Key Nutrients Through the Decades: What You Need to Stay Strong

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Nutrient needs vary throughout the decades.

Healthy eating is important at any age; however, the nutrients we need the most tend to shift slightly throughout the years. As we get older, some vitamins and minerals become more important to focus on. In this article, we’ll detail the top four nutrients for each of these four decades: your 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. 

Nutrients in Your 40s

1. Vitamin D

Due to the small number of foods that naturally contain vitamin D combined with very little time spent outdoors, vitamin D deficiency is widely prevalent. This fat-soluble vitamin is most known for its bone-boosting benefits, which it achieves by shuttling calcium from the blood to the bones. Vitamin D is also essential for immune system functioning, and inadequate levels are linked to an increased risk of various diseases.

Starting to watch your vitamin D levels in your forties is a good way to ensure that your health is strong as you approach mid-life. Vitamin D3 is the recommended form, with a daily dose of 1,000-4,000 IU generally considered as safe.

2. Vitamin C

Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant to promote healthy aging.

Emphasizing on antioxidants can reduce free radicals and oxidative damage in your body. This can lead to a healthier aging process on a cellular level, as well as on the surface, as vitamin C prevents aging of the skin and stimulates collagen synthesis. 

Vitamin C is found in citrus, bell peppers, strawberries, and broccoli; supplemental and topical forms are useful to ensure your cells and skin are functioning healthfully for decades to come.

3. Probiotics 

Providing your gastrointestinal tract with plenty of probiotics creates a diverse microbiome, which we know now plays a role in everything from digestion to mood and immunity. If you don’t eat fermented foods regularly, like sauerkraut or kefir, a probiotic supplement can allow your good gut bacteria to thrive. 

4. Iron

Premenopausal women need higher amounts of iron than men and postmenopausal women, at 18 mg and 8 mg, respectively, as suggested by the National Institutes of Health. Iron deficiency is more likely to occur if you don’t eat animal protein, as red meat is the most bioavailable form. 

Unless your blood tests show low iron, it’s best to get the mineral from food first, instead of adding on a supplement. Other sources of iron include beans and greens, To increase the amount your body absorbs, pair the iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods. 

Nutrients in Your 50s

1. Calcium

Starting at age 50, the calcium needs for women increases to 1200 mg per day; men at this age require 1000 mg per day. Although osteoporosis is more often associated with women, men are at risk, too. After age 50, one of three women and one of five men will experience fractures related to weakened bones, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation. If you take supplemental calcium, you’ll also need adequate vitamin D to make sure calcium gets to the bone and doesn’t build up in tissues and arteries. 

2. Vitamin B6

This water-soluble vitamin plays a role in metabolism, immune health, and central nervous system functioning. Vitamin B6 may be able to reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease. As these diseases begin to develop in the brain decades before diagnosis, ensuring adequate vitamin B6 through diet or supplements can benefit your brain in the long run. 

3. Magnesium

Magnesium is needed for over 300 biochemical actions in the body, including the functioning of the muscles, nerves, and heart. With increasing age, magnesium deficiencies are more common due to the use of multiple medications and reduced absorption in the gut. 

Magnesium used to be much more prevalent in vegetables, but depletion of the mineral in soil has lessened the amounts. A magnesium supplement can be helpful to regulate high blood pressure, which nearly half of American adults suffer from. Coming up, you’ll see magnesium plays a crucial role later in life, too. 

4. Omega-3 Fats

Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in the largest amounts in fatty fish, are essential for heart and brain health. With the standard American food supply favoring omega-6 fats like vegetable and corn oils to omega-3’s, it’s necessary to get plenty of these anti-inflammatory fatty acids through diet or supplements. However, with omega-3 supplements, quality matters — be sure to look for one that tests for mercury and contaminants. 

Nutrients in Your 60s

1. Fiber

Adults over age 65 are particularly prone to constipation, as gut motility is reduced, and medications have digestion-slowing side effects. Increasing your fiber intake through food can help to combat constipation, reduce the risk of diverticulitis, and naturally lower harmful cholesterol levels. 

Women in their 60s should aim for 25 or more grams of fiber per day, while men require 38 or more daily grams. High-fiber foods include berries, apples, pears, beans, lentils, and chia seeds.

Berries are a great source of fiber, which can help with constipation.

2. Potassium 

The essential mineral potassium has been researched for its benefits to strengthening bones, reducing osteoporosis, lowering blood pressure, and reducing the risk of kidney stones and stroke. 

Rather than taking a supplement, increase your dietary potassium through the consumption of avocados, bananas, potatoes, carrots, salmon, and yogurt. 

3. Antioxidants 

Oxidative damage to our cells and tissues is more common with increasing age. Consuming compounds that function as antioxidants, like resveratrol, curcumin, and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), can help to combat this inflammatory damage.

4. Vitamin K2

Vitamin K2 is a lesser-known form of the fat-soluble vitamin K, which has similar functions to vitamin D in that it ensures calcium gets deposited into the bones.

As described in a February 2019 review in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, adequate consumption of vitamin K2 is linked to a reduction in cardiovascular disease, as well as improved health of the bones, teeth, and kidneys. 

Foods that are richest in vitamin K2 are goose liver and natto (fermented soy), with smaller amounts in grass-fed butter, hard cheeses, and egg yolks. A K2 supplement may be warranted if you don’t regularly eat these foods.

Nutritients in Your 70s

1. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12, which is found only in animal products, has reduced bioavailability in the aging population. It requires stomach acid and a compound called intrinsic factor to absorb it; production of both tends to decrease with age. Medications, especially metformin and proton pump inhibitors, also interfere with B12 absorption. 

Fully manifested vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to neurological disorders, like peripheral neuropathy and memory loss. In contrast, low or inadequate vitamin B12 levels can alter cellular metabolism, leading to cognitive decline and negative impacts on cardiovascular health. 

2. Protein

When reaching age 70 and beyond, a special emphasis should be placed on maintaining muscle mass. A loss of muscle mass and strength, which can eventually lead to sarcopenia (muscle wasting), is a primary inhibitor to maintaining a high quality of life with age.

Researchers have recommended slightly higher protein intake for the people in their 70s and beyond — with the optimal range being between 30-35% of their daily calories coming from protein. 

3. Magnesium

As mentioned earlier, constipation is a widespread issue in those aged 60 and beyond. In addition to adding more fiber-rich foods, a magnesium supplement can be beneficial for easing constipation. One of magnesium’s many functions is that it relaxes muscles, which also means the muscles of the digestive tract, allowing for stools to pass easier through the colon. 

There are several types of magnesium supplements. Magnesium glycinate is the best absorbed but only has mild laxative effects. Meanwhile, magnesium citrate works best in cases of moderate to severe constipation, as it draws water into the intestines to soften stool.

4. Calcium + Vitamin D 

If you didn’t adopt calcium and vitamin D in your earlier years, now’s the time to get back on track. In addition to combating weakening of bones and muscle loss, ensuring adequate calcium and vitamin D can prevent these skeletal muscle-related disorders. Low vitamin D levels may also accelerate the aging process by contributing to mitochondrial dysfunction and reducing autophagy

Key Takeaway

Although healthy eating is vital throughout the entire lifespan, each decade requires slightly different nutrients for optimal health. From your forties and beyond, getting sufficient amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants can support your brain, muscles, bones, and heart throughout the rest of your life. Not only do these nutrients support a longer lifespan, but also a longer healthspan — the amount of years you live healthfully, free of disease.

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