calorie needs drop means that you have to make wise food choices to get enough riboflavin in your diet. Moreover, researchers suspect that you become more sensitive to riboflavin deficiencies with age.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Recommended Intake: Men: 1.7 milligrams a day; Women: 1.5 milligrams a day
Vitamin B6 helps new cells to develop and is an important participant in the production of the B vitamin niacin and the neurotransmitter serotonin. It boosts the immune system and helps to regulate blood sugar levels. Pyridoxine is also a member of the trio of B vitamins (B6, B12, folic acid) that help reduce your risk of heart disease by keeping blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine low. High levels of homocysteine have been linked with clogged arteries and heart disease.
As you age, your risk of developing a vitamin B6 deficiency increases. There are two reasons for that. First, older people generally consume less protein, which is the richest source of vitamin B6, so their diets are more likely to be low in it. Second, many older adults metabolize the vitamin more rapidly than they did when they were younger, increasing the need for it on a daily basis. Signs of severe vitamin B6 deficiency include skin problems, anemia, depression, confusion, and convulsions.
Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin/cobalamin)
Recommended Intake: Men and Women: 2.4 micrograms a day
Vitamin B12 is critical for proper nerve and brain development and for the production of healthy red blood cells. If you don't get enough of this vitamin, mental functioning can diminish and balance and coordination can be impaired. A prolonged, severe deficiency of B12 that goes uncorrected can cause irreversible nerve damage.
A B12 deficiency usually is not caused by a lack of B12 in the diet. The vitamin is found in animal foods such as meat and liver, as well as in eggs, fish, and dairy products. Only strict vegetarians who don't eat dairy or eggs are at risk of a deficiency because of diet.
A B12 deficiency is usually the result of either pernicious anemia, an inherited disease in which the stomach lining stops producing a substance called intrinsic factor that is needed to absorb vitamin B12, or a lack of stomach acid, which is also fundamental to the absorption of the vitamin.
A decline in stomach acid, a condition called atrophic gastritis, is experienced by as many as 30 percent of people age 50 and older and by 40 percent of those age 80 and older. However, most do not realize they have the condition. Pernicious anemia also becomes much more common with age.
A deficiency caused by atrophic gastritis can be treated with vitamin B12 supplementation because the synthetic form doesn't require stomach acid for absorption. Pernicious anemia, however, must be treated with injections of vitamin B12.
In recent years, researchers have learned that, along with vitamins B6 and folic acid, B12 can also help ward off heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease by preventing the buildup of homocysteine, an artery-clogging compound that sometimes accumulates in the blood.
Recommended Intake: Men and Women: 400 micrograms a day
Folate is the catch-all term used to describe different forms of this B vitamin. However, folate refers to the forms found in food, while folic acid is the synthetic form found in vitamin supplements. This is the last of the B trio to tackle the buildup of homocysteine in the blood. It also appears to play an important role in keeping cells healthy and fending off potentially cancerous changes.
Research has suggested that getting enough folate may help protect against cancers of the cervix, colon, and rectum. A low intake of folate may not, by itself, trigger cancerous changes in cells, but when combined with other potentially harmful cellular changes, it could set the stage for cancer to take hold.
Folate is also needed for the production of proteins that build, maintain, and repair tissues -- a process that continues throughout your life.
Recommended Intake: Men: 550 milligrams a day; Women: 425 milligrams a day
This is probably the least well-known of the "B's." It was officially recognized as an essential nutrient for the first time in 1998 and is involved in a wide variety of body functions. Choline is the raw material of neurotransmitters and cell membranes. Animal studies suggest that adequate intake of choline early in life can diminish the severity of memory loss that comes with aging.
Some animal research suggests that choline may help improve memory in older adults, but human studies are needed to determine if choline is useful for preventing dementia in people as they age. Recommended intakes are no higher for someone who is 69 than for someone who is 19, but it can be difficult to assess whether you are getting enough choline since it is not specifically listed on the Nutrition Facts label of food products.
