You are what you eat, right? For women over 50, eating the right foods becomes even more important to avoid health problems.
Jason Ewoldt, RDN, LD, a wellness dietitian at Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program, often helps women modify their diets to stay in step with the changes taking place in their bodies. Decades of research have armed medical professionals like him with the nutritional knowledge that can help women stay vibrant as they age.
Ewoldt suggests that women over 50 target three important nutrients to combat the most common changes caused by aging.
1. Calcium for bone health
Osteoporosis gets a fair amount of attention, and most older women understand that the risk of developing this bone disease increases with age. In fact, 1 in 3 women over 50 is at risk of a bone break caused by osteoporosis. Osteoporosis affects men, too, but not at such high rates.
“We absorb less calcium as we age, and some women’s ability to tolerate dairy — the best sources of calcium — also decreases as they get older,” Ewoldt says. “Dark leafy greens and calcium-fortified orange juice are other good sources.”
Women over 50 need 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily. Use the Nutrition Facts label on food products to keep track of your intake.
2. Protein for healthy muscle mass
Older women tend to sit more, exercise less. That compounds a natural aging process called sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle mass. By the time women near 80 years, they may have lost as much as half of their skeletal muscle mass. Eating enough protein reduces the impact of that muscle wasting.
“Healthy plant-based diets that don’t include meat, a major source of protein, can still provide plenty of protein if you make savvy choices,” says Ewoldt. He recommends choosing more soy, quinoa, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds and beans.
Your protein needs depend on how much you weigh. For women over 50, experts recommend 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of weight (1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds). If you weigh 140 pounds, for instance, you would need at least 63 grams of protein a day.
3. Vitamin B-12 for brain function
Ewoldt says that as women age, they absorb fewer nutrients from their food. One key nutrient they may not be absorbing enough of is vitamin B-12, which is essential for maintaining both healthy red blood cells and brain function.
“The best sources of vitamin B-12 are eggs, milk, lean meats, fish and fortified foods like cereals and grains,” says Ewoldt. “Vegans, in particular, will need to choose more fortified foods, but even elderly people who eat all foods may have difficulty absorbing enough vitamin B-12.”
While the recommended daily intake of vitamin B-12 for women over 50 is 2.4 micrograms a day, Ewoldt suggests you talk with your doctor to see if you also need a supplement.
Ewoldt offers three tips to help women over 50 get the nutrition they need.
- Make whole foods the foundation of your diet. “Focusing on whole grains, fruits and veggies will help avoid a lot of common problems that come with age,” says Ewoldt.
- Drink before you’re thirsty. The way your body detects thirst changes as you age. Says Ewoldt, “Make sure to drink plenty of water, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Carry a water bottle, and drink a glass with every meal.”
- Make an appointment with food. (And keep it.) Ewoldt often suggests that his clients create concrete plans that lay out exactly how they’ll get key nutrients. He adds, “Write the plan on a calendar. By simply making an ‘appointment’ with that apple, you’re more likely to eat it.”