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Healthy Eating

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins

Vitamins help your body grow and work the way it should. There are 13 vitamins—vitamins C, A, D, E, K, and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, B6, B12, and folate).

Vitamins have different jobs--helping you resist infections, keeping your nerves healthy, and helping your body get energy from food or your blood to clot properly. By following the Dietary Guidelines, you will get enough of most of these vitamins from food.

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

  • mg – milligram
  • mcg – microgram
  • IU – international unit

Your doctor might suggest that, like some older adults, you need extra of a few vitamins, as well as the mineral calcium. 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. Look for foods fortified with certain vitamins and minerals, like some B vitamins, calcium, and vitamin D. That means those nutrients are added to the foods to help you meet your needs.

Minerals

Minerals also help your body function. 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.

Vitamin and Mineral Supplements for People Over Age 50
Vitamin D If you are age 50–70, you need at least 600 IU, but not more than 4,000 IU. If you are age 70 and older, you need at least 800 IU, but not more than 4,000 IU. You can get vitamin D from fatty fish, fish-liver oils, fortified milk and milk products, and fortified cereals.
Vitamin B6 Men need 1.7 mg every day. Women need 1.5 mg every day. You can get vitamin B6 from fortified cereals, whole grains, organ meats like liver, and fortified soy-based meat substitutes.
Vitamin B12 You need 2.4 mcg every day. Some people over age 50 have trouble absorbing the vitamin B12 found naturally in foods, so make sure you get enough of the supplement form of this vitamin, such as from fortified foods. You can get vitamin B12 from fortified cereals, meat, fish, poultry, and milk.
Folate You need 400 mcg each day. Folic acid is the form used to fortify grain products or added to dietary supplements. You can get folate from dark-green leafy vegetables like spinach, beans and peas, fruit like oranges and orange juice, and folic acid from fortified flour and fortified cereals.

Calcium

Calcium is a mineral that is important for strong bones and teeth, so there are special recommendations for older people who are at risk for bone loss. You can get calcium from milk and milk products (remember to choose fat-free or low-fat whenever possible), some forms of tofu, dark-green leafy vegetables (like collard greens and kale), soybeans, canned sardines and salmon with bones, and calcium-fortified foods.

There are several types of calcium supplements. Calcium citrate and calcium carbonate tend to be the least expensive.

Calcium for People Over 50
Women age 51 and older Men age 51 to 70 Men age 71 and older
1,200 mg each day 1,000 mg each day 1,200 mg each day
Women and men age 51 and older: Don’t take more than 2,000 mg of calcium in a day.

Sodium

Sodium is another mineral. In most Americans’ diets, sodium primarily comes from salt (sodium chloride), though it is naturally found in some foods. Sodium is also added to others during processing, often in the form of salt. We all need some sodium, but too much over time can contribute to raising your blood pressure or put you at risk for heart disease, stroke, or kidney disease.

How much sodium is okay? People 51 and older should reduce their sodium to 1,500 mg each day—that includes sodium added during manufacturing or cooking as well as at the table when eating. That is about 2/3 teaspoon of salt. Look for the word sodium, not salt, on the Nutrition Facts panel. The amount of sodium in the same kind of food can vary greatly among brands, so check the label.

Preparing your own meals at home without using a lot of processed foods or adding salt will allow you to control how much sodium you get. Look for grocery products marked “low sodium,” “unsalted,” “no salt added,” “sodium free,” or “salt free.”

To limit sodium to 1,500 mg daily, try using less salt when cooking, and don’t add salt before you take the first bite. Spices, herbs, and lemon juice add flavor to your food, so you won’t miss the salt. If you make this change slowly, you will get used to the difference in taste. Eating more vegetables and fruit also helps—they are naturally low in sodium and provide more potassium. Talk to your doctor before using salt substitutes. Some contain sodium. And most have potassium, which some people also need to limit.

Read about this topic in Spanish. Lea sobre este tema en español.

For More Information on Vitamins and Minerals

Office of Dietary Supplements                                    
National Institutes of Health
1-301-435-2920
ods@nih.gov
www.ods.od.nih.gov

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
1-888-644-6226 (toll-free)
1-866-464-3615 (TTY/toll-free)
info@nccih.nih.gov
www.nccih.nih.gov

U.S. Food and Drug Administration
1-888-463-6332 (toll-free)
druginfo@fda.hhs.gov
www.fda.gov