By Arnelle Vilfort

Vitamins and Nutrients

Are you getting all of the vitamins and nutrients you need to stay healthy in your diet? Sometimes it’s more difficult than you would think to fit all the necessary foods into your daily routine. Certain vitamins and nutrients are essential to vital body processes — especially as you age.

Adding the following to your health regimen, along with a variety of food groups, can help you live longer by preventing diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. They can also boost energy and increase your overall quality of life. Check out our list of essentials below to find out which foods are packed with required nutrients to help keep your health in top shape!

1. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12  is a water-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in some foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. It also contains a metal ion named cobalt. This vitamin is mainly present in animal products and is the most complex vitamin of all.

Why it’s Important: Vitamin B12 plays an important role in the body’s growth and development. Vitamin B12 contributes to the normal development of red blood cells, the health of your nerve tissues and how the body reacts to carbohydrates and proteins.

It also assists in cardiovascular mechanisms and functions in DNA synthesis. A deficiency of this vitamin may cause anemia, exhaustion, irritation, shortness of breath, difficulty walking, memory loss, mood swings, disorientation, and constipation. It’s also an excellent source of energy.  If you’ve been feeling lethargic lately, consult your doctor on your B12 and iron levels.


How to get daily dose: Vitamin B12 is found in eggs, meat, poultry, shellfish, milk, and milk products. There are supplements of B12 that you can take but studies show that elders don’t absorb vitamin B12 as well when they get older.

To avoid deficiency the US Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults over the age of 50 take vitamin B12 supplements, or eat foods enriched with these vitamins. For vegetarians, fortified breakfast cereals are an available source of vitamin B12 as well.

Recipes: Salmon with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, Cheese and Mushroom Omelet

2. Omega-3 Fats

When it comes to fat, there’s one type you that you definitely cannot afford to cut out of your diet: omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 are poly-saturated fatty acids that consist of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA.

Why it’s Important: We need omega-3 fatty acids for numerous normal body functions, such as controlling blood clotting and building cell membranes in the brain. Omega-3 fatty acids are also associated with many health benefits, including protection against heart disease and possibly stroke. Due to these potential health benefits, fish oil tablets, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, have become a popular supplement.


How to get a daily dose: Since our bodies cannot produce omega-3 fats, we must get them through the food we eat. ALA is found in some vegetable oils, such as soybean, canola, and flaxseed, and in walnuts. ALA is also found in some leafy green vegetables, such as kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, and salad greens. EPA and DHA are mainly found in fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and anchovies.

Recipes:  Sesame Salmon, Tuna Antipasto Salad

3. Calcium

We have more calcium in our bodies than any other mineral because it is necessary for life. It builds bones and keeps them strong.  Calcium also helps blood vessels and muscles contract and expand. It secretes hormones and enzymes which help to send messages throughout our nervous system. About 99% of the calcium in our bodies is in our bones and teeth.

Why It’s Important: Each day, we lose calcium through our skin, nails, hair, sweat, urine, and feces, but our bodies are not able to produce new calcium. That’s why it’s especially important to try to get calcium from the food we eat.  Our bones lose calcium to provide the calcium our body needs if we do not intake enough calcium. This will further add to diseases such as osteoporosis.


Daily Dose: Dairy products, such as low-fat and nonfat milk, yogurt and cheese are high in calcium. Certain green vegetables and other foods also have calcium in smaller amounts. Some juices, breakfast foods, soy milk, cereals, snacks, breads, and bottled water have calcium that has been added. If you drink soymilk or another liquid that is fortified with calcium, be sure to shake the bottle well as calcium can settle to the bottom.

Recipes: Southern Buttermilk Biscuits, Three Cheese Pasta Bake, or Greek Yogurt Parfait

4. Fiber

Dietary fiber is the indigestible part of plant foods and fruit. There are two broad types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water while insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. Dietary fiber foods are generally divided into predominantly soluble or insoluble because this classification changes how fiber goes through your digestive tract.

Why It’s Important: Insoluble fiber moves bulk through the digestive tract promotes regular bowel movements and prevents constipation. Soluble fiber reduces cholesterol and sugar intake, which is especially helpful for people with diabetes.

The consumption of soluble fiber has been shown to protect you from developing heart disease by reducing your cholesterol levels. The consumption of insoluble fiber may also reduce your risk of developing constipation and colon cancer.


Daily Dose: Vegetables, especially dark green leafy ones, are a great way to add insoluble fiber to your diet. Additionally, root vegetable skins, fruit skins, whole-wheat products, wheat bran, corn bran, nuts, and seeds are a great source. Kidney beans, pinto beans, brussel sprouts, broccoli, spinach, zucchini, apples, oranges, grapefruit, grapes, prunes, oatmeal, and whole-wheat bread contain soluble fiber.

Recipes: Baked Oatmeal, Chicken Stir-fry with eggplant and Basil 

5. Water

We all know that besides oxygen, water is the most needed nutrient needed for survival. In the body, water serves many different purposes such as a lubricant to our joints, coolant to our lungs, a solvent and a transport agent.

It’s needed to regulate body temperature, carry nutrients, remove toxins and waste materials. Water provides the medium in which all cellular chemical reactions take place.

Why It’s Important: A lack of water can trigger fatigue and dehydration. Drinking water helps maintain the balance of body fluids. Water helps maintain normal bowel function. Adequate hydration keeps things flowing along your gastrointestinal tract and prevents constipation. Even bones are over 20% water! A 2% drop in body water can trigger fuzzy short-term memory, trouble with basic math and reading, and difficulty staying focused.


Daily Dose: Add a  beverage with every snack and meal. Also, be sure to add fruits and vegetables because their high water content will add to your hydration. About 20% of our fluid intake comes from foods so it’s imperative to add a lot of water in our diet.

Recipes: Adding cucumbers, iceberg lettuce, tomato, green peppers, celery and radishes to any salad will increase your water content. Also, fruits like watermelon, strawberries, and grapefruit will also help to hydrate your body.

Often it is difficult to get all the nutrients we need. The color diet may help with your choices.

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