Recommended Intake: Men: 90 milligrams a day; Women: 75 milligrams a day
Another of the water-soluble vitamins, C is probably best known for its purported role in fending off colds. While it may help reduce the duration and the severity of cold symptoms, it's never been proved to prevent the cold itself. It is, however, a proven antioxidant nutrient that helps to neutralize free radicals that can damage DNA. Damaged DNA can turn normal cells into cancerous ones.
Vitamin C also plays a critical role in the formation of white blood cells that fight infection and in the production of collagen, the connective tissue that holds skin, bone, ligaments, and cartilage together. Vitamin C helps keep blood vessel walls strong and tiny blood vessels pliable and resistant to damage. As if that weren't enough, it also is essential to the production of red blood cells, plays a role in wound healing, and helps keep gums healthy.
Getting enough vitamin C is especially important as you get older because of its role in preventing diseases, particularly those to which you are more susceptible as you age. Vitamin C helps fight heart disease by regulating cholesterol levels in the blood, fights free radicals that cause cataracts and macular degeneration, and helps protect against cancers of the esophagus, stomach, pancreas, cervix, rectum, breast, and lung.
Because smokers have lower blood levels of vitamin C than nonsmokers, the recommended intake for men who smoke is 125 milligrams a day and 110 milligrams for women who smoke. However, some vitamin C experts say that to get optimum protection, it may be best for everyone to saturate the body's tissues with the nutrient, which takes as much as 200 milligrams a day.
Recommended Intake: Men and Women over 50: 400 International Units a day (or 10 micrograms); Men and Women over 70: 600 International Units a day (or 15 micrograms)
Almost all the calcium in your body is stored in your bones, and vitamin D plays a critical role in making sure it gets there. The vitamin acts as calcium's gatekeeper, regulating the absorption of this essential mineral. Vitamin D helps keep bones strong and helps maintain blood levels of calcium so it can be used as needed for other body functions, such as muscle contractions and the transmission of nerve impulses.
Recent research also suggests vitamin D plays a role in preventing some cancers, and, along with calcium, lessens the risk of developing type-2 diabetes. Some vitamin D is produced in your skin when it is exposed to the sun. The ultraviolet rays of the sun act as a trigger for conversion to an active form.
In healthy people, it takes only about 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected exposure to the sun on a summer day to make enough vitamin D to store in the liver, a reserve that can last for months. However, if you're slathering on sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 8 or above -- as you should to prevent skin cancer -- you may not be getting enough sunlight for the conversion to take place.
The best advice is to get a few minutes of unprotected sun exposure in the early morning or late afternoon, when the sun's rays are least likely to damage your skin. As you age, the recommended intake of this fat-soluble vitamin increases more than for any other nutrient. Why the jump? As your skin ages, it loses some of its ability to produce vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight. To make matters worse, the body doesn't absorb vitamin D from the diet as well as it did when you were younger.
Inadequate vitamin D can translate into weak bones, osteoporosis, and bone fractures. Getting enough vitamin D is especially important for menopausal and postmenopausal women to help slow the rapid rate of bone loss that typically occurs when estrogen levels plummet.
Recommended Intake: Men and Women: 15 milligrams of alpha-tocopherol a day
Another of the fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, protecting the body's cells from free radicals that can damage DNA and are capable of turning normal cells into cancerous ones. Vitamin E also fights off free radicals that damage LDLs (low-density lipoproteins) --"bad cholesterol." Damaged LDLs are more likely to clog arteries, causing heart attack and stroke.
The recommended intake for vitamin E doesn't increase with age, but many people over the age of 51 do not get the recommended intake. The most potent of the eight forms of vitamin E, alpha-tocopherol, is found in foods such as avocados, sunflower seeds, and almonds (one ounce of whole almonds, about 24, supplies half your daily recommended intake of alpha-tocopherol). Alpha-tocopherol is also found in supplements.
Much has been made about the benefits of supplemental vitamin E. Some researchers believe that intakes much higher than the recommended daily intake may help lower the risk of heart disease, cataracts, and prostate cancer. Though recent studies have called into question E's effectiveness in holding heart disease at bay, a moderate supplement of alpha-tocopherol may still be a good idea.
