Not only do nutritional needs and health concerns vary by age, but personal interests do as well. For example, “Generation Z consumers are more concerned about the sustainability of food and beverage products than boomers, and they find vegetarian and vegan products more appealing,” according to a 2020 survey of 1,000 adults in the United States and United Kingdom from Ingredient Communications. A third (34%) of those aged 18–25 said they consider it “very important” that a product is made sustainably, compared with 18% of those aged 65 and over. The research also found that 38% of those aged 18–24 said they find vegetarian claims on products to be “very appealing,” and 33% said they feel the same way about vegan claims. However, only 6% of respondents aged 65 and over said they find vegetarian claims “very appealing,” and just 3% said the same about vegan claims.
The recently released 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines provide, for the first time, guidance by life stage, from birth to older adulthood, and they address pregnancy and lactation. The Guidelines identify needs specific to each life stage and provide recommendations for healthy dietary patterns. Here’s a look at some of the nutritional needs and concerns of the various age groups.
Generation Alpha is comprised of infants through roughly the preteen years, those born between 2010 and 2024. For infants and toddlers, key recommendations from the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines include exclusively feeding infants human milk for about the first six months of life and through at least the first year or iron-fortified infant formula during the first year when human milk is unavailable and providing them with supplemental vitamin D beginning soon after birth. At about six months, it is recommended that infants be introduced to nutrient-dense complementary foods and potentially allergenic foods along with other complementary foods.
“Iron and zinc are nutrients of concern for infants aged 6–12 mo,” says Isabel Maples, national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. These nutrients are important for growth and immunity. “As the variety of foods in the infant diet expands, parents can include meats and fortified cereals to ensure those nutrients are adequate,” she says.
Growth and development are important for toddlers and children. Lean protein plays a role at this stage of life. Kids usually need about 3–5 oz of protein (20–35 g) in a day, depending on their age, gender, and weight. Generally, toddlers and kids consume enough protein, but the focus should be on high-quality lean protein.
As children mature to preteens and teenagers, nutritional needs and concerns change. “The diet quality is best among young children and then declines with age as they grow up and reach the teenage years. The diet of preteen and teen girls is particularly poor,” says Maples. “In fact, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, after the toddler age, Americans of all ages choose foods that lack enough calcium, vitamin D, fiber, and potassium,” she adds.
Although osteoporosis is commonly associated with older adults, Maples points out that bone health and calcium balance is important during childhood and the teen years. “Osteoporosis, osteopenia, and low bone mass show up in the elderly, but actually start in children, teens, and young adults. Think of the bones like a bank account, she says. “During the growing years, and up to about age 30, our bodies can make ‘deposits’ of calcium to build bone. After that, we try to minimize ‘withdrawals’ with a diet that has enough calcium and other key nutrients, including protein, plus regular physical activity. Bone mass is best maintained with weight-bearing exercises like walking, weight lifting, and Pilates.”
To get the recommended 1,300 mg/day of calcium in the bone-building teen years, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 4 servings/day of calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese, yogurt, and fortified soy milk. Each serving of the dairy group provides about 300 mg calcium and up to 100 IU of vitamin D.
Prebiotics have been shown to help calcium absorption. In a review of prebiotics, mineral metabolism, and bone health, Whisner and Castillo (2018) said that growing evidence exists for prebiotic effects on calcium metabolism and bone health. Current prebiotic mechanisms for improved mineral absorption and skeletal health include altering the composition of gut microbiota, production of short-chain fatty acids, altered intestinal pH, modification of biomarkers, and regulation of the immune system. Whisner and Castillo (2018) state: “Although fewer data are available for humans, bone-related prebiotic effects exist across the lifecycle, suggesting benefits for attainment of peak bone mass during adolescence and minimized bone resorption among postmenopausal women.”
Eye health may be a growing area of concern for adolescents and teenagers due to increased screen time with the switch to online learning as well as increased gaming during the pandemic. Prolonged exposure to blue light may cause issues like retinal stress, blurry vision, eyestrain, dry eye, and macular degeneration and cataracts later in life. Lutein and zeaxanthin are the two major antioxidants that have been linked to eye health, particularly in age-related macular degeneration. Food sources of these antioxidants include egg yolk and dark green leafy vegetables like spinach.
Pharmactive Biotech Products recently introduced affronEYE saffron extract, a fast-absorbing antioxidant that can potentially address the negative impacts of blue-light exposure. The product is derived from all-natural extraction of 100% Spanish saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and is standardized to 3% crocins, the major carotenoids in saffron, which act as potent antioxidants. According to Pharmactive, various studies suggest that saffron supplementation, such as with affronEYE, improves visual function, preserving the function of retinal photoreceptors and flicker sensitivity.
According to the Dietary Guidelines, more than 90% of women and 97% of men do not meet recommended intakes for dietary fiber. This aligns with the underconsumption of vegetables and whole grains by more than 85% of adults. Dietary fiber is important during adulthood because it is linked to several aspects of health—cardiovascular disease prevention, weight management, blood sugar management, and immunity.
Most adults also do not consume adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D. According to the Dietary Guidelines, close to 30% of men and 60% of women older than age 19 do not consume enough calcium and more than 90% do not consume enough vitamin D.
COVID-19 has brought about the prioritization of immune health as well as weight management for young adults in Generation Z, millennials, and older adults in Gen X. “Across the age groups, being overweight/obese is of major concern. More than 71% of adults are overweight/obese,” says Maples. Ingredients that aid in healthy weight management/weight loss and mobility, energy, and exercise recovery will find a renewed interest. Consumers will turn to dietary fiber, whole grains, lean proteins like whey and plant-based proteins, collagen peptides, and natural energy sources. For immunity, demand for ingredients like vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, elderberry, yeast beta-glucans, and antioxidants will increase as well.
