Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is essential for building (and keeping) strong bones, and even plays a role in calcium absorption. But a deficiency can cause many issues in older adults, including a greater risk for cognitive impairment, stroke, osteoporosis, mood changes and more.
A vitamin D deficiency can lead to increased risk of:
- Cognitive impairment
- Mood changes
While the sun is the primary source of vitamin D for humans, older adults can have trouble taking in as much as they need from sunshine. After all, many may be bedridden or confined to a nursing home, or they just spend less time outdoors due to mobility issues, bad weather or sensitive skin that comes with aging.
It can also be hard for seniors to consume the amount of vitamin D needed from food alone, so several registered dietitians from around the country weighed in on some of the go-to food sources they recommend.
The best foods to include for seniors for vitamin D include vitamin D-fortified milk, salmon, fortified mushrooms and orange juice. Many of these foods can also be combined into something tasty for seniors, such as vitamin D-fortified milk in a smoothie or in soups and sauces.
For seniors who prefer to stay plant-based, mushrooms are a good option. Fungi are capable of converting UV light into vitamin D, just like humans. While the amount is not the same as in animal sources, it can be a good way to introduce more dietary vitamin D every day. Mushrooms are also a great source of beta glucans, a complex fiber that has strong antioxidant properties.
Pumpkin seeds. This one’s a bit tricky because pumpkin seeds don’t actually provide vitamin D. But they’re rich in magnesium, which is needed for proper absorption and metabolism of vitamin D. Without enough magnesium, your body isn’t able to put vitamin D to good use! One ounce of pumpkin seeds has a whopping 18% of the daily value for magnesium.
For seniors, look for great sources of vitamin D that require little to no preparation. You may even want to consider foods that don’t require tons of chewing, like yogurt that’s fortified with vitamin D. Need a quick breakfast option that can be prepared ahead of time? Make some hard-boiled eggs or mix up a simple tuna salad.
It can be difficult to take in vitamin D through plant food sources, which can put vegan dieters at risk for vitamin D deficiency, a serious condition. Those who do not eat animal products like fish, eggs and dairy may want to consider consuming fortified plant foods like cereals. Other fortified plant foods include plant milks, orange juice, soy milk and oatmeal. Mushrooms are an excellent source of a plant-based vitamin D.
My first job as a dietitian was at a skilled nursing facility where I had experience in understanding what a senior eats … The foods that will help a senior obtain vitamin D will include foods that are soft and flavorful. The top foods with high sources of vitamin D are 3 ounces of rainbow trout farmed, 3 ounces of sockeye salmon, nut beverages fortified with vitamin D (like soy, almond and oat milk), and fortified ready-to-eat cereals. Of course, combining the foods mentioned above increase the potential for vitamin D to be absorbed.