Vitamins & Minerals for People Over 50

Vitamins help your body grow and work the way it should. There are 13 vitamins—vitamins C, A, D, E, K, and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, B6, B12, and folate).

Vitamins have different jobs--helping you resist infections, keeping your nerves healthy, and helping your body get energy from food or your blood to clot properly. By following the Dietary Guidelines, you will get enough of most of these vitamins from food.

Minerals also help your body function. Some minerals, like iodine and fluoride, are only needed in very small quantities. Others, such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium, are needed in larger amounts. As with vitamins, if you eat a varied diet, you will probably get enough of most minerals.

Vitamins and minerals are measured in a variety of ways. The most common are:

mg – milligram
mcg – microgram
IU – international unit

Your doctor might suggest that, like some older adults, you need extra of a few vitamins, as well as the mineral calcium. It is usually better to get the nutrients you need from food, rather than a pill. That’s because nutrient-dense foods contain other things that are good for you, like fiber. Look for foods fortified with certain vitamins and minerals, like some B vitamins, calcium, and vitamin D. That means those nutrients are added to the foods to help you meet your needs.

 

What If I’m Over 50?

People over 50 may need more of some vitamins and minerals than younger adults do. Your doctor or a dietitian can tell you whether you need to change your diet or take vitamins or minerals to get enough of these:

Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 helps keep your red blood cells and nerves healthy. Vitamin B12 is mainly found in fish, shellfish, meat, and dairy products. As people grow older, some have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 naturally found in food. They can choose foods, like fortified cereals, that have this vitamin added or use a B12 supplement.

Calcium. Calcium works with vitamin D to keep bones strong at all ages. Bone loss can lead to fractures in both older women and men. Calcium is found in milk and milk products (fat-free or low-fat is best), canned fish with soft bones, dark-green leafy vegetables like kale, and foods with calcium added like breakfast cereals.

Vitamin D. Some people’s bodies make enough vitamin D if they are in the sun for 10 to 15 minutes at least twice a week. But, if you are older, you may not be able to get enough vitamin D that way. Try adding vitamin D-fortified milk and milk products, vitamin D-fortified cereals, and fatty fish to your diet, and/or use a vitamin D supplement.

Vitamin B6. This vitamin is needed to form red blood cells. It is found in potatoes, bananas, chicken breasts, and fortified cereals.
Different Vitamin and Mineral Recommendations for People Over 50 (2010)

The National Academy of Sciences recommends how much of each vitamin and mineral men and women of different ages need. Sometimes, the Academy also tells us how much of a vitamin or mineral is too much.

  • Vitamin B12—2.4 mcg (micrograms) each day (if you are taking medicine for acid reflux, you might need a different form, which your healthcare provider can give you)
  • Calcium—Women over 50 need 1,200 mg (milligrams) each day, and men need 1,000 mg between age 51 and 70 and 1,200 mg after 70, but not more than 2,000 mg a day.
  • Vitamin D—600 IU (International Units) for people age 51 to 70 and 800 IU for those over 70, but not more than 4,000 IU each day
  • Vitamin B6—1.7 mg for men and 1.5 mg for women each day

When thinking about whether you need more of a vitamin or mineral, think about how much of each nutrient you get from food and drinks, as well as from any supplements you take. Check with a doctor or dietitian to learn whether you need to supplement your diet.

Here's a tip

Most older people don’t need a complete multivitamin supplement. But if you don’t think you are making the best food choices, look for a supplement sold as a complete vitamin and mineral supplement. It should be well balanced and contain 100% of most recommended vitamins and minerals. Read the label to make sure the dose is not too large. Avoid supplements with mega-doses. Too much of some vitamins and minerals can be harmful, and you might be paying for supplements you don’t need.

What Are Antioxidants?

You might hear about antioxidants in the news. These are natural substances found in food that might help protect you from some diseases. Here are some common sources of antioxidants that you should be sure to include in your diet:

  • Beta-carotene—fruits and vegetables that are either dark green or dark orange
  • Selenium—seafood, liver, meat, and grains
  • Vitamin C—citrus fruits, peppers, tomatoes, and berries
  • Vitamin E—wheat germ, nuts, sesame seeds, and canola, olive, and peanut oils

Right now, research results suggest that large doses of supplements with antioxidants will not prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease or diabetes. In fact, some studies have shown that taking large doses of some antioxidants could be harmful. Again, it is best to check with your doctor before taking a dietary supplement.

 Information from NIH: National Institute on Aging