March is National Nutrition Month, making this a good time to consider what vitamin supplements you need. You may have heard that changes in our bodies and our diets lead to older adults needing more of certain vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. But those over 65 shouldn’t reach for that bottle of vitamins just yet.
A much-quoted article from a 2012 issue of the journal, Advances in Nutrition, warns that there is no scientific evidence that older adults need—or benefit from—additional vitamin and mineral supplements.
The article’s author, Donald B. McCormick, PhD, a retired professor of biochemistry and the graduate program in nutrition and health sciences at Emory University, examined 12 years of studies and reached the conclusion that minor changes in diet can meet most older adults’ needs for nutrients, “with supplements included only where there is evidence of serious limitation of intake.”
• According to this well-accepted belief, there are only a few reasons for those 65 and better to turn to supplements (including vitamin pills) for certain vitamins:
• When your physician or nutritionist recommends a supplement, or approves your continued use. Be sure you get precise instructions on what you should take, including the dosage. Some vitamins are sold as compounds, and different health conditions or individual needs will call for specific compounds.
• When your diet is limited, whether by physical constraints or abilities, tastes, or budget.
Watch Your Intake
of the “Big Four”
Generally, research suggests that older adults should watch their dietary levels for a handful of important vitamins, and consider asking a physician about supplements:
Vitamin B12 plays a key role in creating new red blood cells and DNA, and helps maintain nerve function. As we age, our bodies’ absorption of B12 becomes less efficient. Older adults may need to get more B12-rich foods into their diet. These include fish and poultry, eggs, and dairy products.
Folate or folic acid is an essential B vitamin, and helps your body build new cells. A shortage of folate can contribute to anemia. These days, breakfast cereals are fortified with folate (check your labels), and fruits and vegetables are also great sources.
Calcium is crucial for maintaining good bone health. Unfortunately, as we age, not only do we need strong bones, but we seem to consume less calcium in our diet. Reverse this trend by getting three servings each day of dairy products like low-fat milk. (The combination of milk’s protein and calcium is a highly efficient way to get this crucial nutrient.) Fruit juices are often fortified with calcium, and kale and broccoli are also good sources. Not a fan of leafy green vegetables? Try putting them in a fruit smoothie, which does an excellent job of masking their taste (see side bar).
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, making it another key component of bone health in older adults. Vitamin D is produced by our skin when exposed to sunlight, but many people still aren’t getting enough of it, so supplements are often recommended. To get more vitamin D in your diet, eat salmon and tuna, eggs, fortified milk and yogurt, and fortified fruit juices.
A to Z Advice
With these facts in mind, think twice before assuming you can meet your nutritional needs with vitamin pills and other supplements. By making adjustments to your diet and incorporating some of the foods mentioned above, you can get the vitamins you need in the most effective and efficient way possible—and this is true for people of any age. Bon appétit!