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Eating right means different things at different ages. Here is an overview of nutritional guidelines for every decade of adult life, from the twenties to the seventies and beyond.

Feeling good and looking great are a lot easier in your 20's than in your 80's, but small changes in your diet can help you optimize your health throughout your life. This article will help you choose the foods that enable you to eat right for your age. However, some principles of nutrition apply to all adults. Let's start with some basics.

Everyone needs protein

Despite what the advocates of three-hour and four-hour diets tell us, everyone doesn't need protein at every meal. We don't even need protein foods every day, although about 48 hours is the longest anyone should go without eating protein. The average adult (women a little less, men a little more) needs 50 grams of protein a day. Those 50 grams of protein come from about 100 grams (about 3-1/2 ounces) of a high-protein food like fish or 150 grams (about 5 ounces) of a lower-protein food like beans or roast beef or cheese. Our bodies break down the proteins in food into amino acids, and then reassemble the amino acids to make proteins for us. The body's Buffering systems can only hold amino acids for about 48 hours. Excesses of a particular kind of amino acid are transformed into sugar (glucose) plus urea. They are flushed down the toilet. 

Everyone needs carbohydrate

Carbs get a bad rap, because the body transforms most carbohydrates into sugar (again, glucose). However, glucose is the preferred fuel of most of the organs of the body, especially the brain. The brain needs about 40 grams (160 calories) of glucose derived from food every day for optimal function. 

Zero-carbohydrate diets are never a good idea; even ketogenic diets should contain a small amount of carbohydrate. 

The body also uses carbohydrates to make mucus and the synovial fluid that lubricates joints. Making these glycoproteins can take another 40 grams of carbohydrate a day. Where most people get into trouble is consuming too much carbohydrate. The liver simply cannot process more than about 300 grams (1200 calories) of carbohydrate a day, even if you aren't diabetic.

Everyone needs fat 

There is a common misunderstanding about "essential" fatty acids. Certain fats the body in the production of hormones that regulate inflammation have to come from food. This makes them "essential." However, the fat that a fatty acid is essential does not mean we all need more, more, more. 
As little as 10 grams of essential fatty acids a day is enough. 
Additional non-essential fat simply gets burned as fuel (but only when sugar is not available, eating too much sugar keeps fat stored in fat cells) or stored for later use. The challenge of good diets is not to avoid eating fat altogether, but to avoid eating too much fat, and to avoid high blood sugar levels, which keep fat locked inside fat cells.
Protein, carbohydrate, and fat are the macronutrients. These are the nutrients we all need in large amounts. Vitamins, minerals, and plant chemicals are the micronutrients. They are the nutrients we need in small amounts. 
We don't have to get every vitamin and every mineral every day. The body can store most of them. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies usually aren't related so much to diet as to problems with absorption. "More" is usually not the answer. When there is a vitamin or mineral deficiency, the problem usually is that the body isn't getting them in the form it can absorb and use.
All through our lives we have to pay attention to getting enough of the macronutrients and all of the micronutrients. However, optimal food choices change as we grow older. The guiding principles of food choices change as we grow older.
Continue reading after recommendations

  • Guyonnet S, Secher M, Vellas B. Nutrition, Frailty, Cognitive Frailty and Prevention of Disabilities with Aging. Nestle Nutr Inst Workshop Ser. 2015 Nov. 82:143-152. Epub 2015 Oct 20. PMID: 26545250.
  • Wall BT, Gorissen SH, Pennings B, Koopman R, Groen BB, Verdijk LB, van Loon LJ. Aging Is Accompanied by a Blunted Muscle Protein Synthetic Response to Protein Ingestion. PLoS One. 2015 Nov 4
  • 10(11):e0140903. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0140903. eCollection 2015. PMID: 26536130.
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