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Steps to Healthy Eating

January 11, 2021

Published in All About Seniors Winter/Spring 2021 Edition

By Margaret White, Aging Specialist CAAA


Aging comes with many changes, the least of which is a need for fewer calories due to muscle mass loss and decreased metabolic rate.  Eating right or getting in needed nutrients but fewer calories is necessary for keeping your mind and body healthy.  Sometimes it seems as if this can be hard to do.

Eating a variety of foods from all the food groups is a good way to get started.  The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, utilizes the latest in research to help Americans make smart food choices.  Emphasis is on healthy eating patterns, or foods and beverages consumed regularly over time instead of emphasis on individual nutrients.  Healthy eating patterns can be adapted to individual budgets, cultural habits, taste preferences and should include:

  • Fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and vegetables. Focus on red, orange, and dark green vegetables.  Add fruit as part of the main dish or dessert.  The more colorful your plate the more vitamins and minerals you will get
  • Choose whole grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice, and pasta. Look for “whole wheat,” “brown rice,” “bulgur,” “buckwheat,” “rolled oats,” “wild rice,” and “quinoa.”
  • Vary lean protein choices with more fish, dry beans and peas; lean meat (90% lean or higher), poultry, eggs, soy products, and nuts and seeds
  • Low-fat (1%) or fat-free dairy (milk, yogurt or cheese) fortified with vitamin D or fortified soy products. Dairy products are sources of calcium too.
  • Switch from solid fats to oils when cooking. Focus on polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Nuts, peanut butter, avocado, salmon, and sardines are sources of these healthy fats.
  • Stay hydrated with water instead of sugary drinks

For those needing more calcium and vitamin D to maintain bone health, fortified cereals, dark green leafy vegetables, and canned fish with soft bones are good sources.  Fortified cereal, lean meat and some fish are good sources of vitamin B12.  Whole grain breads and cereals, beans and peas, and whole fruits and vegetables provide fiber needed to keep your bowel function normal and may decrease type 2 diabetes and heart disease risk.

Adjust your portion sizes instead of sacrificing components of a balanced meal.  Some older adults find their appetite is greater in the morning; if so, include protein, whole grain and fruit for breakfast along with a balance afternoon meal, and eat lightly in the evening.  Healthier foods are whole foods, but if you eat packaged foods read the food label and choose options lower in fat, sodium, and added sugars.

Another option is the USDA MyPlate, developed to help Americans visualize a healthy plate and what foods should go on it. The MyPlate website provides tips and ideas to create a healthier eating style that works with one’s food preferences, health goals, and budget.  The MyPlate Plan shows what and how much to eat within your calorie allowance, which is based on age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity.  There is also a page specific to older adults.  Check it out at

And, do not forget to balance your healthy eating pattern with physical activity.  Set a goal of 30 minutes per day of physical activity.  This can be broken into three 10-minute sessions throughout the day.  Always check with your health care provider before starting any new physical activity program

Margaret White , Aging Specialist at Centralina Area Agency on Aging
Margaret White