Nutrition changes across age groups because nutrient needs change, disease state changes, and activity changes. It is normal for your body to change throughout the lifespan but knowing how to respond to these changes is very important to your overall health. We will look at teens, adults, and older adults as our age groups.
Teens (age 13-21)
During this age, most teens are usually active and going to school for most of the year. Because of the higher activity levels, most teens will need more calories than their parents or the adults around them. Calorie needs depend on gender, height, and weight, whether they are still growing, and how active they are, which may not be the same every day. If your teen is not hungry one day and then extremely hungry the next day, just go with it and provide them with the proper foods to fuel their body. Like an adult healthy diet, focus on fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains and limit sugar, processed snacks, and sugar sweetened beverages.
Some teens also try to lose weight by eating very little, cutting out whole groups of foods like carbohydrates, skipping meals, or fasting. However, these approaches to losing weight could be unhealthy because they leave out important nutrients your body needs. This could also put your teen into a cycle of dieting that will eventually change metabolism and cause them to have unhealthy behaviors for the rest of their lives. It is recommended to focus on the healthy diet discussed earlier instead and ensure that portion sizes are not too big to make sure calorie intake isn’t above what your teen needs.
Adults (age 21-55)
Adults are usually less active than teens and have a lifestyle that is mostly depicted by their job or family duties. For example, a job that requires you to sit at a desk most of the day will affect your health and nutrition needs compared to a job that you are constantly moving or lifting.
Most men need around 2200-2400 calories when moderately active, and most women need around 1800-2000 calories when moderately active. What you eat within these calorie ranges are also just as important as how many calories you eat. Ensuring that these calories are healthy calories is what maintains a healthy body weight. Make sure you focus on getting 2-3 servings of fruits, 4 servings of vegetables, 3 servings of a lean protein, and 3 servings of whole grains each day. Serving sizes of each food can be found online under a general search.
Older Adults (ages 55+)
This group of individuals is likely experiencing even more decreased activity, increased risk of chronic disease, and weight maintenance issues. The same nutrition principles apply to older adults just as adults – focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. The number of calories will change depending on weight and age. As we age, we usually need more protein and calories to maintain a healthy body weight. However, this is not always true, especially when someone is overweight or obese. In overweight individuals, it is important to watch calories so that a healthy weight can be achieved. A healthy weight is associated with better health outcomes, less risk for disease, and a longer life.
As always, consulting with a registered dietitian or your primary health physician can help you better understand your indiviual needs. They will be able to review your past medical history, your risks, and your lifestyle and will be able to provide personalized guidance.