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Nutrient Needs for Baby Boomers: How Nutrition Changes As You Age

By Diana Licalzi, MS, RD, LDN, July 1, 2019

baby boomer nutrition

The Baby Boomer generation is now between the ages of 55 and 75. Can you believe how time flies? Well, now, more than ever, it is critical for Boomers to take their health and seriously. But what does that mean? Does healthy nutrition for a Baby Boomer look different than that for a Gen X-er or a Millennial? 

Nutrient needs begin to change as early as your 50s, so if you were born between the years 1944 and 1964, your nutrition should differ significantly from other generations. Furthermore, age-related diseases like osteoporosis, sarcopenia, and adult-onset diabetes are on the rise (in the millions) in older adults. So, Boomers, read on. Increased protein, fiber, vitamin B12, calcium, and vitamin D could extend your years and improve your quality of life. Let’s dive into each nutrient and learn what you need to do about it. 

 

Protein

According to the National Institute of Health, protein requirements stay the same into older adulthood.1 However, as we get older, we naturally begin to lose muscle mass and strength, a condition known as sarcopenia. Sarcopenia can develop as early as your 40s from poor diet and lack of exercise.2,3

The current recommendations for protein for older adults are 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight. That means that the average 150-pound person needs 55g of protein per day (the equivalent of two chicken breasts). However, studies show that consuming protein in slightly higher amounts than this recommendation may help preserve muscle and bone mass.4 It's for this reason that Baby Boomers should consider aiming for slightly more protein (1.0-1.2g/kg). Focus on lean sources of protein including fish, eggs, beans, lentils, and tofu to meet your needs.

You can further maintain muscle mass through strength training. Exercise serves as a critical factor for maintaining muscle strength and physical independence in the older population. For a complete guide to gaining muscle, check out The InsideTracker Guide to Gaining Muscle.

 

Fiber

Fiber needs slightly decrease after the age of 50.1 However, the majority of the U.S. population, including the Boomer generation, fail to meet their recommended fiber intake. Diets rich in fiber help prevent several age-related chronic diseases including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.5

Moreover, constipation is a common problem among older adults. Adequate fiber, proper hydration, and exercise all help to alleviate this issue. Whether or not you're a Baby Boomer, it's important to focus on including high fiber foods in your diet, like beans, lentils, oats, dark leafy greens, and berries.

baby boomer nutrition

 

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is a critical nutrient of concern for Baby Boomers. As an essential vitamin, we must obtain vitamin B12 through our diet. This is unlike other nutrients, like vitamin D,  which our bodies are able to synthesize without getting it from the diet. However, B12's digestion and absorption depend on both stomach acid and a protein called intrinsic factor (IF). The stomach acid unbinds B12 from food, allowing it to combine with IF, which then facilitates its absorption into our bloodstream.6 

Now comes the particular interest to Boomers: as we age, we produce less of both gastric acid and IF. Therefore, even if B12 intake is met through food, older populations face a higher risk of deficiency.

Vitamin B12 comes primarily from animal products and their byproducts (meats, eggs, milk, cheese, etc.). Synthetic forms of B12, including supplements and fortified cereals, are absorbed more readily than natural B12, thus serving as a better option for adults aged 51 and older.7 For individuals with low levels of B12, InsideTracker recommends supplementing, but blood tests are necessary to determine levels. 

 

Calcium

Both women and men in the Baby Boomer generation require additional calcium. Women's increased needs begin at the age of 50, while men needs increase at 70, both from 1,000mg to 1,200mg per day.8  Calcium is essential for the maintenance, repair, and overall health of our bones. Osteoporosis, a bone disease among aging populations, is marked by a significant decline in bone density and quality. It affects an estimated 30-50 million people around the world, 80% of them being women.9

Shockingly, one in every two women and one in every four men over 50 years old will endure a fracture due to osteoporosis. Moreover, about 20% of people with osteoporosis-attributed hip fractures will die within one year of experiencing the fracture.9 Many factors contribute to the development of osteoporosis, including poor diet, lack of exercise, and changing sex hormones. A nutrient-dense diet with adequate calcium and vitamin D is essential in preventing osteoporosis. Furthermore, weight-bearing exercise helps to build and maintain healthy bones. 

Foods naturally high in calcium include dairy products and fortified alternatives such as almond, soy, and coconut milks and yogurts. Non-dairy sources of calcium contain less of the mineral, but can also be consumed to meet one's needs. These include tofu, canned salmon and sardines, collard greens, sesame and chia seeds, and broccoli.

To maximize calcium absorption, eat your dairy sources alone, rather than along with a meal. If reaching your calcium requirement proves too difficult through foods, consider supplementing to meet these needs. As always, consult with your primary care physician before starting any new supplement regimen. If you are over the age of 50, consider also getting a bone density scan (DXA).

 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is involved in many processes in our body, including the absorption of calcium in our bones. We obtain our Vitamin D primarily from the sun. Food, unless fortified with vitamin D, contains minimal amounts, making it hard to reach adequate levels from diet alone.

Vitamin D deficiency is a common problem among people living in the United States, especially those living in northern areas. During the months between November and April, the vitamin is nearly impossible to obtain from the sun alone.10 Moreover, vitamin D needs increase as we age. Individuals over 70 years old have increased needs compared to the rest of the population, making them especially at risk for deficiency.11

baby boomer nutrition

Foods containing small amounts of vitamin D include fatty fish like halibut, carp, and eel, maitake (Hen of the woods) mushrooms, and pork. Complement these foods with fortified ones like soy milk and cereals. During the summer months, aim for 20 minutes of sun exposure each day to maintain levels. A note: this will not replenish deficient or low levels, but rather help you reach your daily needs. Lastly, consider taking a Vitamin D supplement to reach your needs, but always consult your doctor and your bloodwork first.

 

There’s more...How old are you inside?

Increasing your longevity and slowing down your biological clock starts from the inside. InsideTracker has carefully identified additional biomarkers that most influence aging and longevity, and compiled them into a single blood test. It gives you a breakdown of each biomarker, resulting in your InnerAge, also known as your biological age. By making proper food, exercise, and supplement choices, you can make your InnerAge up to 15 years younger than the one dictated by your birth certificate. 

baby boomer nutrition

How old is your body?

 

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References:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56068/table/summarytables.t4/?report=objectonly

[2] Ferrucci, Luigi, et al. "Of Greek heroes, wiggling worms, mighty mice, and old body builders." (2011): 13-16.

[3] Walston, Jeremy D. "Sarcopenia in older adults." Current opinion in rheumatology 24.6 (2012): 623.

[4] Byrd-Bredbenner, Carol. Wardlaw's Perspectives in Nutrition. McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

[5] Slavin, J. (2013). Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits. Nutrients,5(4), 1417-1435. doi:10.3390/nu5041417

[6] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-Consumer/

[7] Allen LH. How common is vitamin B-12 deficiency? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009 February; 89(2): 693S–696S.

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56068/table/summarytables.t3/?report=objectonly

[9] Gropper, Sareen Annora Stepnick, et al. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. Cengage Learning, 2018.

[10] AC Ross, CL Taylor, AL Yaktine, et al. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee to Review Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D and Calcium. 2011

[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56068/table/summarytables.t2/?report=objectonly