Recommended Intake: Men: 120 micrograms a day; Women: 90 micrograms a day
Vitamin K is one of the less glamorous vitamins, long known mainly for its role in blood clotting. But this fat-soluble vitamin also plays an important role in bone metabolism, which is just beginning to be understood. The recommended intake doesn't increase with age, but the recommended intakes for men and women of all ages were recently raised in light of new findings showing the potential role of vitamin K in health.
Dietary surveys show that half of men and women over the age of 51 don't get the current recommended intake of the vitamin. Research has shown that people with osteoporosis and bone fractures have lowered blood levels of vitamin K. It's believed that vitamin K is important for activating the bone-building protein osteocalcin.
If there is not enough vitamin K to activate this important protein, then osteoporosis can result. Vitamin K may also help prevent arteries from becoming clogged; researchers are currently investigating this.
Continue to the next page to learn about the most important minerals for seniors.
Mineral Requirements for Seniors
The minerals needed to keep your body functioning far outnumber the vitamins. In fact, it's estimated there are more than 60 minerals in your body. Although recommended intakes have been set for only 17, researchers are on the verge of declaring a few more minerals essential to good health.
Though we don't hear about minerals (with the notable exceptions of calcium iron, and sodium) as much as we do vitamins, minerals are just as critical to good health. They are essential for building bones and teeth, keeping your heart beating regularly, and helping your blood to clot.
Like vitamins, minerals can be divided into two groups: macrominerals (macro means large) such as calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium, which are required in relatively large amounts, and trace minerals such as boron, chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc, which are required in small amounts.
Here are the minerals you will need to focus on as you age:
Recommended Intake: Men and Women: 1,200 milligrams a day
There has been a lot of research on calcium, and much has been written about it. But there's still not 100 percent agreement on how much calcium we need to keep our bones strong as we age. The Food and Nutrition Board currently recommends a daily intake of 1,200 milligrams.
But since 1994, the National Institutes of Health has recommended 1,000 milligrams a day for men aged 50 to 65 and women of the same age who are taking estrogen replacement therapy and 1,500 milligrams for women age 50 to 65 who are not taking estrogen replacement and for all men and women older than 65.
Regardless of which recommendation is right, the fact remains that most of us don't get nearly enough of this bone-building mineral. Dietary surveys show that 90 percent of women ages 19 to 70 don't get enough. Overall, most American adults consume less than half of the amount recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board.
A low calcium intake, coupled with inadequate intake or production of vitamin D, greatly increases the risk of bone fractures in older people. Getting enough calcium and vitamin D every day can decrease the risk. An adequate intake of calcium also may contribute to the taming of high blood pressure and the prevention of polyps in the colon (growths in the colon that sometimes turn cancerous).
Recommended Intake: Men: 420 milligrams a day; Women: 320 milligrams a day
Like calcium and vitamin D, magnesium is an essential nutrient for bone health. However, its importance in the body is much more far-reaching. Proof of that is the fact that magnesium is involved in more than 300 metabolic processes in the body, including muscle contraction, protein synthesis, cell reproduction, energy metabolism, and the transport of nutrients into cells. It often acts as a trigger for these processes.
Magnesium is most studied, however, for its role in bone health, blood pressure regulation, cardiovascular health, and diabetes. Several studies have found that some elderly people get little magnesium in their diets. That, combined with the fact that, with age, magnesium absorption decreases and excretion in urine increases, provides the perfect formula for magnesium depletion and deficiency.
Recommended Intake: Men and Women: 4,700 milligrams a day
Potassium is present in every cell of your body and plays a vital role in muscle contraction, transmission of nerve impulses, and maintenance of fluid balance. Experts consider adequate potassium intake a way to keep blood pressure in check and to promote bone health.
Potassium is so important to blood pressure control -- which affects your risk of stroke and other conditions -- that the Food and Drug Administration now allows potassium-rich foods to carry the following claim: "Diets containing foods that are good sources of potassium and low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke."
