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Healthy Diets at All Stages of Life

We need essential amino acids, carbohydrate, essential fatty acids, and 28 vitamins and minerals to sustain life and health. However, nutritional needs vary from one life stage to another. For example, recommended nutrient intakes change as we grow from childhood into adulthood, and in elderly persons some nutrient needs (e.g., vitamin D) increase, while others (e.g., energy and iron) are reduced.

Changing Nutrient Needs Through the Life Cycle

Life Stage

Change in Nutrient Needs


Increased requirements: energy, protein, essential fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin C, B-vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, folate, choline) and calcium, phosphorus**, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, copper, chromium, selenium, iodine, manganese, molybdenum


Increased requirements: vitamins A, C, E, all B-vitamins, sodium, magnesium**

Decreased requirements: iron

Infancy, childhood*

Increased requirements: energy, protein, essential fatty acids


Increased requirements: energy, protein, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc (females only)

Early adulthood (ages 19-50)

Increased requirements for males: vitamins C, K; B1, B2, B3, and choline; magnesium, zinc, chromium, manganese

Increased requirements for females: iron

Middle age
(ages 51-70)*

Increased requirements: vitamin B6, vitamin D

(age 70+)*

Increased requirements: vitamin D

Decreased requirements: energy; iron (females only)

 * Relative to adult requirements for those 19-50 years of age (and on a per-kg basis for macronutrients).
** Applies only to individuals under age 18.
For detailed nutrient recommendations, see chapters on Macronutrients and Micronutrients.

Excess Calorie Intake: A Potential Risk for All Age Groups >>