Eating a variety of foods from each food group will help you get the nutrients you need. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) describes healthy eating patterns.
You create a healthy eating pattern by making good choices about your foods and drinks every day. These guidelines are flexible to help you choose a diet of nutritious foods and drinks that you like, that are available in your area, and that fit your budget.
The Dietary Guidelines suggests that people 50 or older choose foods every day from the following:
Fruits—1½ to 2½ cups
What is the same as a half cup of cut-up fruit? A fresh 2-inch peach or 16 grapes.
Vegetables—2 to 3½ cups
What is the same as a cup of cut-up vegetables? Two cups of uncooked leafy vegetables.
Grains—5 to 10 ounces
What is the same as an ounce of grains? A small bagel, a slice of whole grain bread, a cup of flaked ready-to-eat cereal, or a half cup of cooked rice or pasta.
Protein foods—5 to 7 ounces
What is the same as an ounce of meat, fish, or poultry? One egg, one fourth cup of cooked beans or tofu, a half ounce of nuts or seeds, or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter.
Dairy foods—3 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk
What is the same as 1 cup of milk? One cup of plain yogurt or 1½ to 2 ounces of cheese. One cup of cottage cheese is the same as a half cup of milk.
Oils—5 to 8 teaspoons
What is the same as oil added during cooking? Foods like olives, nuts, and avocados have a lot of oil in them.
Solid fats and added sugars (SoFAS) and sodium (salt)—keep the amount of SoFAS and sodium small
If you eat too many foods containing SoFAS, you will not have enough calories left for the more nutritious foods you should be eating.
Your doctor may want you to follow a special diet because you have a health problem like heart disease or diabetes. Or, you might have been told to avoid eating some foods because they can change how well your medicines work. Talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian—a nutrition specialist—about foods you can eat instead.
Here’s a tip: Stay away from “empty calories.” These are foods and drinks with a lot of calories but not many nutrients—for example, chips, cookies, soda, and alcohol.
One eating plan in the Dietary Guidelines is the DASH Eating Plan. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Following this plan can help you lower your blood pressure. See For More Information about Healthy Eating to find out more about DASH.
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. The energy you get from food helps you do the things you need to do each day. Try to choose foods that have a lot of the nutrients you need, but not many calories.
Just counting calories is not enough for making smart choices. Think about this: A medium banana, 1 cup of flaked cereal, 1½ 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 nutrients than others do. For example, milk gives you more calcium than a banana, and peanut butter gives you more protein than cereal. Some foods can make you feel more full than others.