People who have high blood pressure should generally strive to get even more than the daily recommended intake of potassium (but should get their doctor's approval first).
While we don't know if the need for potassium increases with age, we do know that the risk of high blood pressure does, making it even more important to get plenty of potassium from foods. Ironically, many medications that are prescribed to treat high blood pressure, such as some diuretics, actually deplete the body of potassium, increasing the need for this vital mineral even more.
Recommended Intake: Men and Women: 55 micrograms a day
Selenium is another antioxidant miracle worker, helping to protect against cancers of the colon, prostate, and lungs while boosting your immune system. Because the risk of cancer increases with age, it's important to get enough selenium to minimize your risk.
Selenium works in two major ways to fend off the disease-causing damage of free radicals.
It works side by side with vitamin C, sparing the vitamin while it shares the antioxidant burden. It also is needed for the production of an enzyme called glutathione peroxidase, which is a key player in the body's sophisticated defense system. Fortunately, selenium is easily absorbed.
However, that absorbability also makes it easy to consume too much, especially if you take a supplement. Experts recommend that you not get more than 400 micrograms a day.
Recommended Intake: Men: 30 micrograms a day; Women: 20 micrograms a day
Chromium stimulates the action of insulin, the hormone that helps blood sugar gain entry into the cells. The mineral is also needed for the body to properly metabolize fat and to keep blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in check. As you age, chromium levels in the body drop, which may contribute to higher blood sugar levels.
Some evidence has shown that people with diabetes have a lower level of chromium in the body -- making chromium a mineral to watch in your diet. Unfortunately, there are some obstacles to getting adequate chromium, and researchers now recognize that older people may be more vulnerable to chromium depletion.
First of all, eating a lot of refined carbohydrates, such as those found in candy, cookies, cakes, and soft drinks, depletes your body's chromium stores. If you're a fan of sweets, you'll need to change your ways to ensure you're making the most of the chromium in your diet.
Secondly, a decrease in chromium stores seems to occur with age. Finally, some medications may cause a depletion of chromium. All these factors combined make it difficult to maintain an adequate level of chromium in the body.
Recommended Intake Men: 11 milligrams a day; Women: 8 milligrams a day
Zinc is one busy mineral! Not only is it involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fat, and protein, it also plays an important role in the production of DNA, the blueprint for every cell in the body. And it's a part of the structure of insulin, making it crucial for regulating blood sugar levels.
Zinc is also essential for wound healing and for maintaining your immunity and your sense of taste as you age.
Dietary surveys show that about 50 percent of men and 75 percent of women over the age of 51 don't get enough zinc in their diets, making supplementation a good idea. And while a high-fiber diet is good for your health, it can interfere with your body's ability to absorb the zinc in your diet. But, if you take in too much zinc, you can actually suppress your body's ability to fight infection and negatively affect your sense of taste.
While it's critical that you get the recommended intake of zinc every day, experts recommend not taking in more than 40 milligrams a day because it may interfere with copper absorption, immune function, and taste.
You may be surprised by the list of nutrients that increase in importance with age. Continue to the next page to find out.
Nutrients That Increase in Importance With Age
The following nutrients are important to overall health for seniors. Getting the recommended daily intake helps with everything from building muscle to proper digestion.
Recommended Intake: Men: 56 grams a day ; Women: 46 grams a day
You need protein because your body requires the individual amino acids that link together to form proteins in foods. Once you eat protein-containing foods, the proteins are separated into individual amino acids in your digestive system and are used to build, repair, and maintain your body's tissues (skin, muscles, internal organs).
Though they can be assembled in an almost infinite number of combinations, there are only 20 amino acids. Nine are essential, meaning they must come from your diet. Your body can manufacture the rest. Foods that contain all nine essential amino acids, such as fish, poultry, eggs, milk, and beef, are called "complete proteins."
