General calorie intake and nutritional requirements change as people age. It is important to distinguish the nutrition for one age group from others as dietary requirements will differ. Certain age groups need specific nutrients in specific quantities, therefore attention should be paid to nutritional habits.
Infants will preferably require the milk of their mothers as it contains appropriate ratios of fats, protein, carbs and cholesterol and provides the babies with protection against diseases due to transfer of immunity. An example of that would by lactoferrin, which is “an immune protein with strong anti-microbial function in human milk”(1).
Pre-school children will require a lot of energy in comparison to their size as they are very active and grow rapidly. They will require foods that are high in nutrients and protein preferably given as relatively small, but frequent meals. Pureed fruits and vegetables as snacks would be a good choice as they would provide essential micronutrients in form of vitamins and minerals in addition to other meals.
School children (5-12 years) also grow relatively quickly and are typically very active. During this stage of life, they would require a varied diet that is based on the Eatwell Guide, have at least two portions of fish a week, one which would be oily. Sweet snack foods should be limited and swapped for yogurt, milk or sandwiches with lean meat (e.g. turkey breast) or fish (e.g. tuna) and a salad. The same goes for salt intake, where according to British Nutrition Foundation(2):
- „children aged 4 to 6 years – no more than 3 g a day;
- children aged 7 to 10 years – no more than 5 g a day;
- children aged 11 or above – no more than 6 g a day.”
Teenagers tend to grow much faster at age 13-18, therefore they require more calcium and vitamin D to support healthy teeth and bone growth. Their caloric requirement also increases. Their meals should also be based around the Eatwell Guide, but their diet would demand significantly more energy than that of a child. A higher intake of fiber is also recommended for gut health as teenagers tend to lean towards fast foods and sweet snacks, thus covering a majority of their caloric requirement from unhealthy foods.
Adults between ages 19 and 50 usually have similar dietary requirements as they do not change within this stage of life. A typical adult’s diet would be based around the Eatwell Guide and would contain 5 portions of fruit or vegetables a day, at least 2 portions of fish a week and the base of the diet would be starchy foods such as pasta, rice, potatoes, bread, etc. (preferably wholemeal options as they contain more micronutrients and fiber). Their caloric intake would not be as high as of teenagers and their protein requirements would also drop because the growth spurt has already ended at this stage and bones have completely formed.
Older adults require significantly fewer calories, but foods they eat should be more nutrient-dense. As age increases, the basal metabolic rate drops down, but the requirements for micronutrients increase. For instance, the ability to synthesize vitamin D from UV light decreases with age, therefore more of it should be consumed with the diet, preferably as a whole, healthy meal, but could also be supplemented if necessary. Due to cognitive decline, the amount of omega-3 fatty acids grows as they aid the brain in proper functioning. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in nuts and oily fish. Vitamin A consumption should also be increased as it helps to keep the eyes healthy. Vitamin A can be found in carrots and sweet potatoes. Fruits and vegetable intake should be generally increased as they contain fiber (helps to maintain bowel regularity), antioxidants (help fight reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, cancer, protects cells from damage). Older people also require more vitamin B12 found in meat, fish and dairy, because it aids in erythrocyte production and helps maintain proper brain and nervous system function. Ready-to-eat meals should be avoided as they usually contain a lot of salt, which increases the risk of stroke, because of blood pressure-raising properties of sodium.
Men and women also differ in nutritional needs in terms of caloric intake, macronutrients and micronutrients requirements. On average a typical man needs around 19-21 kcal per pound of body weight, while a typical woman needs 17-19 calories per pound of body weight(3).
That means that a woman weighing the same as a man in her age would typically require less calories to maintain healthy body function. When it comes to carbohydrates men usually require more of them as they require more energy, plus they tend to utilise carbohydrates as fuel better (they are able to burn more), where women deal better with fat. Protein intake in men should also be higher due to larger muscle mass. While calcium requirements for men and women are similar, the iron requirements are different. Women require more than 2x iron than men (18 vs 8mg daily respectively) to make up for the losses during menstruation.
- Wikipedia, Human Milk Immunity, accessed on 07/05/21, available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_milk_immunity
- British Nutrition Foundation, Nutrition through life – School Children, p.2, accessed on 07/05/21, available at: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/life/school-children.html
- Nesta, How Men’s And Women’s Nutrition Needs Differ, accessed on 07/05/21, available at: https://www.nestacertified.com/how-mens-and-womens-nutrition-needs-differ/