Prolonged stress and its effect on overall health is another issue that adults are facing. According to the American Institute of Stress, 77% of people experience stress that affects their physical health and 73% of people have stress that impacts their mental health. DuPont Nutrition and Biosciences recently introduced HOWARU Calm probiotic, shown to manage the psychological response to perceived stress. Lacticaseibacillus paracasei Lpc-37 is the product’s featured strain. Patterson et al. (2020) found that people taking Lpc-37 reported significant reduction in perceived stress following five weeks of intervention compared with those taking a placebo.
In January of this year, Gencor launched Calmaluma, a proprietary, patented ingredient solution for stress and anxiety. The product consists of a Caralluma fimbriata extract, derived from a cactus-like plant, which has been clinically studied for its ability to ease stress and anxiety in adults. Kell et al. (2019) indicated that during an 8 wk period, Calmalluma reduced subclinical anxiety and stress in adults.
“Older adults are at higher risk of bone disease, like osteoporosis. Women are most vulnerable because they have less bone than men. Women are also more likely to have dieted during their lifetimes and tend to restrict calcium-rich food choices. Plus, after menopause, the protective effects of estrogen are partially lost, so more bone is lost, too,” says Maples. “To counteract that, nutrition experts recommend more dietary calcium, more strength-building exercises, and enough vitamin D. For baby boomers, I anticipate that low dairy intake will catch up with them as they age. As a registered dietitian, I recently worked in a long-term care facility, with residents aged 55–102. Only a handful of my more than 100 residents consumed milk beyond breakfast, whereas 25 years ago, when I worked in another nursing facility, I did not see that low milk consumption.”
Lower dairy intake can potentially affect bone health as well as overall health. “Calcium is dairy’s claim to fame,” says Maples, “but it also is a great source of potassium and vitamin D. Dairy also helps supply protein, and the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans stress getting protein from a variety of sources.”
Consuming enough protein is important to prevent the loss of lean muscle mass that occurs with age. Intake patterns show average intakes of proteinaceous foods is lower for individuals aged 71 years and older compared with adults aged 60–70. About 50% of women and 30% of men aged 71 and older fall short of recommendations for
“Older Americans are more used to getting in most of their protein in a big evening meal, but it’s good to spread that protein intake throughout the day,” says Maples. “Some experts suggest consuming about 20 g of protein three times a day.”
According to the Dietary Guidelines, vitamin B12 is of concern for some older adults because the ability to absorb the nutrient may decrease with age and use of certain medications can decrease absorption. Vitamin B12 aids in red blood cell formation, cell metabolism, nerve function, and the production of DNA. Older adults are encouraged to meet the recommendations for protein foods, a common source of vitamin B12, and to include foods, such as breakfast cereals, fortified with vitamin B12.
Cognition and mental decline are other areas of concern for older adults. Omega-3 fatty acids are believed to play a potentially beneficial role in these areas. For example, following a meta-analysis, Alex et al. (2020) suggested that supplementation with long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids could provide a mild benefit in improving memory function in non-demented older adults. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain and has been shown to have neuroprotective properties, while eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) has been linked to reducing inflammation. Research has shown an impact of omega-3 fatty acids on cognitive function and memory, symptoms of depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and recovery from traumatic brain injuries.
“The Dietary Guidelines and MyPlate recommend two servings (about 8 oz) of fish/seafood per week to add more omega-3 fatty acids and to help diversify protein sources,” notes Maples. “Choosing protein foods beyond just meat (by swapping into our meals more fish, seafood, nuts, beans, peas, lentils and lowfat dairy), we can enjoy the benefits of meat and poultry while nourishing our bodies with enough protein, a greater range of nutrients, and a lower intake of saturated fat.”
Walnuts have also been shown to potentially benefit cognition and memory, as they contain polyunsaturated fatty acids and several components that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Chauhan and Chauhan (2020) recently suggested that early and long-term dietary supplementation with walnuts may help to maintain cognitive function and may reduce the risk of developing or delay the onset and/or slow the progression of dementia by reducing oxidative damage, increasing antioxidant defense, and decreasing neuro-inflammation.
For all age groups, choosing more nutrient-dense foods can increase nutrition and health with every bite, says Maples. Consumers should emphasize choosing nutrient-dense foods to meet nutritional needs without excess calories from added sugars, sodium, or saturated fat. “Overall, to eat better, health and nutrition experts recommend that we eat more fruits, vegetables, lowfat dairy products, nuts, seeds, fish and seafood, and whole grains,” she summarizes.
Alex, A., K. A. Abbot, M. McEvoy, et al. 2020. “Long-chain Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Cognitive Decline in Non-Demented Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Nutr. Rev. 78(7): 563–578.
Chauhan, A. and V. Chauhan. 2020. “Beneficial Effects of Walnuts on Cognition and Brain Health.” Nutrients 12(2): 550.
Kell, G., A. Rao, and M. Katsikitis. 2019. “A Randomised Placebo Controlled Clinical Trial on the Efficacy of Caralluma fimbriata Supplement for Reducing Anxiety and Stress in Healthy Adults over Eight Weeks.” J. Affective Disord. 246: 619–626.
Patterson, E., S. M. Griffin, A. Ibarra, et al. 2020. “Lacticaseibacillus paracasei Lpc-37® Improves Psychological and Physiological Markers of Stress and Anxiety in Healthy Adults: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled and Parallel Clinical Trial (the Sisu Study).” Neurobiol. Stress 13: 100277.
Whisner, C. M. and L. F. Castillo. 2018. “Prebiotics, Bone and Mineral Metabolism.” Calcif. Tissue Int. 102(4): 443–479.