Nutritional and caloric needs change as you age. However, age is not the only factor in determining the level of vitamins, minerals, fluids, proteins and carbohydrates necessary for optimal health. For personalized advice on the nutrition plan that is best for you, talk to your physician or a qualified nutrition professional.
The nutritional needs of babies 6 months of age or younger are best met with an exclusive diet of breast milk, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Breast milk provides the precise nutrients a baby needs for growth and development. Infants who are breastfed have a lower risk of certain health problems, including ear infections, allergic skin conditions, lower respiratory infections and and sudden infant death syndrome, SIDS. Many babies begin eating solids around the age of 6 months, but breast milk should be the foundation of most babies' diets until at least 12 months. Infant formula can substitute for breast milk when a mother is unwilling or unable to breast feed.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
During the toddler and preschool years, adequate nutrient and caloric intake can help children achieve their full potential for development and growth. Many children experience a drop in appetite beginning in their second year, as their rate of growth naturally slows following the rapid increases in infancy. Allow your child to eat as her own hunger dictates. The textbook "Nutrition Through the Life Cycle" notes that young children naturally regulate their own caloric intake. However, they won't necessarily gravitate toward foods that are good for them. Offer a healthy, balanced selection of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy products, and restrict access to sugary and salty snacks.
School Age Children
In the United States, children are more threatened by over-nutrition than under-nutrition. In over-nutrition, more nutrients are consumed than the amount required for normal growth. "Nutrition Through the Life Cycle" states that almost 20 percent of school age children are overweight. Provide a healthy food environment for your child with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, which are abundant sources of vitamins and cell-protecting antioxidants. Vitamin E, folic acid and calcium levels are often suboptimal in this age group. Offer whole and enriched grains and plenty of low-fat dairy products to help make sure your child gets enough of these important nutrients.
The nutritional needs of adults vary, based on their levels of activity, gender and health status. As with children, over-nutrition is a bigger risk for adults in industrialized nations than under-nutrition. Health consequences include obesity, diabetes, heart disease and osteoarthritis. Adults working desk jobs must exercise enough to burn the calories consumed. Make sure the calories come from healthy sources, not "empty" treats or sodas. A balanced diet, based on a variety of fruits, vegetables, proteins, healthy fats and unrefined grains, can provide the average healthy adult with all the necessary nutrients. However, the Harvard School of Public Health notes that adults might benefit from a multivitamin supplement with minerals to fill any nutritional gaps that occur with a less-than-optimal diet.
Decreased muscle mass and a decline in physical activity frequently accompany the aging process. They necessitate a corresponding decrease in calories, advises the Penn State Nutrition & Extension Partnership Project. At the same time, older adults have an increased need for certain minerals and vitamins, such as calcium, vitamin B6 and vitamin D. Older adults should take special care to choose foods with nutrient density -- a high proportion of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients relative to calories. Older adults should also eat plenty of high-quality, lean protein. Maintaining a protein reserve can help keep muscles strong and provide extra support during times of surgery or declining health.