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July 22, 2013

Adding Supplements to Your Diet: What Older Adults Need to Know

Maintaining a healthy diet is essential for remaining happy, healthy, and independent in your home as you age. According to ChooseMyPlate.gov, women 51 years and older should consume 2 cups of vegetables and 1 ½ cups of fruit every day. For older adult men, it’'s 2 ½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit. This is in addition to lean proteins like fish or chicken, beans and peas, and nuts and seeds, as well as whole grains.

While you know you should eat healthy, you also know setting aside time for finding new healthy recipes, grocery shopping, and preparing meals is considerably more time consuming (and stressful!) than grabbing a quick bite at a convenient restaurant. So you’'re considering adding a few supplements to your diet to ensure you’'re fulfilling all of your body’'s nutritional needs.

But before you peruse the local pharmacy or health food store for supplements, the Mayo Clinic advises older adults get the facts on what supplements will and will not do for you.

Do Older Adults Need Supplements?

According to WebMD, at least half of older adults age 65 and above take daily vitamins and other supplements, many of whom may not actually need them. “If you’'re generally healthy and eat a wide variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, low-fat diary products, lean meats, and fish,” says the Mayo Clinic, “you likely don't need supplements.”

However, getting adequate nutrition as an older adult is often easier said than done. With age, the number of calories you need begins to decline,” says WebMD. “Every calorie you consume must be packed with nutrition in order to hit the mark.”

Older adults who may need supplements in their diets include:

  • Those who do not eat well or consume fewer than 1,600 calories per day
  • Those not often exposed to sunlight
  • Vegans or vegetarians who eat limited varieties of food
  • Those with a medical condition that affects how the body absorbs or uses nutrients, which may include food allergies or intolerance or a disease of the liver, gallbladder, intestines, or pancreas.
  • Those who have had digestive tract surgery and are unable to digest and absorb nutrients properly

Talk to your doctor to get a better picture of your health. If you aren’'t getting your recommended daily allotment of certain foods, supplements may be a useful way to get nutrients you might otherwise be lacking. But the Mayo Clinic warns, “Supplements aren’'t intended to be a food substitute.” Adding a supplement to your diet does not mean you can suddenly scarf down your all-time favorite salty dinners or decadently rich desserts and forgo your fruits and vegetables.

When speaking with your doctor, remind him or her of all the medications you are taking. (Better yet, bring them along with you!) “Like conventional medicines,” WebMD says, “dietary supplements may cause side effects, trigger allergic reactions, or interact with prescriptions and nonprescription medicines or other supplements you might be taking.”

If your doctor suggests adding a supplement to your diet, be mindful of the dosage he or she recommends. “Metabolism slows down as a person ages, and in elderly people, it takes the liver longer to eliminate drugs and vitamins from the body,” according to Elder Parent Help. Dosage levels harmless in young adults can be toxic for older adults.

Want to learn more about medication for older adults? Download our free guide today!

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photo credit: colindunn


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