Gary hated taking medication ever since he was a child—the thought of swallowing pills made him cringe. He grew to tolerate the ritual, however, when age brought with it a number of required prescriptions… but that didn’t mean he had to like it. And the amount of tablets seemed to increase as time passed: by the time he turned 65, Gary was up to 6 pills per day. When he found out he was supposed to add vitamins to that ever-growing list, he finally put his foot down. With the large pile of medications he already had to keep track of, Gary decided he didn’t need any more pills in his life.
Sensing her older brother’s aggravation, Gary’s sister took it upon herself to seek out alternatives to these extra multivitamins. She stumbled upon some tips on how to cook healthy food and began making vitamin-rich meals. This new ritual meant that Gary didn’t have to add any extra tablets to his already full pill box, and he and his sister ended up eating better than ever.
Making Sure Your Loved One is Getting the Right Vitamins
With all the vitamin recommendations for older adults floating around, it can be tough to figure out what your loved one really needs. There’s a fair bit of misconception surrounding the amount and type of supplements older adults should be getting; while an aging body has different requirements, the answer isn’t always to add extra vitamins. Multivitamins have been found to be less helpful than we think, and are sometimes taken needlessly. At the same time, certain vitamins like D can actually cause harm if the dose is too high: recent studies show that high doses of vitamin D “supplementation does not improve lower-extremity function and increases the risk for falls among elderly adults.” So just be aware that there can be too much of a good thing when it comes to vitamin dosage.
Having said that, it’s important to ensure your loved one is getting enough vitamin D, as well as vitamin B6, B9, and B12. Medical experts agree that it’s better for older adults to get these vitamins from a healthy diet rather than supplements.
Vitamin-Rich Meals to Serve Your Loved One
Serving up dishes packed with these vitamins isn’t too difficult, though it does require some planning and commitment. To get started, it helps to have a basic understanding of what some of the key vitamins offer. These are by no means the only vitamins that your loved one might benefit from, but they’re a solid place to begin.
Some of the Key Vitamins for Older Adults
- B6 – This is a great vitamin to boost many of your loved one’s body systems. A nutritionist for the American Dietetic Association offers that Vitamin B6 “is important for cardiovascular, digestive, immune, muscular, and nervous system function. It is one of the vitamins that are behind the scenes.” B6 also helps to produce norepinephrine and serotonin—aka the happy hormone—and melatonin, which improves sleep. There are plenty of foods rich in B6, including cooked tuna, wild salmon, halibut, turkey, chicken, dried fruit like prunes and raisins, pistachio nuts, sunflower seeds, avocados, bananas, and spinach.
- B12 – This power vitamin improves the health of your loved one’s digestive system, energy production, and nervous system. It helps your loved one feel less fatigued, less stressed, and lowers the risk of stroke, heart disease, and certain cancers. B12 also makes their skin and hair healthier. Some tasty foods high in B12 are mackerel, healthy breakfast cereals, red meat, milk, swiss cheese, yogurt, and soy.
- Vitamin D – Since Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, it’s essential that your loved one get enough of it. Yet as we mentioned above, too much can be harmful. The right amount of Vitamin D for older adults is usually somewhere between 600 and 800 IU per day. Check with your doctor to find out what’s best for your loved one. Vitamin D will improve their immune system and bone density, decrease inflammation, and can help prevent cancer. Foods rich in vitamin D include oily fish, mushrooms, fortified whole grain cereals, tofu, dairy products, and eggs.
- B9 (Folate) – Experts agree that getting folate through food—not supplements—is a good choice: “as with most vitamins, the natural form of vitamin B9 (folate) is preferred, and better for absorption.” B9 (folate) supports cell growth and helps to prevent fatigue and anemia in older adults. Foods packed with this important vitamin are plentiful, such as beans, lentils, spinach, broccoli, lettuce, oranges, and whole wheat bread.
Vitamin-Rich Meal Suggestions
Of course, there’s no point in knowing about these powerful vitamins if you don’t put them to use! Thankfully, there are plenty of meals that are both delicious and rich in the above vitamins:
Vitamin-rich breakfast ideas are yogurt with a banana, whole grain cereal, a spinach and cheese omelet, or fresh scrambled eggs. For lunch, a tuna melt, smoked salmon on a whole grain bagel with cream cheese, or salad with a variety of nuts, tofu, sunflower seeds, and raisins. In the evening, try a roast chicken or turkey dinner with a spinach salad and portobello mushrooms, or cooked fish and whole wheat pasta.
Ensuring your aging loved one is eating vitamin-rich meals can help reduce disease, improve cognitive functioning, and provide a big boost in your loved one’s overall physical, mental, and emotional health. With so many aspects of aging beyond our control, it helps to take advantage of those that we can do something about, like diet. Eating vitamin-rich foods will benefit your loved one’s body, mind, and spirit. Since eating alone can contribute to senior depression, this is a great opportunity to get together and cook up vitamin-rich meals together—perfect for family bonding time that inspires healthy eating and boosts everyone’s mood.
If you’re looking for additional ways to help your loved one eat better or improve their quality of life, Institute on Aging is proud to offer a range of resources, services, and programs. Don’t hesitate to contact us today to discover how you can best help your loved one.