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A Guide to Important Vitamins and Minerals for Seniors

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A Guide to Important Vitamins and Minerals for Seniors

Seniors residing at our Bethesda Gardens Monument assisted living community enjoy nutritious and delicious meals served restaurant-style in the dining room. A balanced diet is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle and provides active seniors the high-quality fuel they need to thrive.

Nutrient-rich meals are especially important for seniors because as people age, they can become deficient in certain vitamins and minerals. The National Institute on Aging suggests choosing an assortment within every food group throughout the week can help older adults get a larger variety of the different nutrients while making mealtimes more interesting and appealing.

The following are six of the most important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants for seniors and some of the best food and beverage choices for obtaining them.

1. Calcium

This essential mineral is important for strong bones and teeth, and 99% of the calcium in your body is found in your teeth and bones. Adequate calcium intake can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis (bone loss), fractures and diabetes.

Participating in weight-bearing exercises, such as dancing, brisk walking and golf, is a good way to maintain strong bones as you age. Dietary sources high in calcium include:

  • Dairy products
  • Tofu, or soybean curd
  • Dark-green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, mustard greens and Swiss chard
  • Canned sardines and salmon with bones
  • Calcium-fortified orange juice

2. Vitamin D

Vitamin D also plays a big role in keeping your bones strong and healthy because it helps your body absorb calcium from the food you eat. Vitamin D helps your muscles move, your nerves carry messages between the brain and other body parts, and your immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses.

The body doesn't store large amounts of this important vitamin, so spending regular time outdoors getting a few minutes of direct sunlight exposure helps to fulfill your daily requirements of vitamin D. If you don't get outside often enough or live in a cold climate, ask your doctor to test the vitamin D levels in your blood to see if you might benefit from supplementation.

Emphasize vitamin-D-rich foods and beverages such as:

  • Fatty fish, such as tuna, mackerel and salmon
  • Beef liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Cheese
  • Fortified cereals and fortified milk products

3. Potassium

The mineral potassium plays an important role in several physical processes. It works with your kidneys to remove extra sodium from your body through your urine, which helps keep your blood pressure levels healthy. Potassium relaxes the walls of your blood vessels, which promotes heart health, and it helps your muscles flex and contract properly. In fact, 80% of the potassium in your body is found in muscle cells.

Be sure to incorporate the following good sources of potassium into your weekly diet:

  • Bananas
  • Broccoli
  • White potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Dried fruits, such as raisins, prunes and dates

4. Vitamin B12

This nutrient is important for the health of your nerve and blood cells. Vitamin B12 helps make DNA, the carrier of genetic information in all cells. Vitamin B12 also helps prevent megaloblastic anemia, a red blood cell condition that can cause weakness and fatigue.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that many older adults have a hard time absorbing the vitamin B12 naturally present in food due to insufficient hydrochloric acid in the stomach. People over 50 should look for foods fortified with vitamin B12 or take dietary supplements since their bodies are better able to absorb the vitamin B12 in these sources, according to NIH. People who eat little or no animal foods should also look for fortified vegan or vegetarian products.

Items rich in B12 include:

  • Meat, especially beef liver
  • Clams
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Milk
  • Fortified breakfast cereals and nutritional yeasts

5. Magnesium

Every cell in your body needs the mineral magnesium to function. A few of the more than 600 reactions it facilitates in your body include converting food into energy, helping your muscles contract and relax, and regulating the neurotransmitters that send messages throughout your brain and nervous system.

Low levels of magnesium are linked to an increased risk for depression, so be sure to emphasize mood-boosting foods high in magnesium in your daily diet, such as:

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Dark chocolate
  • Black beans
  • Almonds and cashews
  • Halibut and mackerel

6. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

Coenzyme Q10 is not a vitamin but a fat-soluble antioxidant. Your body naturally produces CoQ10, but concentrations have been found to decline gradually with age in many different tissues. This compound is stored in the mitochondria of your cells, where it's used for energy, growth and maintenance.

People with certain conditions, such as heart disease, have been found to have lower CoQ10 levels, reports Mayo Clinic. A few of the positive benefits of CoQ10 include:

  • Improving symptoms of congestive heart failure
  • Possibly reducing blood pressure
  • Providing benefits for people in the early stages of Parkinson's disease

The highest levels of CoQ10 are found in animal products, although soybean, corn, olive and canola oils are also good sources. Choose foods high in CoQ10 including:

  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Chicken
  • Fatty fish
  • Organ meats

Most seniors can get all the nutrients they need from foods, according to the National Institute on Aging. But if you're concerned that you may be low in an essential vitamin or mineral, ask your doctor if a supplement could be helpful. You shouldn't take over-the-counter supplements without first consulting your physician because many can have negative interactions with prescription medications you might be using.