Vitamins help our bodies grow and work the way it should. There are 13 vitamins—vitamins C, A, D, E, K, and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, B6, B12, and folate). Vitamins have different jobs — helping us resist infections, keeping our nerves healthy, and helping our bodies get energy from food or our blood to clot properly. By following the Dietary Guidelines, we can get enough of most of these vitamins from food.
Vitamins and minerals are measured in a variety of ways. The most common are:
mg – milligram
mcg – microgram
IU – international unit
Your doctor might suggest that, like some older adults, you need extra of a few vitamins, as well as the mineral calcium. It is usually better to get the nutrients you need from food, rather than a pill. That’s because nutrient-dense foods contain other things that are good for you like fiber. Look for foods fortified with certain vitamins and minerals, like some B vitamins, calcium, and vitamin D. That means those nutrients are added to the foods to help you meet your needs.
Dietary guidelines for senior vitamin intake are as follows:
Minerals also help our bodies function. Some minerals, like iodine and fluoride, are only needed in very small quantities. Others, such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium, are needed in larger amounts. As with vitamins, if we eat a varied diet, we probably get enough of most minerals from healthy food choices.
Mineral guidelines for senior intake are as follows:
Also important are calcium and sodium. Calcium is a mineral that is important for strong bones and teeth, so there are special recommendations for older people who are at risk for bone loss. You can get calcium from milk and milk products (remember to choose fat-free or low-fat whenever possible), some forms of tofu, dark-green leafy vegetables (like collard greens and kale), soybeans, canned sardines and salmon with bones, and calcium-fortified foods. There are several types of calcium supplements. Calcium citrate and calcium carbonate tend to be the least expensive. Ask your doctor if you think a supplement would be right for you.
In most Americans’ diets, sodium primarily comes from salt (sodium chloride), though it is naturally found in some foods. Sodium is also added to others during processing, often in the form of salt. We all need some sodium, but too much over time can contribute to raising your blood pressure or put you at risk for heart disease, stroke, or kidney disease.
How much sodium is okay? People 51 and older should reduce their sodium to 1,500 mg each day and that includes sodium added during manufacturing or cooking as well as at the table when eating. That is about 2/3 teaspoon of salt.
Preparing meals at home without using a lot of processed foods or adding salt will allow you to control how much sodium you get. Look for grocery products marked “low sodium,” “unsalted,” “no salt added,” “sodium free,” or “salt free.”
To limit sodium to 1,500 mg daily, try using less salt when cooking, and don’t add salt before you take the first bite. If you make this change slowly, you will get used to the difference in taste. Eating more vegetables and fruit also helps—they are naturally low in sodium and provide more potassium.
Remember, healthy food is the first line of defense against sickness! Give your body what it needs to be at it’s best!