Is the food sufficient? | University of Nevada, Reno

This article originally appeared in the October newsletter of the Healthy Aging Initiative. The Initiative, an Extension offering, provides physical activity and nutrition education and health promotion to seniors throughout Nevada.

Getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs from food is better than supplements. This is because food usually provides you with other nutrients. However, sometimes it is difficult to get all the vitamins and minerals you need from the foods we eat. Older people often do not get enough calcium or vitamins D and B12 from their diet.


Calcium is an important part of the bones and plays an essential role in other functions of the body. If the dietary calcium intake is not sufficient, the bones are used as a source to keep calcium levels in the blood at normal levels. Men 70 and under and women 50 and under should consume 1000 milligrams per day. Men 71 and over and women 51 and over need 1,200 milligrams per day.

Many foods contain calcium; dairy products contain the most, and leafy green vegetables can also be a good source, according to Food Sources of Calcium – Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Common forms of calcium supplementation are calcium carbonate (take with food) and calcium citrate (can be taken with or without food). The body better absorbs about 500 milligrams of calcium at a time, so you may need to take more than once a day. Absorption of calcium supplements can be affected by medications, so check with your pharmacist.

Vitamin D

There has been a lot of information about vitamin D in the news in recent years; some scientifically proven, some not. What we do know is that the body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, and low levels are a risk factor for falls. The recommendations for how much vitamin D you should take are 20 to 25 micrograms per day (800 to 1,000 international units) for men and women over 50 years of age.

Some foods contain vitamin D, but very little naturally contains it. Freshwater trout, salmon, and tuna are among the highest sources, according to Food Sources of Vitamin D – Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Vitamin D is available as an individual supplement or in combination with other vitamins / minerals. Do not take more than 100 micrograms (4000 international units) per day, unless instructed otherwise by your health care provider.

Vitamin B12

The body uses vitamin B12 to maintain healthy nerve cells and make red blood cells. The recommended dietary allowance of vitamin B12 for adults 50 years of age and older is 100 to 400 micrograms / day.

Low levels of vitamin B12 occur because it is not absorbed well by the body or the diet does not contain enough of it. Medicines, such as metformin (to treat diabetes) can decrease the absorption of vitamin B12.

Beef liver is an excellent source of vitamin B12 according to Vitamin B12 – Fact Sheet for Health Professionals, and several vitamins and other supplements contain vitamin B12.

Leslie Baker is a Certified Geriatric Pharmacist and Director of Geriatric Pharmacy Services at the Sanford Center for Aging, a unit of the university’s medical school.

For more information on Healthy Aging, visit the Healthy Aging Initiative website, an Extension offering. An EEO / AA institution.

Extension is a unit of the University’s College of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Natural Resources engaged in communities in Nevada, presenting research-based knowledge to meet critical community needs. It is a county-state-federal partnership providing hands-on training to individuals, businesses and communities.

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