Good nutrition is essential throughout your entire life, regardless of age. Eating well provides you with energy and needed nutrients and vitamins. Poor food choices can lead to weight gain and health issues. Your nutrition needs change as you get older including needing less calories because your activity and metabolism have slowed down. There are also foods you may need to increase such as ones high in fiber for digestive health or in calcium for strong bones.
Making good food choices may feel overwhelming. The good news is with a bit of knowledge, you can take control of what you eat to stay on the path to good health as you age. In general, you should eat foods that give you plenty of nutrients without too many excess calories. These include foods low in cholesterol and fat, such as fruits and vegetables, plus whole grains, like oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, and brown rice. Avoid empty calories like chips, candy, baked goods, soda, and alcohol.
To make even better food choices for a positive impact on your health, one of the best places to start is the Nutrition Facts Label. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires the label on all packaged foods and beverages.
Here are the definitions of the key terms on food labels and how they can help you make healthy choices about the foods you eat.
Servings Per Container is the number of servings in each container. Some packages of food contain multiple servings. Understanding this ensures you don’t underestimate how much you’re consuming.
Serving Size is an estimation of the quantity of food that would be consumed in one sitting. Check to see if the label is providing information for just the serving size or for the entire container as well.
Calories are the amount of energy in each food item. Use a program like MyPlate Plan to determine the recommended calorie intake for your age, gender, and body type. How active you are also plays a role in how many calories you need and will burn off in a day.
Nutrients include fat content (total, saturated, and trans), cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates (fiber and sugars), protein, vitamins, calcium, and iron. It is vital to understand whether each of these is good for your health or should be avoided. We’ll go into that below.
% Daily Value (%DV) is based on a daily diet of 2,000 calories. Each nutrient has a recommended daily amount for the average person. The %DV represents how much of that recommended amount is in the package or item. This can be a useful tool in monitoring what you eat. If you eat a bag of chips with a high %DV with your lunch, you can balance that decision by eating low-sodium snacks and foods for the rest of the day.
Now that you know what the main parts of the label mean, here are some tips you can apply to your food choices.
Once you understand your daily calorie intake based on your body, age, and lifestyle, there are several ways to monitor your intake. Use a food journal to write down what you eat, work with a nutritionist to create ideal food plans, or use a calorie tracking app.
Eating foods that support your changing health needs as you age is important. These include:
- Healthy proteins such as seafood and dairy are also high in needed vitamin D to maintain energy levels.
- Fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber and vitamins, such as leafy greens for good digestive health.
- Calcium-rich or fortified foods for healthy bones, such as yogurt, milk, fortified orange juice, dark, leafy greens, broccoli, and almonds.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting foods that are high in saturated fats. These foods can increase cholesterol and the risk of heart disease and cause weight gain. These include beef, pork, poultry, dairy products, fried foods, processed meats such as bacon, eggs, and solid fats such as coconut or palm oil.
Added sugar is just what it sounds like: sugar that is added to foods such as baked items, jams, dressings, and cereals. Limiting your sweet tooth cravings can help avoid tooth decay, diabetes, weight gain, and other poor health outcomes. Instead, select foods with natural sugars, such as fruits.
Reading the nutrition labels on the foods you consume is essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle for years to come. After some practice, you’ll be able to recognize the foods that offer what your body needs and avoid the ones that could lead to poor health outcomes.