Nutritional requirements of older people

Nutrition and older people:

The nutritional needs of elderly people are generally similar to those of younger adults.

Recommended daily intakes for micro nutrients as recommended by the
Department of Health DRVs (Dietary Reference Values)

Nutrient Recommended daily intake
for 50+ years
Calcium (mg) 700
Phosphorus (mg) 550
Magnesium (mg) 270
Sodium (mg) 1600
Potassium (mg) 3500
Chloride (mg) 2500
Iron (mg) 14.8
Zinc (mg) 9
Copper (mg) 1.2
Selenium (μg) 60
Iodine (μg) 140
Vitamin A (μg) 600
Thiamin (mg) 0.8
Riboflavin (mg) 1.1
Niacin (mg) 12
Vitamin B6 (mg) 1.2
Vitamin B12 (μg) 1.5
Folate (μg) 200
Vitamin C (mg) 40
Vitamin D* (μg) 10

* The recommendation for vitamin D only applies for adults over the age of 65 years.

With the exception of vitamin D, there are no specific recommendations for people aged over 65 years.


Energy requirements, however, decline with increasing age, particularly if physical activity is restricted.

Estimated energy requirements as recommended by the
Department of Health DRVs (Dietary Reference Values)

Age (years) Estimated energy requirement
for males (kcals per day)
Estimated energy requirement
for females (kcals per day)
19-50 2550 1940
51-59 2550 1900
60-64 2380 1900
65-74 2330 1900
75+ 2100 1810

Although this often means eating less, requirements for protein, vitamins and minerals remain largely unchanged.

It is therefore important that older people choose a nutrient-dense diet, including foods which contain protein, vitamins and minerals such as milk and dairy products, meat, eggs, fish, bread, cereals, and fruit and vegetables.


Protein requirements become slightly lower in men, but increase slightly in women after 50 years of age.

However, as energy requirements decrease, the protein density of the diet should be greater for both men and women i.e. more protein containing foods such as lean meat, milk and dairy foods, eggs and pulses should be eaten.

Protein requirements may also be increased in some older people due to illness.

Protein requirements as recommended by the
Department of Health DRVs (Dietary Reference Values)

Age (years) Estimated protein requirement
for males (g per day)
Estimated protein requirement
for females (g per day)
19-50 55.5 45.0
51+ 53.3 46.5

Important micronutrients

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is needed for the absorption of calcium from food and is therefore important for good bone health.

As vitamin D is mainly obtained from the action of sunlight on the skin, people who are housebound or live in institutions may be at risk of deficiency.

The National Diet and Nutrition Survey of people aged 65 and over reported low vitamin D intake in some subgroups of the elderly population-see section on under nutrition in older people.

It is recommended that everyone over 65 years of age takes a vitamin D supplement (10µg/day). Good dietary providers of vitamin D (e.g. oily fish, margarine, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals) should also be eaten regularly.


Adequate intakes of calcium can help to slow age-related bone loss, which can result in osteoporosis and fracture -see section on other nutrition related problems of older people.

Although requirements for calcium do not change as we become more elderly, it is still important that calcium requirements are met through the diet.

Milk and dairy products are the main providers of dietary calcium in UK diets and consuming them can help us meet our calcium requirements.

Contribution of dairy products to calcium intake

Dairy product Portion size Contribution to recommended
intake (RNI) (%)
Semi skimmed milk 200ml (1 glass) 35
Cheese 30g (matchbox sized) 32
yogurt 150g (1 standard pot) 26
Total 2330 93

Recommended intake of calcium per day = 700mg in adults over 50 years old

Bread (particularly white bread), green vegetables and canned fish (eaten with the bones) also contain calcium but generally must be consumed in much greater quantities to provide as much calcium as dairy products.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is needed for several functions in the body including:

  • Formation and maintenance of healthy tissues
  • Good wound healing.
  • Anti-oxidant action i.e. helps to protect the body from damage caused by toxins.

Vitamin C requirements for older people are the same as younger adults, but unfortunately intakes are often sub-optimal.

This is because good providers of vitamin C such as fruits and vegetables are often seen as expensive, difficult to prepare and to eat and therefore may be avoided by the elderly.

Good consumption of vitamin C and other anti-oxidant nutrients such as vitamin E, vitamin A and selenium may help to prevent against cancers, cataracts and heart disease.

Folate and vitamin B12

Folate and vitamin B12 are required together for many functions including cell division and good nerve function.

Inadequate intakes have been linked to increased risk of cancer, dementia and heart disease-see other nutrition related problems of older people.

Requirements for folate, vitamin B12 and other B vitamins such as thiamin and riboflavin are either the same or slightly less than younger adults, however maintaining good intakes is important to prevent deficiency.

Unfortunately the National Diet and Nutrition Survey in older people identified low folate status in some groups as an area of particular concern.

This may be due to poor dietary intake or due to problems with absorption which are more common in older adults due to certain digestive diseases or side effects of certain medications.


Iron is important for many functions in the body including formation of red blood cells and transport of oxygen to tissues.

Requirements for iron in females over 50 years old are significantly less than younger females as menstruation has normally ended by this age and they no longer lose iron in menstrual blood.

Requirements in men over 50 years old remain the same as younger men, however the National Diet and Nutrition Survey of Older adults revealed that iron intake was below the recommended level for 30% of the population.

Iron absorption from the gut may also be reduced in older people, and this coupled with low intakes can increase the risk of iron deficiency anaemia.

Good dietary consumption of iron along with promoters of its absorption such as foods providing vitamin C will help to prevent this risk.

Dietary sources of nutrition

Nutrient Good dietary sources
Iron Meat and meat products, especially red meat and offal (such as liver and kidney); cereal products such as fortified breakfast cereals and bread; eggs; pulses such as baked beans and lentils; dried fruit, dark green vegetables.
Calcium Milk and milk products such as cheese and yogurt; fish with edible bones (such as canned sardines, pilchards and salmon); bread; pulses; dried fruit, dark green vegetables; nuts and seeds.
Thiamin All cereals, especially breakfast cereals and bread; potatoes.  Smaller quantities are found in a wide range of foods including meat and meat products, milk and milk products, and vegetables.
Riboflavin Milk and milk products such as cheese; fortified breakfast cereals.  Smaller amounts are found in meat and meat products.
Vitamin B12 Found naturally only in foods of animal origin including meat, fish, milk and milk products, and eggs.  Also present in fortified breakfast cereals.
Folate Liver; green leafy vegetables, especially sprouts and spinach; green beans and peas; potatoes; fruit, especially oranges; fortified breakfast cereals and bread; yeast extract; milk and milk products.
Vitamin C Fruit and vegetables, especially citrus fruits and fruit juices, blackcurrants, blackcurrant juice, berry fruits, kiwi fruit, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, green peppers and new potatoes.

Nutrition and older people:
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