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Healthy Eating

Smart Food Choices for Healthy Aging

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You may need to make some changes in your food and beverage choices to achieve a healthy eating pattern. It’s easier than you think!

A healthy eating pattern is not a rigid prescription. Rather, it is a framework that lets you enjoy food that meets your personal preferences and fits your budget. To encourage healthy eating patterns, the Dietary Guidelines suggests that you:

  1. Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan. All food and beverage choices matter. Choose a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, meet nutrient needs, and lessen the risk for chronic disease.
  2. Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts.
  3. Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats, and reduce sodium intake. Cut back on foods and beverages that are high in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Aim for amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.
  4. Image of Make Smart Food Choices for Healthy Aging infographic.
    Read and share this infographic to learn about making smart food choices for healthy aging.
    Shift to healthier food and beverage choices. Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages across and within all food groups in place of less healthy choices. Choose foods you like to make these shifts easier to maintain.
  5. Support healthy eating patterns for all. Everyone has a role in helping to create and support healthy eating patterns, at home, school, and work and in communities.

Healthy Food Shifts

You can move toward a healthier eating pattern by making shifts in food choices over time. Here are some ideas:

5 food choices paired with a more nutrient-dense choice

Healthy Beverage Shifts

You have plenty of beverage options that are low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium.

3 beverage choices paired with less calorie-dense choice

100-Calorie Snacks

Another way to think about the idea of nutrient-dense and calorie-dense foods is to look at a variety of foods that all provide the same calories. Let’s say that you wanted to have a small snack. You might choose:

  • 7- or 8-inch banana
  • 20 peanuts
  • 3 cups low-fat popcorn
  • 2 regular chocolate-sandwich cookies
  • 1/2 cup low-fat ice cream
  • 1 scrambled large egg cooked with fat
  • 2 ounces baked chicken breast with no skin
  • 1/2 of the average-size candy bar

These choices all have about 100 calories but provide different amounts of nutrients. The right choice for you may depend on what else you’re eating throughout the day.

Check out our tips for choosing healthy meals as you get older.

How Many Calories Do You Need?

If you are over age 50 and you want to stay at the weight you are now—not lose and not gain, how many calories do you need to eat each day? The Dietary Guidelines suggests:

For a Woman Calories
Not physically active 1,600
Moderately active 1,800
Active lifestyle 2,000-2,200
For a Man Calories
Not physically active 2,000-2,200
Moderately active 2,200-2,400
Active lifestyle 2,400-2,800

“Not physically active” means a lifestyle that only includes basic movements from daily life activities. “Moderately active” means a lifestyle that adds about 1.5 to 3 miles of brisk walking per day or a similar amount of a different physical activity. “Active” means a lifestyle that adds more than 3 miles of brisk walking per day or a similar amount of a different physical activity. Other physical activities include dancing, jogging, tennis, or swimming.

Read about this topic in Spanish. Lea sobre este tema en español.

For More Information on Healthy Eating

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
800-860-8747 (toll-free)
866-569-1162 (TTY/toll-free)

U.S. Food and Drug Administration
888-463-6332 (toll-free)

USDA Food and Nutrition Information Center   
National Agricultural Library

This content is provided by the NIH National Institute on Aging (NIA). NIA scientists and other experts review this content to ensure it is accurate and up to date.