March is National Nutrition Month, a time for renewed focus on healthy eating habits that sustain us for life. Eating a well-planned, balanced mix of foods every day has many health and potential longevity benefits. Eating well may reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, bone loss, some kinds of cancer and anemia. If you already have one or more of these chronic diseases, eating well and being physically active may help you better manage them. Healthy eating may also help you reduce high blood pressure, lower high cholesterol and manage diabetes.

The USDA Food Patterns suggest that people over 50 keep an eye on calories while choosing a variety of healthy foods from five major food groups and limiting solid fats and added sugars. Calories are the way to measure the energy you get from food. How many calories you need depends on whether you are a man or a woman and how physically active you are each day. Choose the calorie total that’s right for you from the chart below.

How Much Should I Eat?

How much you should eat depends on how active you are. If you eat more calories than your body uses, you gain weight.

What are calories? Calories are a way to count how much energy is in food. You use the energy you get from food to do the things you need to do each day.
Just counting calories is not enough for making healthy choices. For example, a medium banana, 1 cup of flaked cereal, 2-1/2 cups of cooked spinach, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or 1 cup of 1% milk--all have roughly the same number of calories. But the foods are different in many ways. Some have more of the nutrients you might need than others do. Milk gives you more calcium than a banana, and peanut butter gives you more protein than cereal. A banana is likely to make you feel fuller than a tablespoon of peanut butter.

How many calories do you need?

For Women
Level of Activity* Recommended Calories
Not Physically active 1,600 Calories
Moderately Active 1,800 Calories
Active Lifestyle 2,000-2,200 Calories

For Men
Level of Activity* Recommended Calories
Not Physically active 2,000-2,200 Calories
Moderately Active 2,200-2,400 Calories
Active Lifestyle 2,400-2,800 Calories

*Physical activity refers to the voluntary movements you do that burn calories. Brisk walking, dancing and swimming are examples of moderate activity. An active lifestyle might include jogging, tennis, or swimming laps.

Do you have age-related problems with food?

Does your favorite chicken dish taste different? As you grow older, your sense of taste and smell may change. Foods may seem to have lost flavor. Medicines can also alter how food tastes or make you feel less hungry. Talk to your doctor to see if a change in medication is warranted. Experiment with extra spices or herbs on your foods to add flavor.

As you get older, you might not be able to eat all the foods you used to eat. For example, some people become lactose intolerant and experience symptoms like stomach pain, gas or diarrhea after eating or drinking something with milk in it, like ice cream. Your doctor can test to see if you are lactose intolerant.

If it’s harder to chew, maybe your dentures need to fit better, or your gums are sore. If so, a dentist can help you. Until then, you might want to eat softer foods that are easier to chew.

Drink Plenty of Water

With age, you may lose some of your sense of thirst. Drink plenty of liquids like water, juice, milk and soup. Don't wait until you feel thirsty. Try to drink several large glasses of water each day. Your urine should be pale yellow. If it is a bright or dark yellow, you need to drink more liquids.

Be sure to talk with your doctor if you have trouble controlling your urine. Don't stop drinking liquids. There are better ways to help bladder control problems.

Eat More Fiber

Fiber is found in foods from plants—fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Eating more fiber might prevent stomach or intestine problems, like constipation.

It is better to get fiber from food than dietary supplements. Start adding more fiber slowly. That will help avoid unwanted gas. Here are some tips for adding fiber:

• Eat cooked dry beans, peas, and lentils often
• Leave skins on your fruit and vegetables if possible
• Choose whole fruit over fruit juice
• Eat whole-grain breads and cereals

Drink plenty of liquids to help fiber move through your intestines.

Cut Back on Salt

The usual way people get sodium is by eating salt. The body needs sodium, but too much can salt cause blood pressure to rise for some individuals. Most fresh food contains some sodium. Salt is added to many canned and prepared foods.

People tend to eat more salt than they need. If you are a healthy adult, over age 50, the America Heart Association recommends 2300 milligrams (mg) or less of sodium each day. If you are over the age of 50, and suffer from a cardiac condition, 1500 mg of sodium – 2000 mg of sodium is the recommended amount. Speak with your doctor to determine the amount suitable for you. Sodium intake includes all sodium in your food and drink, not just the salt you add when cooking or eating.

Tip: Spices, herbs and lemon juice can add flavor to your food so you won't miss the salt.

Reduce Fat

Fat in your diet comes from two places – the fat already found in food and the fat added during cooking. Fat provides energy and helps the body use certain vitamins but is high in calories. Lower fat content with these strategies:

• Choose cuts of meat, fish, or poultry (with the skin removed) with less fat
• Trim off any extra fat before cooking
• Use low-fat dairy products and salad dressings
• Use non-stick pots and pans, and cook without added fat
• Choose an unsaturated or monosaturated vegetable oil (check the label) or a nonfat cooking spray
• Instead of frying, try alternate cooking methods such as, broil, roast, bake, stir-fry, steam, microwave, or boil foods.


By Kindred Hospital Rehabilitation Services