All protein provides four calories per gram and can be used for energy by the body if carbohydrates and fat are in short supply, as they are in some types of weight-loss diets. Although the recommended intake for protein doesn't increase with age, as you get older, your body becomes less and less efficient at processing the protein you take in, and your body is less able to hold onto protein stores.
For seniors who are physically active, that goes double, since protein is needed to maintain muscle mass. To compensate, some experts believe folks over 50 should get more protein in their diet. But don't opt for protein shakes, powders, and bars.
If you suffer from liver or kidney disease, you could be doing more harm than good since too much protein can stress your organs. You can get all the protein you need by making wise dietary choices.
While you may not think of it this way, water is a vital nutrient. You may be able to survive for weeks without food, but the body can last only a few days without water.
It has a ubiquitous presence in the body and is involved in virtually every metabolic process: the digestion of food, the absorption of nutrients, the circulation of the blood, the maintenance of proper body temperature, the cushioning of joints and organs, and the elimination of toxic metabolic byproducts from the body.
When your body loses too much water through perspiration, vomiting, diarrhea, or excessive urination, or when you simply do not consume enough water, you become dehydrated. And dehydration is the most frequent reason people over the age of 65 are hospitalized.
Half of the water in your body is lost from your lungs when you breathe (that's why your breath is moist) and from your skin through perspiration. Even if you don't feel like you're sweating, you are constantly losing some fluid through your skin.
Hot temperatures and high altitude further increase your need for fluid. Also, as you age, your kidneys are less able to hold onto water, leaving you more vulnerable to dehydration. A low fluid intake can contribute to constipation, and recent research has found a link between inadequate fluid intake and kidney stones and bladder cancer.
It's recommended that men drink about 13 cups of fluid a day and women drink about 9 cups. That may sound like a lot, but consider this: Fluids such as milk, juice, soft drinks, coffee, and tea -- which are made mostly of water -- count toward your daily recommended intake. Fruits and vegetables contain water, too.
In our next and final page in this article, find out which nutrients become less important as you age.
Nutrients That Decrease in Importance With Age
Some nutrients become less important as you grow older. In fact, too much of these nutrients can actually be harmful as you age.
Recommended Intake: Men: 3,000 International Units a day (or 900 micrograms); Women: 2,330 International Units a day (or 700 micrograms)
There's no change in your recommended intake of vitamin A as you age, and this nutrient remains important for good health. Vitamin A is essential for normal vision, bone growth, cell division, and proper immune function. However, if you get too much of one form of this vitamin, you could actually cause yourself harm.
We get the vitamin A we need in two main forms -- as retinol, a ready-to-use form (sometimes referred to as "preformed vitamin A") found in animal foods, and as beta-carotene, a precursor (or "provitamin") found only in plant foods that the body can convert into vitamin A. Research in adults has shown that taking in too much retinol on an ongoing basis is associated with weaker bones and an increased risk of hip fractures -- above and beyond the already higher risk that comes with increasing age.
A chronically high intake of retinol can also cause hypervitaminosis A, which refers to a high level of vitamin A stored in the body that can lead to toxic symptoms, including liver and nerve problems in addition to decreased bone density. Ongoing consumption of large amounts of beta-carotene, on the other hand, has not been shown to weaken bones or cause other toxic effects. That's probably because the body can simply slow or stop the conversion of beta-carotene into vitamin A if it's getting enough vitamin A from retinol.
To help healthy adults prevent the possibility of vitamin A toxicity, the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine (the group that sets the RDAs) has established a Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for retinol. For adult men and women, that level is 3,000 micrograms (10,000 International Units). Some research even suggests that to prevent bone weakening, healthy adults should limit their retinol intake to 1,500 micrograms (5,000 International Units).
But the best way to ensure that your body has access to plenty of vitamin A without becoming overloaded is to get most of your vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, which is plentiful in dark green and orange fruits and vegetables, such as spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, and kale, perhaps with lesser amounts coming from animal sources of retinol, such as whole milk, whole eggs, margarine, and beef liver.
