How to Get the Right Nutrients at Any Age

Your body needs different things at different ages. That’s especially true when it comes to nutrition.

What we eat affects how we age. And aging changes our nutritional needs. Understanding that link is vital to maintaining good health as we get older, says Tufts Universityleaving site icon

There’s no single food or supplement that helps you stay healthy. Instead, good health and aging well are linked to your genetic makeup and family health history and the lifestyle choices you make.

Things like physical activity levels and sleep have a big impact on your health. Not using tobacco products is key to better health. And getting good nutrition from healthy foods to support a strong mind and body is another one of the most important things you can do for your health as you age. 

Starting Early

What you eat at younger ages counts. That’s because a poor diet in your 20s and 30s can impact what health issues you develop later. In addition to avoiding things that can harm you, it’s important to make sure to get enough of the nutrients that will help you lay the foundation for good health when you get older.

For example, drinking too many soft drinks instead of drinking enough milk as a teen or young adult can contribute to getting osteoporosis later in life. While getting enough vitamin D and calcium when you’re still a young adult can help support your bones as you get older.

It’s important to pay attention to food choices at every age, and listen to your body. You may cut your chance of having heart disease or diabetes by keeping a healthy weight, for example.

Different Needs as We Age

As we age, we may need fewer calories to keep a steady weight, but we still need essential nutrients. Making smart food choices, found on the USDA My Plate, leaving site icon is vital. Popping a pill doesn’t replace eating the gold standards of a healthy, balanced diet:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Beans, legumes and lean proteins like fish and poultry
  • Healthy oils

Cutting alcohol use and adding more water for hydration can also help you maintain a healthy body as you age.

Getting Your Vitamins

Many turn to vitamins and supplements to get their daily nutrients. But it isn’t the only way to do it, and it often isn’t the best way, says the Cleveland Clinicleaving site icon Whether you need vitamin supplements depends on your specific health needs and diet. Talking to your primary care doctor about what your body needs is the best choice.

When You Take Them Matters
If you do take vitamins, taking the right ones is only one part of the puzzle. It’s also important to take them at the right time. leaving site icon And some may need to be taken with food while others work better on an empty stomach.

That’s because how you take them affects how well your body can absorb and use the nutrients from them. For example, some are water-soluble, like vitamin C and vitamin B12. They work better with a glass of water and an empty stomach. Others, like vitamin D, are fat-soluble. Those work best after you’ve eaten some food containing fat.

It’s also good to find out what effects each vitamin or supplement may have after you take them. Then look at your daily routine and plan the best times to take them. For example, some vitamins may affect your energy levels. So don’t take vitamins that might add energy at bedtime.

Safety First
Healthy people who eat a balanced diet often don’t need any supplements. But if you plan to take vitamins or supplements, make sure they’re safe, says Columbia University Irving Medical Center. leaving site icon Don’t just look at claims made about what they can do. Look at the science behind the product. Look at the ingredients and how the product is made.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration leaving site icon offers facts on supplement use and safety.

Do Your Research
Don’t impulse buy vitamins and supplements. If you’re worried about a nutritional deficiency, first talk to your doctor. Blood tests can show whether you really have a deficiency. And if you do, your doctor can help you get what you need.

And if you’re concerned that you don’t have a balanced diet, it may help to talk to a dietitian. They can help you make a food plan that works best for your needs.

Healthy Diet = Longer Life

We all know we should eat a healthy diet. But do you know that a healthy diet helps prevent many serious diseases and helps you live longer? A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) leaving site icon found a link between a healthy dietary routine and a reduced risk of death from any cause.

It’s never too late to start improving your diet. But the sooner you get started, the bigger impact the changes will have on your long-term health and quality of life. Get the details about what foods are best for you at each stage of your life.

Sources: The Two-Way Relationship Between Nutrition and Aging, leaving site icon Tufts University, 2023; What Vitamins You Should Take Is a Personalized Decision, leaving site icon Cleveland Clinic, 2024; The Best Time to Take Vitamins, leaving site icon Cleveland Clinic, 2021; What supplements do you need? Probably none., leaving site icon Columbia University Irving Medical Center, 2023; Information for Consumers on Using Dietary Supplements, leaving site icon U.S. Food & Drug Administration, 2022
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