elderly nutrition

Elderly Nutrition

Vitamins and Minerals

Proper elderly nutrition includes vitamins and minerals. Important at any age, vitamins and minerals become even more important as people get older, particularly vitamin C, D, B6 and B12, folate, magnesium and calcium.

If you follow a good elderly nutrition diet as outlined above, most of these will get eaten as part of your diet. Some minerals and vitamins are difficult to incorporate as part of a healthy diet and a multivitamin/ mineral supplement are a good idea (though these won't replace healthy eating!!).

It's important to consult with your physician and dietician about which vitamins and minerals to take (or what multivitamin they would recommend); supplement companies are in the business of selling so you won't always get the right information. Your physician or pharmacist will also be able to make sure that the multivitamin your loved one takes does not interfere with any other medications.

Usually a multivitamin / mineral supplement for people over 50 is a good choice for proper elderly nutrition. It is important to take multivitamins/ supplements as directed because large amounts of some minerals or vitamins can be harmful to the health.

Essential Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamin C and Vitamin E:

Vitamin C helps the body form collagen which is needed for healing wounds and repairing bones and teeth. It is also used to make skin, ligaments, tendons and blood vessels.

Vitamin C and E are antioxidants - they help protect a person from free radicals released when food is turned into energy. Antioxidants are thought to prevent heart disease and cancer.

Recommended dose (per day):

  • Vitamin C: 90 mgs (for men) or 75 mgs (for women) with an extra 75 mgs for people who smoke
  • Vitamin E: 15 mgs for both men and women

Good sources of dietary Vitamin C are:

  • Oranges/ orange juice
  • Strawberries
  • Kiwi
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Red and green peppers

Good sources of dietary Vitamin E are:

  • Avocados
  • Vegetable oils
  • Nuts and nut butters (like peanut butter)
  • Wheatgerm
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Leafy greens
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Papayas

You can take too much Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Likely a multivitamin is all your loved one needs. They should not take more than 2000 mgs of Vitamin C per day and no more than 1000 mgs of Vitamin E per day.

Calcium and Vitamin D:

Calcium and Vitamin D work together to build strong bones and teeth.

Regular exercise, proper elderly nutrition and eating foods rich in calcium and Vitamin D help to prevent muscle weakness and osteoporosis. Osteoporosis causes bones to become smaller, more fragile and more likely to break.

Prevention of both muscle weakness and osteoporosis can directly decrease risk of falls and injury in the elderly.

Recommended dose (per day):

  • Calcium: 1200 mgs but do not take more than 600 mgs at a time, if possible. Ask your dietician.
  • Vitamin D: 600 IU (international units)

If your loved one already has osteoporosis, their doctor may recommend a higher does of calcium and Vitamin D.

Foods rich in calcium:

  • Milk, yogurt and cheese
  • Firm tofu made with calcium sulfate
  • Soy drinks
  • Orange juice fortified with calcium
  • Almonds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Salmon
  • Sardines with bones

Sunlight is the major source of Vitamin D; another great reason to get outside as often as possible. In Northern areas such as Canada or Scandinavia, it can be hard to get the proper amount of Vitamin D from the sun in the winter months.

Dietary Sources of Vitamin D:

  • Vitamin D fortified foods such as milk, soy drinks and margarine
  • Fatty fish such as salmon, herring and eulachon
  • Egg yolks
  • Fish liver oils

Vitamin B12:

Vitamin B12 is used by the body to keep your nervous system working well, help form healthy red blood cells and increase energy and alertness. As a person ages, their body does not absorb vitamin B12 as well as when they were younger.

Recommended dose (per day):

  • Vitamin B12: 2.5 mcgs

As B12 is not absorbed well in people's bodies over the age of 50, eating foods fortified with B12 is also recommended as well as taking a multivitamin with Vitamin B12 with at least the dosage recommended above.

Foods fortified with Vitamin B12:

  • Vegetarian "meats": such as tofu patties, tofu sausage, tofu lunch meat
  • Fortified soy drinks

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 does similar functions to Vitamin B12. In addition, it also helps maintain blood sugar levels. Many of the elderly do not get enough Vitamin B6 through their diets and a multivitamin is recommended.

Good dietary sources of Vitamin B6:

  • Beef, chicken, fish
  • Bananas
  • Green beans
  • Fortified cereals

Folate / Folic Acid

Folate and Folic Acid help red blood cells form and may help prevent some forms of cancer. Too little folate can lead to anemia, which may make seniors feel tired.

Recommended dose (per day):

  • 400 mcgs

Foods rich in folate:

  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fruits


Magnesium is used by the body to maintain muscles and nerves, control blood pressure and keep heart rhythm steady.

Recommended dose (per day):

  • Magnesium: 420 mcgs (senior men) or 320 mgs (senior women)

Good sources of magnesium:

  • Spinach
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes (eg. Beans and peas)
  • Meats
  • Whole grains
  • Fruits
  • Dairy products


Iron aids in carrying oxygen to the body for breathing and moving. Iron-deficiency anemia can result from too little iron, making a person feel tired and irritable.

Recommended dose (per day):

  • Iron: 8 mgs from your food or 14.4 mgs if vegetarian. More iron rich foods are recommended for vegetarians as your body does not absorb iron from non-meat sources ('non-heme' iron) as efficiently so more is needed.

Foods rich in "heme" Iron:

  • Beef
  • Organ meats (liver, kidney, heart)
  • Pork
  • Veal
  • Lamb
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Fish

Foods rich in "non-heme" iron:

  • Dried beans
  • Grains
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits

Vegetarians should make an extra effort to eat lots of iron-rich food. Combining these with foods high in Vitamin C, such as orange juice, can help your body absorb non-heme iron.

Too much iron can be harmful to be sure to stick to recommended elderly nutrition dosages. Do not take extra iron than provided in your multivitamin unless recommended by your doctor.

Do Elderly Need Supplements?

Herbal supplements

Once again, consulting your pharmacist or physician about extra supplements is important to proper elderly nutrition.

Just because a supplement is "natural", does not mean it is "safe"; particularly when other vitamins or medications are involved.


Many of the elderly take fibre supplements to help with constipation. These are only recommended as a last resort.

Refer to the section on Constipation in the Elderly for more details about how to properly approach difficulties with constipation.

Liquid nutritional supplements or Meal Replacements (eg. Boost, Ensure).

Liquid nutritional supplements are often considered an easy way to get extra elderly nutrition.

They are convenient but would be better considered as a snack than a meal replacement. Incorporating these into your loved ones diet should also be discussed with you physician, dietician and pharmacist.

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