Adults and elderly adults

Written by Emily Whitton
Emily Whitton
Nutritionist Resource Content Team

Last updated 25th January 2023 | Next update due 24th January 2026

Once we have stopped growing and enter adulthood, nutrition becomes more about maintaining balance and health. Getting to know our bodies, and understanding what foods make us feel good and what foods don’t is key. We may have intolerances, conditions or specific nutritional needs that need addressing too.

As we age, our preferences and needs may change slightly. On this page, we’ll explore what nutrition looks like for adults and elderly adults, and how professional support can help.

Dietary needs for adults 

In adulthood, it is important to understand how our diet supports us and the effects it has on our health and well-being. Eating a varied and balanced diet is recommended. According to the NHS, this includes at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, meals based on starchy foods, including dairy and protein (or alternatives like soya), and, finally, staying hydrated with plenty of water. Try to limit foods that are high in fat, sugar, and salt. 

It’s worth noting here that we are all very different, and what makes one person feel great and energised may make you feel tired and unwell. We all have varied requirements for the number of nutrients, minerals, and vitamins we need. Our sex, blood type, metabolic rate, genetics, age, overall health, and levels of exercise can all influence this. Use the NHS guidelines as just that - guidelines - and listen to your body. 

How can nutritional needs differ among adults? 

There are a number of factors that affect what we need to consume. For example, men generally require more calories per day than women (around 2500 for men vs 2000 for women), whilst women typically need more vitamins and minerals, such as iron, due to the loss that can occur during menstruation. 

The more physically active you are, the more calories you may need to consume to support your exercise and recovery. Age can also play a part in our diets. Older people need fewer calories as they have less bone and muscle mass but require just as many, or more, nutrients compared to younger adults. 

Some adults may be dealing with conditions that require them to adjust their diet, such as:

If you notice any unusual physical symptoms that you think could be related to the above, it’s always best to visit your doctor to uncover the problem. And remember, there is rarely one-size-fits-all advice when it comes to health.

Nutrition professionals that support adults and elderly adults

How can a nutritionist help adults?

If you are diagnosed with a condition that requires or recommends a change in diet, it can be helpful to seek guidance from a nutrition professional. They will be able to talk to you about your condition, your lifestyle and the types of food you like to eat. This will help them put together a tailored and suitable plan for you.

If you haven’t been diagnosed with a condition, but you’re just not feeling your best or you know your diet isn’t the best it could be, a nutritionist can help here, too. Again, they will get to know you, and understand what your lifestyle looks like and how your body responds to different foods.

Together, you will create a diet plan that suits both your nutritional needs and your lifestyle. Rather than a quick fix, the idea of working with a nutritionist is to make lasting changes that will not only improve your physical health but also your mindset around food.

Elderly adult nutrition

According to the British Nutrition Foundation, over the last 200 years, life expectancy has doubled in the UK, meaning around 18% of the population is now over the age of 65. While this is great news that health and technological advances are helping us live longer, questions remain about how healthy we are at this age.

Nutrition, of course, plays a big role in this. While for elderly adults, nutritional guidelines are the same as for adults, energy requirements tend to fall when we age. This is because our metabolic rates decrease along with our physical activity.

There are also specific recommendations for vitamin D in older people. It’s recommended that those over the age of 65 take vitamin D supplements - be sure to consult a doctor or nutrition professional for more advice on this. In general, eating a well-rounded diet and keeping up with gentle exercise can help protect against several age-related conditions, such as:

We need to consider our whole ecosystem, like the forest, and recognise that as holistic human beings, changes in one aspect of our health and well-being can result in multiple effects in other interrelated or interdependent areas.

- Nutritional therapist Sarah Mallinson

Our tastes and preferences can change as we get older too. This can affect our appetite and how much we enjoy food. If this happens, it can be helpful to get support from someone to make mealtimes more exciting again, using different herbs and spices to boost the taste.

Other considerations as we age include heart health, joint and bone health, and our dental health. Adjustments to your diet can be helpful for all of these, including reducing your salt intake, ensuring you’re eating oily fish, and avoiding acidic foods and drinks that may damage your teeth.

Find out how to improve your nutrition as you age.

How can a nutritionist help elderly adults?

Having support from a nutrition professional can be very helpful if you’re struggling to enjoy food and eat a varied and balanced diet. A nutritionist can work with you to find dishes you enjoy and foods that help you reach your nutritional needs.

They will take your age and any health problems you may have (or any health problems you are trying to avoid) into consideration and create a diet plan accordingly. Some nutritionists may even teach you different ways of cooking to help you have a little more fun in the kitchen.

If you have a particular condition, your nutritionist can help you understand if and how any diet changes may help. They can walk you through the process of adjusting your diet in a way you’re comfortable and happy with, supporting your body and any changes you may be going through.

Food is one of life’s greatest pleasures and an excellent way to support your energy levels. Working with a professional at any age can help you fall in love with taking care of yourself as you discover how to use food to keep both your body and mind healthy and happy.

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