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Medicine LibreTexts

13.5: Middle Age and Nutrition

  • Page ID
    21187
  • Learning Objectives

    • Summarize nutritional requirements and dietary recommendations for middle-aged adults.
    • Discuss the most important nutrition-related concerns during middle age.
    • Define and give examples of “preventive nutrition”.

    During middle age (ages 31-50), adults begin to experience the first outward signs of aging. Wrinkles begin to appear, joints ache after a highly active day, and body fat accumulates. There is also a loss of muscle tone and elasticity in the connective tissue. Many people in their late thirties and in their forties notice a decline in endurance, the onset of wear-and-tear injuries (such as osteoarthritis), and changes in the digestive system. Wounds and other injuries also take longer to heal. Throughout the aging process, good nutrition can help middle-aged adults maintain their health and recover from any medical problems or issues they may experience. To maintain health and wellness during the middle-aged years and beyond, it is important to:

    • maintain a healthy body weight
    • consume nutrient-dense foods
    • drink alcohol moderately or not at all
    • be a nonsmoker
    • engage in moderate physical activity at least 150 minutes per week1
    • engage in muscle-strengthening activities at least 2 days per week1

    Energy

    The energy requirements for ages 31-50 typically range from 1,800-2,200 calories for women and 2,200-3,000 calories for men, depending on activity level. These estimates do not include women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Middle-aged adults must rely on healthy food sources to meet these needs. Following the dietary guidelines in the middle-aged years provides adequate but not excessive energy, macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals.

    Macronutrients

    The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges (AMDRs) for 31-50 year olds are listed in Table \(\PageIndex{1}\).2 The AMDRs for carbohydrates, protein, and fat remain the same from young adulthood into middle age. It is important to avoid putting on excess pounds and limiting intake of saturated fats and added sugars to help avoid cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges (AMDRs) for Middle-Aged Adults
    Macronutrient AMDR
    Carbohydrate 45-65% of total calories
    Protein 10-35% of total calories
    Fat 20-35% of total calories

    Micronutrients

    As seen in Table \(\PageIndex{2}\)2, most micronutrient recommendations remain the same from young adulthood into middle age. One exception is magnesium. For men, the recommendation for magnesium increases to 420 milligrams daily, while middle-aged women should increase their intake of magnesium to 320 milligrams per day. Other key vitamins needed during the middle-aged years include folate and vitamins B6 and B12 to prevent elevation of homocysteine, a byproduct of metabolism that can damage arterial walls and lead to atherosclerosis, a cardiovascular condition.

    Table \(\PageIndex{2}\): Micronutrient Recommendations for Middle-Aged Adults
    Nutrient Middle-Aged Adult Males Middle-Aged Adult Females
    Vitamin A (mcg) 900 700
    Vitamin B6 (mg) 1.3 1.3
    Vitamin B12 (mcg) 2.4 2.4
    Vitamin C (mg) 90 75
    Vitamin D (mcg) 15 15
    Vitamin E (mg) 15 15
    Vitamin K (mcg) 120 90
    Calcium (mg) 1,000 1,000
    Folate (mcg) 400 400
    Iron (mg) 8 18
    Magnesium (mg) 420 320
    Niacin (B3) (mg) 16 14
    Phosphorus (mg) 700 700
    Riboflavin (B2) (mg) 1.3 1.1
    Selenium (mcg) 55 55
    Thiamin (B1) (mg) 1.2 1.1
    Zinc (mg) 11 8

    Preventive/Defensive Nutrition

    During the middle-aged years, preventive nutrition can promote wellness and help organ systems to function optimally. Preventive nutrition is defined as dietary practices directed toward reducing disease and promoting health and well-being. Healthy eating in general—such as eating unrefined carbohydrates instead of refined carbohydrates and avoiding saturated fats—helps to promote wellness. However, there are also some things that people can do to target specific concerns. One example is consuming foods high in antioxidants, such as strawberries, blueberries, and other colorful fruits and vegetables, to reduce the risk of cancer.

    Phytochemicals are "plant chemicals" found in fruits and vegetables that act as defense systems for plants. Phytochemicals may beneficially affect human health. There are several different phytochemicals that are being studied including carotenoids, flavonoids, garlic, phytosterols, and soy isoflavones. For example, results of observational studies suggest that diets high in carotenoid-rich fruit and vegetables (such as carrots, cantaloupes, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash) are associated with reduced risks of cardiovascular disease and some cancers.3 For more information, visit the Phytochemicals page of the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.

    Omega-3 fatty acids can help to prevent coronary artery disease. These crucial nutrients are found in oily fish, including salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, cod, and halibut. Other beneficial fats that are vital for healthy functioning include monounsaturated fats, which are found in plant oils, avocados, peanuts, and pecans.

    Key Takeaways

    • Middle-aged adults begin to experience signs of aging and must continue to support their health and wellness with nutrition and physical activity.
    • Nutritional concerns for middle-aged adults relate to the prevention of chronic disease.
    • Preventive nutrition for middle-aged adults includes consumption of foods high in antioxidants, phytochemicals, or omega-3 fatty acids.

    References

    1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2018. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf. Accessed July 14, 2020.
    2. Summary Report of the Dietary Reference Intakes. nationalacademies.org. www.nationalacademies.org/our-work/summary-report-of-the-dietary-reference-intakes. Accessed July 14, 2020.
    3. Carotenoids. lpi.oregonstate.edu. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/dietary-factors/phytochemicals/carotenoids. Accessed July 14, 2020.
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