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What’s in The American Dietary Guidelines for Me?

March 1, 2021

What’s in The American Dietary Guidelines for Me?

We are constantly bombarded with conflicting messages on what to eat.  Avoid carbohydrate, eat low fat, eat whole foods….  The list of messages is endless and are any of the suggestions advice an older adult should follow?  Thankfully, there is one clear and easy message based on the latest nutrition and medical science information and research, related to the nutritional needs of older adults.

For the first time, older adult nutrition has been included in the recently released Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).  Updated every five years, the new 2020 -2025 guidelines provide general recommendations or a “framework” to promote health, prevent chronic diseases, and meet nutrient needs by “Making Every Bite Count.”  Older adults as a group have the healthiest eating pattern of all American adults, but many older individual’s eating patterns are lacking in calcium, Vit D, Vit B12, dietary fiber, and dietary protein.  Eating more whole grains, fruit, vegetables, dietary protein, and dairy products would help meet these shortages.

The DGA organizes foods into food groups with suggested servings per calorie level to meet nutrient needs.  A 2000 calorie diet is used as the standard for determining serving sizes to cover nutrient needs.  The same 2000 calorie level is also used on food labels provided on packaged foods in the grocery store.  Below are suggested servings for a 2000 calorie diet.  Remember, your calorie needs may be different.

  • Vegetables:2 ½ cups (dark green, red & orange, starchy, beans, peas, lentils)
  • Fruit:2 cups
  • Grains:6 ounces (half whole grains)
  • Dairy:3 cups (calcium fortified beverages)
  • Protein:5 ½ ounces (including meat, eggs, seafood, nuts, seeds, beans, peas, and lentils)
  • Oils:27 grams

The unique nutrient needs of older adults can be met following the recommended serving guide for your calorie need.  Low-fat animal foods are the best sources of Vit B12 and a good source of quality protein. Seafood, fortified cereals, beans, peas, lentils, and fortified non-dairy drinks are other sources of this necessary vitamin and quality protein.

Calcium and Vit D are found in the dairy group.  For those who cannot or do not consume dairy foods, focus on canned sardines or salmon with bone, calcium fortified soy beverages or orange juice, kale, turnip and collard greens, broccoli, edamame, canned navy, garbanzo, and kidney beans as a calcium source.

Dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble, is found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, and legumes.  Helpful in managing blood sugar levels, lowering cholesterol levels, keeping the gut healthy and preventing or relieving constipation, these same foods contain many needed vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which can decrease inflammatory responses in the body.

Fluids, are another unique requirement for older adults. Sense of thirst can decrease as we age, leading to unintentional constipation and even dehydration.  In addition to water, 100% fruit juice or vegetable juice, fortified soy products, and low-fat milk are sources of fluid.  Fruits, vegetables, and soups are foods that count toward fluid intake.  Alcohol, another fluid, is not counted toward fluid intake.  If you do drink alcohol, limit your consumption to two drinks daily for a male and one drink daily for a female.

Remember to limit the amount of saturated fat and added sugars in your diet to 10% of your calorie level and do not exceed 2300 mg of sodium.  Processed convenience foods, and drinks provide the greatest amount of saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium in our diets.  Avoid making these food choices a daily habit or ignore them altogether.

Focus on one small change in your eating pattern, such as eating two or more vegetables a day, switching to whole wheat crackers or bread, or trying canned salmon to start.  Check out for easy-to-use tips, suggestions, recipes, and ideas to make healthy changes.  No matter your age, personal preferences, cultural habits, or budget, the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines, 2020-2025  for older adults has clear guidance for you.  Most of all, make every bite count towards your health and enjoy the experience.

Margaret White is an Aging Specialist at Centralina Area Agency on Aging and a RD LDN for 30+ years.  She works on the Health Solutions team and is a Quality Coordinator for our DSMES service.

Margaret White is an Aging Specialist at Centralina Area Agency on Aging
William E Sweezy