As we age, it becomes more and more difficult for our bodies to extract important nutrition from food.  As a result, it’s increasingly easy to fall victim to a vitamin or mineral deficiency. This can spell trouble for proper organ and immune function, eye health, bone density, and more. Some deficiencies can even imitate the symptoms of serious diseases: for example, lowered Vitamin B12 and folate levels have been shown to mimic the symptoms of dementia, causing confusion, memory loss, and disorientation.

It’s important for seniors to make every meal count by packing as many nutrients as possible onto each plate. Focus on filling mealtime with fresh vegetables and fruits, lean meats, fish, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and dairy. Don’t be discouraged if your doctor still recommends vitamin supplements after you feel like you’ve been doing everything right; a declining appetite, decreased nutrient absorption, and an overall need for fewer calories means that even the most diligent among us can still be missing out on the good stuff!

Here are just a few essential vitamins and minerals that will keep you in good health well into your golden years.

Vitamin B12: This vitamin is crucial for cell formation, particularly red blood cells and the covering of nerve cells. Getting enough B12 prevents anemia and protects the body against nerve damage. You can find Vitamin B12 in meat, poultry, shellfish, eggs, cheese, and milk, so it’s especially important to supplement B12 if you’re a vegetarian.

Folate or Folic Acid: Also known as Vitamin B9, folate works with B12 to promote neurological health by assisting cell development. It’s best to try to get all of your folate from foods, because supplementation, if not monitored by a doctor, can mask a B12 deficiency. Foods rich in folic acid are dark, leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, mushrooms, and certain fruits like oranges, bananas, and melons.

Calcium: Though vital for optimal bone health, calcium also supports muscle function and a healthy heart. Most people know that dairy is a great source of calcium, but there are many vegetables, meats, and nuts that pack a lot of the mineral, too. The best examples are kale, collard greens, and other dark leafy veggies; canned salmon and sardines; chicken or other broth made from animal bones; and almonds and sesame seeds.

Vitamin D: This vitamin is essential for calcium absorption. You can take all the calcium supplements you want, but if you’re lacking in Vitamin D, your body won’t be able to use it. Milk is often fortified with Vitamin D, but the best way to get it is through sun exposure. If you live in a cloudy climate or have limited mobility that interferes with spending time outside, you’re more likely to have a deficiency.

Potassium: This mineral supports the vitamins in all of the functions mentioned above – it plays a role in bone health, fluid balance, nerve function, healthy blood pressure, and heart rhythm.  Sufficient potassium intake also helps to prevent stroke. Potassium is abundant in potatoes, apricots, broccoli, spinach, beans, tomatoes, avocados and, of course, bananas.

Remember that in most cases, it’s important to speak with your doctor before choosing to use supplements since an excess of a vitamin could interfere with medications or other health conditions you may have. If you mindfully fill your plates with colorful produce and a variety of meats and grains, you’ll be well on your way to a healthy retirement.

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