Vitamins are vital…
As we grow older, various physiological and psychological changes occur which have a direct effect on nutritional requirements. The body becomes less efficient at absorbing and using many vitamins and minerals. Long-term use of prescription drugs can reduce the absorption of certain nutrients. At the same time, many people find that as they get older their appetite decreases. Since the need for vitamins and minerals stays the same, or in some cases increases, it becomes even more important that the food we eat is healthy and nutritious.
Digestive problems, like constipation, piles and diverticular disease, are more common as we age and become less active. Ensure you keep your fluid intake up by drinking lots of water. Being active helps the gut function appropriately – walking or yoga can help to manage levels of stress and anxiety, which can contribute to constipation.
Our sense of smell and taste becomes less acute as we get older, but don’t fall into the trap of adding extra salt to your food – use herbs, spices and other flavourings such as garlic, lemon juice, flavoured vinegars or mustard.
As we age, levels of stomach acid fall, and as a result the absorption of iron, calcium and the vitamins B6, B12 and folate are reduced. Decreased secretion of gastric intrinsic factor, the protein required for vitamin B12 absorption further decreases your levels of vitamin B12. As a result symptoms of fatigue, weakness and impaired concentration may ensue.
The risk of heart attack and stroke also rises steadily with age. The major contributing factors – nutritional deficiencies, too much saturated fat, alcohol, smoking and a lack of exercise are factors which can all be addressed.
As we get older, our body tends to become less efficient at absorbing or manufacturing vitamin D. The body can make vitamin D by the action of sunlight on the skin, but as people get older they tend to spend less time outside, so make sure your diet contains vitamin D rich foods like eggs and oily fish. Over 65s are also advised to take a supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D daily.
What should I be eating?
Fibre – Make sure that your diet includes lots of fibre-rich foods such as wholegrains, oats, fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils. A small glass of prune juice in the morning may alleviate constipation.
Vitamin B12 – Ensure that you include plenty of foods rich in B12 such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy products and fortified breakfast cereals. Check with your GP if you are concerned about your vitamin B12 levels.
Vitamin D – Small amounts of vitamin D are found in foods such as eggs and oil-rich fish as well as fortified foods such as spreads. Vitamin D can also be made by the action of sunlight on the skin so when the weather is warm, expose your arms and face to the sun for at least 20 minutes a day. During the autumn and winter months, your diet becomes an important source of vitamin D because the sun isn’t strong enough for the body to make vitamin D. As it is difficult to achieve adequate vitamin D from food, most people would benefit from a supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during these months. Speak to your GP or health practitioner if you are concerned about your vitamin D needs.”