Senior couple preparing salad together. Image shot 2009. Exact date unknown.

We may not love getting older but we can certainly adjust our diet and lifestyle to make sure we age as effortlessly as possible.

We tend to gain weight until our 70s upon which there is a gradual decline. Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of decline we want. Instead of simply losing excess fat, it is lean muscle mass that decreases.  Energy needs, that is, our daily calorie requirements, also go down. But, the recommended daily intake of certain nutrients goes up, or remains the same. What this means, is that seniors must eat nutrient-dense foods in order to meet all their nutritional requirements.

What goes up?


In order to compensate for decreasing muscle mass and to ensure the immune system stays strong, daily protein requirements are slightly increased for seniors. Getting sufficient protein will also help maintain muscle function.

This doesn’t mean you have to start the day with a grilled rib-eye; however, having some source of protein at each meal can help.opened tin of sardines in olive oil. Image shot 2008. Exact date unknown.

  • Eat oily fish at least three times a week – sardines, salmon, sablefish
  • Modest portions of lean meats and poultry will help you meet your daily targets
  • Eggs are easy to prepare & a great way to start the day
  • Natural Greek yogurt is much higher in protein than regular yogurt, add a small yogurt and blueberries_gooddrizzle of honey and fresh berries for dessert
  • Beans – try snacking on chick peas, edamame or adding black, white or navy beans to soups and stews
  • Enjoy a handful of raw nuts and seeds every day, not only high in protein but filled with fibre and healthy fats with cardio-protective properties.

 Vitamin B12

While we are on the topic of protein, let’s talk about vitamin B12.  Although the daily requirement for B12 remains the same for seniors, the ability to absorb it may be impaired with advancing years.

B12 is an essential vitamin involved in neurological function and red blood cell formation among other roles. In order to digest and absorb this vitamin we need healthy gastric juices, in particular, hydrochloric acid and intrinsic factor.  As we age our production of these gastric juices declines, which can lead to a deficiency. Symptoms of deficiency include anemia and cognitive decline.  If you are concerned, your doctor can assess whether your levels are sufficient

B12 is found naturally in animal-derived foods, such as meat, fish and eggs. The richest sources include clams and liver.  Some cereals and soy milks are often fortified with B12 as well. Following the protein recommendations above will help ensure you get sufficient supply of this vitamin.  A good multi-vitamin will also provide a source of B12.

Vitamin DClose to the sun on a blue background.

Vitamin D is necessary for adequate calcium absorption, bone remodeling, neuromuscular and immune function.  It also helps regulate cell growth, which is vital to keeping our bodies cancer-free.

As we age, we are less able to convert vitamin D from sunshine into the form we can absorb and use.  Daily requirements increase from 600IU to 800IU for the over 70s.

It is hard to get sufficient vitamin D simply from food. Fish, liver, egg yolks and fortified dairy are all sources. However, the best source remains the sun. Try to get outdoors for some arm and leg exposure for 10 minutes each day during the spring and summer months. In the wintertime, it is likely your doctor will suggest you a supplement to ensure adequate levels are met.

What comes down?

Sodium!salt in shaker

The amount of sodium (salt) we need decreases as we age. Adults require 1500mg per day but this decreases to 1200mg for seniors.

Excess sodium can increase blood pressure, which puts more strain on your heart.  Further, our ability to regulate blood pressure diminishes as we age.

The worst offenders are ready-meals and packaged foods. Although convenient, pre-cooked, pre-packaged meals and snacks tend to have sky-rocketing portions of salt.  Take Lean Cuisine, Chicken Terriaki as an example.  Don’t be swayed by the “fresh” and “low fat” labels. This ready-meal provides 720mg of sodium! That is more than half your daily requirement.

Try to eat fresh, home cooked, nutrient-dense food as much as possible. Snacking on fruit, veggies, raw nuts & seeds is a good start. If cooking and standing for long periods is a problem, try to master some quick 15 minute meals and follow these tips:

  • buying pre-washed and cut vegetables can save on preparation time
  • find recipes with few ingredients
  • plan ahead – if you have a slow-cooker, make extra portions and let your food cook all day while you get on with life
  • try the 15 (or maybe 17) minute meal below

Skillet Curried Eggs

Drizzle of olive oil

¼ yellow onion, chopped finely

1 garlic clove, crush and rest prior to cooking

½ tsp curry powder

½ a can (398ml sized can) of stewed tomatoes

1 egg

1 tsp of fresh cilantro, chopped or torn

Heat the olive oil in a skillet and sweat the onions for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and curry powder, stir for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Simmer on medium-low for 10 minutes. Make a hole in the mixture and crack the egg inside taking care not to break the yolk.

Continue cooking until egg whites are set. I use a large firm spatula to remove the egg and tomato mix altogether in one go. Garnish with cilantro and serve.

NB. This recipe i based upon Richard Beliveau’s recipe in Cooking with Foods that Fight Cancer, Beliveau, Gingras.

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