As our bodies change with age, so do our nutritional needs.
The physical changes that accompany aging require us to pay attention and adjust our diet as necessary. Adrien Paczosa, chief clinical officer and founder of Nourish, says this is mainly because of our hormonal and muscle changes.
Here are specific ways our nutritional needs change throughout our lives:
Until 6 months old, infants should only consume breast milk or formula, which contain the necessary nutrients an infant needs. Deciding between formula or breastfeeding can be a challenge but should be discussed between a mother and a doctor/lactation consultant. However, both provide great benefits.
Breast milk contains antibodies that help infants fight off infection. Another benefit of breastfeeding is that it’s fairly inexpensive. However, because the mother is providing the nutrients, it’s important that she also eat healthily.
On the other hand, formula feeding allows for more flexibility for mothers. The Food and Drug Administration also regulates the infant formula market to make sure formulas contain all the necessary nutrients and safety requirements.
Once a child hits 6 months, or on advice from a pediatrician, infants can start eating other foods. Foods should be mashed or pureed so the infant can eat them without worry. As you introduce foods, take some time in between each food to make sure there are no allergies.
Children can be quite picky when it comes to food, but their nutritional needs must be met. The Mayo Clinic recommends having nutrient-dense meals so that way it isn’t too calorie-dense. They also include a general guideline for how much both boys and girls should be eating daily.
Healthy eating is paramount during childhood because it doesn’t just help your child start healthy habits; it also helps prevent non-communicable diseases such as stroke, cancer and diabetes.
Adolescents are often called bottomless pits, and it’s not too much of an exaggeration. Since teenagers are going through puberty, their bodies are going through rapid changes, both mentally and physically.
As adolescents, the number of nutrients required increases sharply to accommodate the rapid physical changes. Adolescents also begin to spend more time away from home, increasing the likelihood of only eating unhealthy foods as they can easily go through a fast food drive-thru.
Ways to help adolescents eat healthier is by leaving out healthy (and delicious) snacks so food is readily available. Since adolescents will often eat whatever is easiest, this can be a small but powerful way to get healthy nutrients into your adolescent.
There are several myths when it comes to adult nutrition, but Pacsoza says recognizing some of these myths and understanding how we can correct them helps us approach nutrition better.
“(The most common myths are that) all hydration needs to come from fluids, supplements will fix any nutrition errors (and) older adults don’t need as much protein as younger adults,” Paczosa says. “All of these myths are dangerous for our aging and anyone’s health.”
The National Agricultural Library has a Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) Calculator for those interested in learning what the recommended daily nutrients are for a person. This doesn’t replace seeing an actual nutritionist but can help you know where to start.
As you get older, your body begins to slow down and it can become harder to cook or eat on your own. Paczosa says this is related to a shift in our appetites and thirst.
“One of the biggest changes (with growing older) is our appetite and thirst signal are down-regulated,” Paczosa says. “This can lead to malnutrition.”
Additionally, while you may need fewer calories as an older adult, you still need enough nutrients in your diet. This can mean adjusting what you eat and how much.
MedlinePlus says protein is important as it’s still a building block of your body. The National Institute of Aging suggests adjusting what types of food you use as protein, such as switching to eating more eggs, beans, nuts, seeds, soy products and more.
Some other things to consider are how medicine or income may change your situation. As you grow older, you may end up with medication that causes you to lose your appetite, or being on a limited income can make getting healthy meals difficult.