When most people think about health, they think about how they feel in the present moment. While it’s great to feel good now, it’s also important to think about how you want to feel in the future. Remember, it’s easier to prevent illness than it is to treat it.
Many illnesses that occur later in life are the result of years of poor nutrition and inadequate nutrient consumption. Getting sufficient vitamins and minerals now can help ensure you stay healthy and strong as you age. Many older adults suffer from health problems that could have been prevented had they gotten sufficient nutrients in their youth.
Listed below are five essential nutrients that promote healthy aging. Make these nutrients a priority to stave off illness and feel your best.
Calcium is an essential macromineral (one that the body requires in large amounts) and electrolyte. Adults need about 1,000 milligrams per day. It plays a number of important roles in the body, including:
- Bone growth, formation, and repair
- Muscle contraction
- Proper nervous system function
- Teeth formation and dental health
The greatest risk of insufficient calcium intake is the development of osteoporosis, an illness that causes the bones to lose their density and become more prone to fractures. Osteoporosis is especially prevalent in postmenopausal women. Because of this, women need to be extra diligent about making sure they consume enough calcium.
The best food sources of calcium include:
- Full-fat dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese, etc.)
- Sardines and canned salmon
Plant foods like almonds, leafy green vegetables, and tofu also contain calcium. However, it is not as bioavailable (meaning the body can’t use it as efficiently) as the calcium that comes from animal products.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is necessary for calcium absorption and immune system function. It also plays a major role in bone health and can decrease symptoms of depression.
Vitamin D actually works more like a hormone in the body. It can be synthesized from food as well as from the sunlight when it shines on the skin.
A deficiency in vitamin D not only hinder various bodily functions, but it can also increase one’s risk of developing cancer and can lead to other serious illnesses like rickets.
There are two forms of vitamin D — cholecalciferol, or vitamin D3, and ergocalciferol, or vitamin D2. Vitamin D3 comes from animal foods, and it’s the type that the skin produces when it’s exposed to the sun. Vitamin D2 comes from plant foods (primarily mushrooms).
Animal foods like eggs, fatty fish, and cod liver oil and typically considered to be the best sources of vitamin D. Regular sun exposure is also beneficial for people who are worried about vitamin D deficiencies (research shows that 10-15 minutes per day is enough for sufficient vitamin D levels).
3. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is another essential vitamin is needed for a variety of important bodily functions. So of the most important functions of vitamin B12 include:
- DNA production
- Blood cell health
- Normal brain functioning
- Normal nervous system functioning
Vitamin B12 deficiencies are highly common. The common causes of B12 deficiencies include poor absorption (older adults often struggle with this) and insufficient consumption of animal products.
Animal products — especially organ meats, seafood, and egg yolks — are considered to be the best sources of vitamin B12. If you don’t eat animal products, or if you are over the age of 50, you can also take vitamin B12 supplements or eat B12-fortified foods to meet your minimum daily intake (about 2.4 micrograms).
Folate is a B vitamin (vitamin B9, specifically). Most people associate folate with healthy pregnancies since it’s known to prevent neural tube defects. However, everyone needs a sufficient amount of folate, whether they’re pregnant or not.
Folate is important for several other bodily functions, including:
- Cell division and formation
- DNA production
- Protein metabolism
Without sufficient folate consumption (about 400 micrograms for adults), you may develop muscle soreness, changes in the pigmentation of your fingernails and skin, and a condition known as megaloblastic anemia, which is characterized by breathing difficulties, fatigue, and heart palpitations.
The following foods are great sources of folate:
5. Vitamin B6
Finally, you should also prioritize your vitamin B6 consumption if you want to promote healthy aging. Vitamin B6 is important for healthy brain development and cell formation. It also plays a major role in energy metabolism, hormone production, and proper immune and nervous system functioning.
For adults under the age of 50, a minimum of 1.3 micrograms of vitamin B6 is required. That minimum increases to 1.7 micrograms in older men and 1.5 micrograms in older women.
Vitamin B6 deficiencies are not as rare as other nutrient deficiencies, but they are definitely still possible. B6 deficiencies are associated with depression, reduced immune system function, and feelings of confusion.
The best sources of vitamin B6 include:
- Meat (especially turkey)
- Nuts (especially pistachios)
- Seafood (especially tuna)
If you want to promote healthy aging and aren’t sure where to begin, making sure you’re getting sufficient amounts of these five nutrients is a great place to start. By eating the nutrient-dense foods that these vitamins are found in, you’ll set yourself up for success later on while also helping yourself look and feel better now — it’s a win-win!