Healthy Aging

healthy aging

Eat Smart to Stay Healthy

As we normally age, it is increasingly important to be smart about our diet (what we eat).  There are a number of factors that account for diet being especially important as one gets older.  For starters, we do not generally have the same caloric needs as when we were young, because we are not as active, and if we continue to eat the same old foods then we inevitably store the extra calories as fat.  Below is a table from the NIH that compares caloric requirements as we age in relation to our activity.

How many calories do people over age 50 need each day?
A woman:

who is not physically active needs about 1600 calories
who is somewhat active needs about 1800 calories
who has an active lifestyle needs about 2000-2200 calories

A man:who is not physically active needs about 2000 calories
who is somewhat active needs about 2200-2400 calories
who has a active lifestyle needs about 2400-2800 calories
Here's a tip: Get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week.


As you may recall from your science class days, a calorie is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree centigrade.  You do not need to be a scientist to find out how many calories are in the food you eat, however.  Most foods are now labeled on the packaging.  One thing you already know, or should know, is that there are very different foods with very different caloric value.  One can eat a lot of lettuce (with no salad dressing) before getting the number of calories in a small piece of chocolate.  So, it is important to be aware of the caloric content of food to avoid the consequence of ingesting too many calories.

Balancing the Diet

Since growing up and being instructed by our parents to “eat everything on your plate,” we have been educated about the concept of balanced diet.   Simply put, this means that it is best to get our calories from a variety of foods where each has something highly desirable to our bodies.  All foods are not alike and likewise all calories are different according to the food that generates them.  Foods are grouped and the ideal diet is made up of a mixture of foods daily from each group.  Below are NIH recommendations concerning the 6 food groups:

Milk group (dairy products)

  • Cheese: fat-free or reduced-fat (1%)
  • Milk or buttermilk: fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%)
  • Yogurt: fat-free or low-fat, regular or frozen

Meat and beans group

  • Legumes (including beans, lentils, peas, and split peas)
  • Meat (beef, pork, poultry with skin removed, game meats, fish, shellfish): select lean cuts; trim away visible fat; broil, roast, or poach
  • Nuts and seeds (including almonds, hazelnuts, mixed nuts, peanuts, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, walnuts)
  • Tofu, tempeh, and other soy-protein products

Fruit group

  • Apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, berries, dates, grapes, grapefruit, mangos, melons, oranges, peaches, pineapples, raisins and other unsweetened dried fruits, tangerines
  • 100% fruit juice

Vegetable group

  • Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, collard and other greens, cucumbers, green beans, kale, lettuces, potatoes, radishes, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes
  • 100% vegetable juice

Grain group (breads and cereals)

  • Enriched, whole-grain breads, rolls, English muffins, bagels, cereals (hot and cold), and pasta
  • Grits
  • Rice


  • Light or low-fat salad dressing
  • Low-fat mayonnaise
  • Vegetable oil

Back to the dinner table, when preparing and putting food on a plate it is recommended that you divide your food plate into quarters. Fill up two quarters (half) with fruits and vegetables. Fill the other two quarters with whole grains and meat.  And, remember to eat breakfast as part of a smart eating plan – this is a good time to get milk and grain.  Milk is good for the calcium it contains, but the fluid content is very important, and it is crucial that you drink all during the day since older people tend to lose thirst as a guide to staying hydrated. 

If you eat a balanced diet and if you exercise and if you are careful to supplement the diet with some vitamins that are age-adjusted for daily consumption, then you are not going to lose the battle of the bulge and you will be warding off certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.  However, with all the fried, prepared foods around us it is not that easy to eat smart.

Eat Smart

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