Do you eat well?
Well, depends what you mean by “well.”
Fast food meals only once a week?
Meat and potatoes every other night?
Vegetables daily, but often canned or frozen?
Ditto for sodas, but always diet?
Member of clean plate club?
The American Heart Association has a number of nutrition quizzes that might give you a better idea if you are a healthy eater.
You thought you were eating healthy because you never add salt to your food. Turns out that about 75 percent of dietary sodium comes from processed food, while salt added at the table accounts for only about 6 percent.
When it comes to eating healthy, there is a lot to learn. But the stakes are high. “Healthy eating is one of the best things you can do to prevent and control many health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer,” according to WebMD.
Start with Your Plate
Focus on amount, variety and nutritional value, and choose foods with less saturated fat, sodium and added sugars, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends.
The agency has put together an interactive website, choosemyplate.gov, to help you learn about all the different foods that comprise the five key food groups - fruits, vegetables, protein, dairy and grains.
For instance, when it comes to fruits, the USDA advises you to primarily eat whole or cut-up fruit rather than juice, and regularly select fruits with more potassium, such as bananas, prunes, dried peaches and apricots. As for canned fruits, select fruits in 100% fruit juice or water, not syrup.
Your daily recommended amount of fruit, and foods from the other groups, varies, depending on your age, sex and physical activity level. For instance, women 51 years old or older should eat 1 ½ cups of fruit daily, while men in that same age group should eat 2 cups.
Older adults should also limit salt intake, eat foods fortified with vitamin B12 and drink 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk throughout the day (or substitute with low-fat yogurt, buttermilk or a small amount of hard cheese.) Ask your doctor for other options if you have a medical condition or take medications that are adversely affected by certain foods.
If you are unable to eat a varied diet, you may need to take a vitamin or mineral supplement. Of special concern to older adults, are Vitamin D, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12 and folate, according to the National Institute on Aging.
And watch your calories, too. “If you become less physically active as you age, you will probably need fewer calories to stay at the same weight. Choosing mostly nutrient-dense foods -- foods which have a lot of nutrients but relatively few calories -- can give you the nutrients you need while keeping down calorie intake,” the NIA recommends.
Fluids Count, Too
What you drink also plays a role in maintaining a healthy nutrition lifestyle.
Let’s start with the key fluid – water.
“How much water should you drink each day? It's a simple question with no easy answers. Studies have produced varying recommendations over the years, but in truth, your water needs depend on many factors, including your health, how active you are and where you live,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
The Clinic says that, in general, if you drink enough fluid so that you rarely feel thirsty and your urine is colorless or light yellow, your fluid intake is probably adequate.
But for older adults, the sense of thirst often decreases or can be masked by medications. Keep a glass or bottle of water nearby so you can easily take sips throughout the day. Drink a full glass of water with medications. In fact, think of water as a medication.”
Along with water, other good sources for fluids are unsweetened tea, watermelon and other juicy fruits and low-fat and fat-free milk.
A healthy diet can also include drinking alcohol in moderation. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that people over age 65 should have no more than seven drinks a week and no more than three drinks on any one day. But you may need to drink less or not at all depending on certain health conditions and medications. Talk to your doctor.
Healthy Eating on the Go
Ten years ago when the first Eat This, Not That! book was published, people discovered how many calories were in those so-called healthy meals being served at fast food restaurants, and were shocked to learn some of them were hardly healthy.
Today, restaurants make that information readily available on their websites and at the counter, so eating well while eating out is a lot easier. Of course, portions are often too big, which is why many diners box up half of the meal to enjoy at a later meal.
Other “on the go” tips:
- Keep almonds, walnuts or other unsalted nuts in your car or purse for a quick snack;
- Ditto for water, or pick up a bottle when you stop for gas;
- Apples, bananas and dried fruits travel with ease.
Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years.