Supplements of vitamin A -- whether from retinol or beta-carotene -- are not recommended for healthy adults. And if you take a multivitamin, choose one that provides no more than the recommended intake of vitamin A and that supplies most or all of that vitamin as beta-carotene rather than retinol.
Recommended Intake: Men and Women: 8 milligrams a day
Iron is best known for its role in the formation of healthy red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen through the blood. Iron is also a component of myoglobin, the compound that stores oxygen in muscle tissues. Oxygen is, of course, essential for life, and without iron to keep those red blood cells coming, you would die.
But iron also has an important job in bolstering the immune system and helping the body manufacture amino acids and convert beta-carotene to vitamin A. There are two types of iron, heme and nonheme. Heme iron is found in meat, while nonheme iron is found in plants. Nonheme iron is less well absorbed, but that can be easily remedied by eating a food rich in vitamin C with a food rich in nonheme iron, since vitamin C aids in its absorption.
While iron remains an essential nutrient, as you age your body needs less of the mineral. That's especially true of women after menopause. The risk of continuing to bolster your iron intake as you pass 50 is that you could unknowingly be suffering from a condition known as hemochromatosis.
Also known as iron overload, hemochromatosis occurs when the body gets saturated with iron and isn't able to discard the extra. Untreated, it has the potential to harm every organ in your body. Some experts say it is the most common genetic disorder in the country. It is most common among Caucasians of northern European ancestry. Symptoms can include chronic fatigue and persistent aches and pains in your joints.
Recommended Intake: Men and Women: a maximum of 1,500 milligrams a day
Although the maximum recommended intake for this mineral, set forth in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, is 1,500 milligrams a day for middle-age and older adults (it's less than 2,300 milligrams for younger adults), the body requires a mere 180 milligrams of sodium a day to function properly.
Limiting sodium is difficult, to say the least; sodium is present in nearly all foods. Processed foods and restaurant fare are usually loaded with sodium, so it's easy to go overboard. Too much sodium, however, aggravates high blood pressure in people who are sodium-sensitive; in such individuals, the higher the sodium intake, the higher the blood pressure.
Reducing blood pressure reduces the risk of stroke, heart disease, and kidney disease. In addition, a high-sodium diet can cause your body to lose calcium from bones, increasing your risk for osteoporosis. Not everyone is sensitive to sodium's effects on blood pressure, but there is no way to identify those who are sodium-sensitive. That's why experts recommend that everyone curb their sodium intake.
Recommended Intake to Maintain Your Weight: Men, lightly to moderately active: 2,000 to 2,600 calories a day; Women, lightly to moderately active: 1,600 to 1,800 calories a day
Calories are the energy your body extracts from the carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in the food you eat. You need a certain number of calories for your body to function. You need more calories if you're physically active and muscular, less if you're more of a couch potato and/or need to lose weight. Men generally need more calories than women, and young people require more calories than older people.
If you're 50+ and not physically active, you really have to keep an eye on your calorie intake or you could put on pounds that increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and some kinds of cancer. Here's a sobering thought: It takes only 100 extra calories a day to end up with an extra 10 pounds on your frame at the end of a year. You would either have to become more active or eat less to undo the damage.
The key to preventing weight gain is to balance your calorie intake with the energy you expend through physical activity. Since certain nutrients become even more important as you age, you need to make the most of your limited calories by choosing low-calorie foods that are brimming with nutrients.
Densie Webb, Ph.D., R.D. is the author of seven books, including Foods for Better Health, The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!, and Super Nutrition After 50. Webb also writes about health and nutrition for numerous magazines, including Family Circle, Fitness, Parade, Men's Fitness, and Redbook. She is a regular columnist for Woman's Day and Prevention magazines, a contributing writer for The New York Times, the associate editor of Environmental Nutrition newsletter, and a writer for the American Botanical Council.
Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D. is a nutrition consultant and writer. She is the author or co-author of five books, including Super Nutrition After 50 and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler. Ward is a contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition newsletter and a contributing writer for WebMD.com. She also writes for publications such as Parenting magazine and The Boston Globe.
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