Good nutrition is essential for good health at any age, but it becomes even more important when you cross the threshold into late middle-age. As a physician, I constantly emphasize the importance of eating a balanced diet of lean protein, fruits, vegetables and healthy sources of fat to patients. Why is eating a nutritious diet so vital? Your body changes as you enter the second half of life, and you need to make sure you’re getting enough of the essential vitamins and minerals your body requires. The ideal way to get these nutrients is by eating a healthy diet since supplements don’t always have the same benefits as vitamins and minerals found naturally in food. Here are some vitamins and minerals you may need more of as you enter the second half of life.
One in three women over the age of 50 will suffer a painful bone fracture at some point in their life. That’s an unsettling thought since hip fractures are a common cause of death in older people. Bone density starts to decline after the age of 30 but it accelerates after the age of 50. To maintain bone density, you need 1,500 milligrams of calcium a day through diet after 50. To get it, choose more calcium-rich foods choose more dairy foods, tofu and green, leafy vegetables. Other good sources of calcium are sardines, calcium-fortified cereals and salmon with the bones still in it.
Vitamin D is another vitamin essential vitamin for bone health, but that’s not its only role. It also plays other major roles in maintaining health. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked with some chronic diseases including multiple sclerosis, depression, obesity and certain types of cancer. A significant number of people, especially seniors, are deficient in vitamin D. Most people get their vitamin D from sun exposure. That’s because vitamin D isn’t found naturally in many foods with the exception of fatty fish like salmon. Since adequate levels are so important for good health, have your doctor check a vitamin D level through a blood test to make sure you’re not deficient, especially if you spend little time outdoors or live at a Northern latitude.
Many people aren’t getting enough magnesium in their diet. That’s not a good thing when it comes to health. Magnesium is involved in hundreds of chemical reactions in the body. Research shows it may reduce the risk of heart attack, strokes, type 2 diabetes and heart rhythm irregularities. It’s also important for bone health. How can you get more? Add more nuts, beans, lentils, unrefined grains and green, leafy vegetables to your diet.
B12 deficiency becomes more common with age as the amount of acid your stomach produces declines, along with intrinsic factor, a substance produced by the stomach that’s necessary for B12 absorption. B12 is naturally found almost exclusively in meat and dairy foods, although some packaged foods are fortified with it. People who eat a vegan diet for a long period of time are at particularly high risk. A deficiency of B12 can cause anemia and permanent neurological damage. It can also mimic other diseases like multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a good idea to check a blood level of this vitamin periodically if you eat a vegan diet or are over the age of 50.
If you don’t eat many fruits and vegetables, you’re probably not be getting enough vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant vitamin that helps to protect cells against oxidative damage. It’s also essential for a healthy immune system. Vitamin C may not cure a cold, but it keeps your immune system primed so you’re less likely to catch one. Having a strong immune system is important at any age but especially as you get older. Some of the best sources of vitamin C are kiwi fruit, strawberries, oranges, broccoli, green peppers, cauliflower, cranberries and Brussels sprouts. To get more of this antioxidant vitamin, eat more fruits and vegetables.
Researchers at Penn State University found that symptoms of fatigue and frequent infections in people 60 and over can be due to low iron levels. Low iron levels interfere with normal immune function and increase the risk of infections. They also found that low iron levels were linked with a decline in physical function in older people. If you’re feeling tired or run down, see your doctor to see if your iron level is low, but don’t take an iron supplement unless you need it. Too much iron in the form of supplements has been linked with health problems.
Eat a well-balanced diet that emphasizes whole foods to ensure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals you need. Take extra care to make sure you’re getting enough of these important nutrients, but don’t take supplements without consulting your doctor first.
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