Even the healthiest diets can use a makeover from time to time. As we get older, we need fewer of some nutrients, while others become more important. Are there changes you should start making to your meal plans? What about supplements? Read on to find some general guidelines for women over 50 when it comes to diet.
One potential bummer about getting older is that your body needs fewer calories after 50. Even health-conscious eaters don’t always realize their metabolism is slowing, and fail to reduce calorie intake — hence the dreaded middle-aged spread.
On average, women over 50 should consume about 1600 calories a day, compared to younger women who should take in about 2,000 calories. It’s more important than ever to make those calories count. You have fewer “empty calories” to spare on dessert and junk food. Stick to nutrient-dense foods that still satisfy your cravings.
Iron is also less important once you stop menstruating altogether. You’re no longer losing this nutrient through monthly blood loss, so you don’t have to replace those stores. That means you can cut back on the liver and mega-supplements!
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends about 8 mg of daily iron after 50, compared to the 18 mg of iron that younger women require. One or two servings of lean meat, dried beans or fortified cereals should deliver the iron you need.
Another reason to cut back on the iron somewhat is that an excess amount can lead to constipation. Older adults have a hard enough time keeping “regular.” Why not kill two birds with one stone by having a high-fiber cereal enriched with about 8 mg of iron?
Certain vitamins, minerals, and other compounds become more important than ever once you pass that half-century mark. Some nutrients will have a higher official daily recommended allowance (RDA) for your age and gender. Other nutrients might carry the same RDA as they did when you were younger. But neglecting them becomes increasingly consequential.
Once you reach the menopausal stage, your bones are in danger of becoming more brittle with each decade. Calcium provides protection against bone loss and osteoporosis. Boost your daily calcium intake to at least 1200 mg each day. If you’re not on estrogen therapy, you may need as much as 1500 mg. Discuss this aspect of calcium RDA with your doctor.
Try to add more servings of low-fat dairy selections into your meal plan. Cottage cheese, hard cheeses, yogurt, and skim milk are all good choices. If you’re vegan — or just bored with too much dairy — other high-calcium options include almonds and almond milk, salmon, legumes, and broccoli.
It can take some practice to calculate how much calcium you’re getting from your daily meal plan. Eating a meal that includes low-fat cottage cheese and broccoli will yield about 200 mg calcium, for example. Having similar combinations throughout the day, including a yogurt snack, might leave you with only 600-800 mg of calcium consumed through food. It’s easy to see why a calcium supplement might be needed to close the gap.
There’s a reason Vitamin D and calcium are frequently mentioned together. Vitamin D is vital because it helps your body absorb calcium more effectively. But beyond the calcium absorption assistance, vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to depression and serious illnesses. The connection is especially strong with seniors, who absorb vitamin D less easily as they age.
Add to that the fact that sunlight is one of the few natural sources of the nutrient available to humans, and it’s not surprising so many people over 50 are deficient. You’ll need at least 600 IU of daily Vitamin D — more if you’re not outside very much.
Canned tuna, sardines, and wild salmon are high in Vitamin D, as are shrimp and oysters. Vegetarian options include egg yolks, as well as fortified milk, juice, cereal, and oatmeal. A supplement of 200 to 400 IU of Vitamin D may help fill the gap if your day’s RDA isn’t met through food.
As a group, B vitamins provide a range of health benefits, from strengthening immunity to boosting energy. But after 50, B vitamins’ ability to offer heart-health protection is especially vital. Specifically, B6 and B12 work to flush out the chemical known as homocysteine. This substance can lead to hardened arteries. The U.S. HHS recommends that you take in 1.5 mg of B6, and 2.4 mcg B12, each day.
You can find cereals fortified with one or both of these crucial B vitamins at the supermarket or health food store. In addition, add more potatoes, pomegranates, and bananas to your meal plan for B6, and chicken, eggs, shellfish, and fish for B12.
If you’re still falling short, a multivitamin formulated for 50+ women will include a range of B vitamins — although it’s always worth checking the labels to make sure you’re getting the RDA of B6 and B12, especially.
Estrogen deficiency becomes a pressing concern for women after they reach the age 50 milestone. The lowered level of estrogen women experience after menopause puts them at a higher risk for bone loss, heart disease, and breast cancer. Replacing some of that lost estrogen can ease perimenopausal symptoms, and lower the risk of serious health issues after perimenopause.
But not everyone feels comfortable going on estrogen therapy during perimenopause or menopause. Some women turn to the non-synthetic compounds in the plant world, which can mimic the hormone-balancing effect of estrogen therapy. These plant compounds are known as phytoestrogens.
Soy-based foods are rich sources of the sub-group of phytoestrogens known as isoflavones. Sources include soy milk, soy yogurt, tofu, tempeh, and miso soup. For a snack, try edamame, the roasted “nuts” made from soybeans.
Yams, lentils, nuts and various sprouts are also good sources of at least one type of phytoestrogen.
There are currently no governmental recommendations for daily phytoestrogen amounts needed for optimum health. But including at least one of these types of foods into your diet each day may give you the phytoestrogen support you need.
It’s important to understand that foods containing phytoestrogens can carry some of the same side effects as synthetic estrogen, including obesity, decreased fertility and risk of certain cancers. Discuss the pros and cons of eating more of these foods with your doctor, who may be able to screen you for some risks.
You still need the same amount of potassium as you did when you were younger — about 4700 mg — but it’s more important than ever to include it. Potassium helps keep blood pressure at steady rates. Foods high in potassium include bananas, potatoes, and dried beans. You can get about half of your RDA just from a banana, but if you find it difficult to work in other potassium-rich foods, a multi-vitamin that includes potassium is helpful.
Keep in mind that the official nutritional guidelines for women over 50 represent an average. You may need more or less of certain nutrients, depending on any current health concerns. For example, if your doctor says that you are anemic, this is obviously not the time to throw out the iron pills! On the other end of the spectrum, a condition such as kidney stones might require that you cut but back on your calcium intake. Work with your doctor and nutritionist to tailor your diet to your specific health needs.
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