University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Special Nutrition Needs of Older Adults

nutrient & calorie needs

Aging and Calorie Needs

Compared to their younger years, older adults need fewer calories to maintain their weight. This is because their metabolism tends to slow down, and because they may be less physically active. The following chart lists the estimated daily calorie needs for older adults based on their level of physical activity.

Estimated calorie needs for adults 51 years and older

Sedentary Moderately Active Active
Women
1600 1800 2000-2200
Men
2000 2200-2400 2400-2800

Finding the Right Balance

Older adults need the right balance between eating too many calories or too few calories. Too many calories can lead to obesity, which raises the risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. Too few calories can lead to weight loss, frailty, or fatigue, and can prevent adequate intake of essential nutrients.

Meeting Nutrient and Calorie Needs

While calorie needs decrease with aging, vitamin and mineral needs remain the same. In fact, the need for some nutrients (such as vitamin B6, vitamin D, and calcium) increases. Thus, older people face the challenge of meeting their nutrient needs on fewer calories. For this reason, they should choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods each day.

Nutrient-dense foods are rich in vitamins and minerals and relatively low in calories. Examples are whole grain breads, fortified cereals, fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products.  Because each food group provides a variety of nutrients, it is important to include all food groups in the daily diet. It is also important to vary choices within each food group.

Foods with a low nutrient density provide calories but few vitamins and minerals. They have added sugars, saturated fats, trans fats, and alcohol. Regularly eating these foods makes it hard to get enough nutrients without gaining weight, especially for people with sedentary lifestyles.

Many Americans (including older adults) consume more calories than they need without getting enough nutrients. They should choose foods and beverages that are high in nutrients, but low to moderate in calories. Overall, they should eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and low-fat milk and milk products. They should eat less refined grains, cholesterol, saturated fats, trans fats, salt, and added sugars.

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Developed for the Massachusetts Department of Education Child and Adult Care Food Program by the University of Massachusetts Extension Nutrition Education Program. Permission is hereby granted by the Massachusetts Department of Education to copy any or all parts of this document for non-commercial educational purposes. The Massachusetts Department of Education, an Affirmative Action employer, is committed to ensuring that all of its programs and facilities are accessible to all members of the public. We do not discriminate on the basis of age, color, disability, national origin, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.

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