Vitamins and Minerals for Older Adults

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / Honayst

Vitamins have different jobs to help keep the body working properly. Some vitamins help you resist infections and keep your nerves healthy, while others may help your body get energy from food or help your blood clot properly. By following the Dietary Guidelines, you will get enough of most of these vitamins from food.

Like vitamins, minerals also help your body function. Minerals are elements that our bodies need to function that can be found on the earth and in foods. 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.

How Can I Get the Vitamins and Minerals I Need?

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.

Most older people can get all the nutrients they need from foods. But if you aren’t sure, talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian to find out if you are missing any important vitamins or minerals. He or she may recommend a vitamin or dietary supplement.

If you do need to supplement your diet, look for a supplement that contains the vitamin or mineral you need without a lot of other unnecessary ingredients. 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. Your doctor or pharmacist can recommend brands that fit your needs.

Here’s a tip

Different foods in each food group have different nutrients. Picking an assortment within every food group throughout the week will help you get many nutrients. For example, choose seafood instead of meat twice a week. The variety of foods will make your meals more interesting, too.

Measurements for Vitamins and Minerals

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

  • mg – milligram (a milligram is one thousandth of a gram)
  • mcg – microgram (a microgram is one millionth of a gram. 1,000 micrograms is equal to one milligram)
  • IU – international unit (the conversion of milligrams and micrograms into IU depends on the type of vitamin or drug)

Recommended Sodium Intake for Older Adults

Sodium is another important mineral. In most Americans’ diets, sodium primarily comes from salt (sodium chloride). Whenever you add salt to your food, you're adding sodium. But the Dietary Guidelines shows that most of the sodium we eat doesn’t come from our saltshakers — it’s added to many foods during processing or preparation. We all need some sodium, but too much over time can lead to high blood pressure, which can raise your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

How much sodium is okay? People 51 and older should reduce their sodium intake to 2,300 mg each day. That is about one teaspoon of salt and includes sodium added during manufacturing or cooking as well as at the table when eating. If you have high blood pressure or prehypertension, limiting sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day, about 2/3 teaspoon of salt, may be helpful. Preparing your own meals at home without using a lot of processed foods or salt will allow you to control how much sodium you get. Try using less salt when cooking, and don’t add salt before you take the first bite. If you make this change slowly, you will get used to the difference in taste. Also look for grocery products marked “low sodium,” “unsalted,” “no salt added,” “sodium free,” or “salt free.” Also check the Nutrition Facts Label to see how much sodium is in a serving.

Eating more fresh vegetables and fruit also helps — they are naturally low in sodium and provide more potassium. Get your sauce and dressing on the side and use only as much as you need for taste.