What and How Much to Eat
Infants and children have a need for high-calorie diets rich in calcium for their growing bones, and healthy fats for their growing brains. Moving through adolescence into adulthood, middle age, and extended middle age, nutritional needs shift. Over time, changes that gradually build up, like plaque in your arteries, can bring an unwelcome wake-up call in the form of a health crisis.
In many cases diet can be a contributor to health problems, so a change in eating habits can be a useful tool in managing health issues. Heading off a problem before it erupts is the best way to keep enjoying life as you always have. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sorts foods into six groups:
Meats and beans
Depending on your age, how active your lifestyle is, and whether you are a man or a woman, you will need a certain number of calories each day to keep you going. You want to get nearly all of your calories from these food groups, avoiding processed food.
Calories are used to measure the energy contained in food. If you consume more calories than your body uses, they are stored and become fat. Even too many calories from wholesome nutritious foods will eventually convert to extra pounds. Recommended caloric intake ranges for people over 50 are:
Not all fats are bad. In fact, you need the monounsaturated fats that are in vegetable oils or nuts. The fats you want to avoid are saturated fats, which come mainly from animals, and trans fatty acids, which are used in processed foods. These allow processed foods like cookies and chips to have a long shelf life.
Women: 1,600 for sedentary life; 1,800 for moderately active, and 2,000–2,200 for active lifestyle.
Men: 2,000 for low physical activity; 2,200–2,400 for moderate, and 2,400–2,800 for active lifestyle.
Packaged foods list calories per serving. Make sure you take note of the number of servings. If you drink a bottle of fruit juice that shows 100 calories per serving, you may actually take in 250 calories if it contains 2.5 servings. Information on the calories and other nutrients in uncooked meat, poultry, fish, or fresh fruits and vegetables may be available where you shop. If you do not see the information displayed, ask if it is available.
The USDA guidelines recommend ranges of intake for each food category. Variety of food sources is as important as the groups themselves. Try to eat lots of vegetables in all the colors of the rainbow. Root vegetables such as potatoes, yams, beets, or turnips tend to be higher in calories. A daily dairy goal of three cups of milk can be met by eating one cup of yogurt, one to one and one half ounces of cheese, and two cups of cottage cheese.
You are not losing your mind if you begin to think familiar foods begin to taste funny. As you get a bit older, your sense of smell and taste could change, affecting how food tastes to you. Medicines can dampen your appetite, or make things taste a bit off. Dental issues can impact your ability to chew.
Get in the habit of dating food you store in the fridge if you find your sense of taste and smell are not always reliable to test for freshness. There may be certain foods you will want to avoid altogether because they can upset your stomach, or for any other reason. Your doctor or a dietician can give you guidance if you have questions.
Quenching a Thirst
Another gradual change that occurs, along with diminishing taste and smell, is the sense of thirst. As you get older you cannot always rely on waiting until you actually feel thirsty to be sure you will be getting enough fluids throughout the day. Should you begin to experience a urinary control problem, don't rush to cut back on your fluids. Speak to your doctor about it to get the appropriate remedy.