- By Julie Stefanski
- In 2019
- September 4, 2019
How to Eat for Healthy Aging
By Katie Dwyer
September is Healthy Aging Month, a time for those of us over age 45 to consider where
we are now in our physical and mental well-being, and where we’d like to go. Healthy
eating plays a major role in extending both quantity and quality of life.
The risk of developing chronic diseases increases with age, but a nutritious diet –
combined with exercise and an engaging social life – helps to mitigate these risks. It’s
never too early or too late to adopt a wholesome and well-balanced diet. Here are some
of the cornerstones of eating for healthy aging:
More Protein to Maintain Muscle Mass
Beginning in a person’s mid-20s, muscle loss occurs at a rate of about 1% year and
accelerates over time. By the time someone reaches age 70, they may only have 30-40%
of their peak adult muscular strength.
That inhibits older adults’ ability to perform activities of daily living – simple tasks like
climbing a flight of steps, lifting grocery bags, or pulling open a heavy door.
The World Health Organization recommends 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body
weight per day, regardless of age, but research suggests we need more protein the older
we get. At least 1.0–1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight per day in combination with
adequate exercise is recommended to prevent muscle and strength loss.
But the source matters too. Choose lean meats, fish, legumes and other plant-based
proteins to keep saturated fat intake in check.
Proper Portions for a Healthy Body Weight
Another unfortunate side effect of aging is a slowing metabolism, which makes it easier
to put on body fat. Overweight and obesity increase the risk of developing a host of
diseases like cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and even cancer. To
maintain a healthy body weight, it’s often necessary to cut portion sizes and consume
fewer calories as we age.
The Dietary Guidelines estimate that a moderately active 50-year-old man needs about
2,400 calories per day while a moderately active women of the same age needs about
2,000. But individual needs will vary based on activity level, height, weight, and
Use this equation to estimate your calorie needs. Track your calories for a few days –
without making any changes to your diet – to see if you’re consuming too much or too
little. Most diet and activity trackers available today estimate your calories needs for you
based on your gender, height, weight, age and activity level, making it easy to see where
Antioxidants for a Strong Immune System
A weakened immune system makes the body more prone to illness and infection and
makes it harder to recover. Higher-than-recommended intakes of vitamin E, vitamin
B6, selenium and zinc may be necessary to keep older adults’ immune systems
functioning optimally and able to resist infection.
Antioxidants like Vitamin E, zinc, selenium, Vitamin C, carotenoids and a variety of
phytochemicals neutralize free radicals that, left to their own devices, cause cell damage
and death – which paves the way for illness. Fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts
and seeds are rich sources of antioxidants.
Low levels of B6 have also been linked with inflammation. Increasing B6 intake may
improve immune response and protect against various diseases associated with aging.
Food sources of B6 include chickpeas, tuna, salmon, chicken and fortified cereals.
Fatty Acids for Brain Health
Omega-3 fatty acids and their anti-inflammatory properties have been shown to protect
against cognitive decline. Studies show that the Mediterranean diet, with its emphasis
on healthy fats from olive oil, fish, nuts and seeds, may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s
The richest food sources of Omega 3 fatty acids include flaxseed, chia seed, salmon,
mackerel, herring and canola oil. Check out a full list of food sources here.
Eating for Bone Health
Weakened bones mean a simple fall can result in a broken hip, surgery, increased risk of
infection, and rehab. As with loss of muscle mass, fragile bones limit our ability to stay
active into old age. Men age 50 or older need at least 1,000 mg of calcium per day, while
women need 1,200 mg. But even calcium won’t do the trick without Vitamin D, which
helps bones to package and store calcium.
Research concludes that “the reason for disturbed calcium balance with age is
inadequate vitamin D levels in the elderly.”
Vitamin D is largely not obtained from food; getting outside is crucial to maintain
adequate levels of Vitamin D. Exposure of the arms, legs, face or back to sunlight for five
to 30 minutes at least twice a week is generally considered enough to spark synthesis of
Katie is a graduate nutrition student at Immaculata University, personal trainer and
freelance health and fitness writer. See more of her work at