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Transcript: "Choosing Nutrient Dense Foods"

Narrator: Think about the foods you eat. Are they primarily nutrient-dense, like these, [ photos of melon, red bell pepper, oatmeal ] or are they mostly calorie dense, like these? [ photos of butter crackers, bacon, coffee cake ] Some older adults answer the question this way:

Richard: In the summertime, like now, fruit is my favorite food. So I eat probably more fruit than anything else.

Gloria: A lot of times, I have salad for lunch, and I put some cheese in it. And with my diet, an ounce of cheese is okay.

Narrator: Richard and Gloria are older adults who choose to eat nutrient-dense foods, foods that are high in nutrients and low in calories. Eating this way is especially important as you age.

Dr. Connie W. Bales, Ph.D., R.D.: As individuals age, their calorie requirements decrease, but their requirements for things like protein, vitamins, and minerals are unchanged, so that means that calorie for calorie, we need to make sure our foods are packed with nutrients and not empty calories.

Narrator: This means eating foods that contain vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, lean protein, low-fat milk products, and healthy fats.

Dr. Connie W. Bales, Ph.D., R.D.: Just like people of all ages, older adults should consume a diet that includes a variety of nutrients from a variety of food groups. A balanced approach is best.

Narrator: Dietary guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommend that a person eating 2,000 calories a day should have 2 to 2½ cups of fruit; 2 to 2½ cups of vegetables; 7 to 8 ounces of grain foods, half of them whole grains; 5½ ounces of protein; the equivalent of 2 to 3 cups of low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, or other milk products; and no more than the equivalent of 6 teaspoons of oil.

Narrator: Remember to adjust these amounts depending on your daily calorie level. Each of the food groups contains a variety of beneficial nutrients. For example, fruits and vegetables not only offer important vitamins and minerals, but also provide phytochemicals, natural compounds like beta carotene and lycopene that may promote good health.

Dr. Connie W. Bales, Ph.D., R.D.: Well, in the vegetable category, it's good to think about deep colors, the deep yellow and dark green leafy vegetables. The deep color advice also applies to fruits. For example, cantaloupes and tomatoes contain lycopenes, which are associated with a number of health benefits.

Richard: Eat as much as you want.

Estrellita: It looks delicious.

Narrator: Vegetables are a key part of Richard's diet. He and his wife Estrellita eat lots of them every day, usually in dishes that Richard prepares.

Richard: When we are eating at home, to make sure we can make a healthy meal, we always have greens that we can steam, so we always have broccoli, asparagus, different kinds of greens. We also like to have a lot of fresh vegetables that we can use for salads. Things like carrots will keep for a long time.

Narrator: Whole grains are another key ingredient of a nutrient-dense diet. They not only provide vitamins and minerals but also fiber.

Dr. Connie W. Bales, Ph.D., R.D.: In order to get a lot of fiber in your diet, you need to focus on unrefined foods, so that means whole grains that are not white in color but have the brown color. This means they haven't had the husk or the outer covering removed. Brown rice, whole grain bread. We now have wholegrain pastas available at the grocery store.

Narrator: One way to get fiber is by eating healthy snacks. Unsweetened peanut butter on whole-grain crackers or freshly popped popcorn are healthy alternatives to foods like chips or candy that contain little fiber but may have lots of fat, salt, or sugar.

Narrator: Protein helps build and maintain muscle, bones, and skin, and making it a regular part of your diet is also important as you get older.

Dr. Connie W. Bales, Ph.D., R.D.: We want to make sure to include plenty of healthy complete protein. This usually means protein from animal origin, lean meats, fish, eggs, and you want to include some of those at every meal. Avoid high-fat meats like processed meats and go for lean, freshly cooked meats.

Narrator: Consider varying your sources of protein by adding beans, lentils, and nuts into your diet.

Gloria: I do eat a lot of nuts--almonds, and walnuts -- and I make a salad. It's a modified Waldorf salad, and I cut up apples and leave the skin on for the fiber.

Narrator: Include plenty of milk or dairy products in your diet as well. Low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese can be a good source of calcium and vitamin D.

Richard: I'll take a little bit of olive oil and put it in this pan just to coat it.

Narrator: Remember to include healthy fats in your diet.

Dr. Connie W. Bales, Ph.D., R.D.: We need to recognize that not all fats are bad. There are fats that are beneficial for health. These include monounsaturated fats, which are found in things like canola oil and olive oil, and also the omega-3 fatty acids, which are unique fatty acids found primarily in fish like rainbow trout, salmon, but also found in walnuts.

Narrator: To make sure you get the most nutritional benefit for the calories you consume, it's important to think about the nutrient value of the foods you eat.

Dr. Connie W. Bales, Ph.D., R.D.: So what nutrient density does is allow you to choose between closely related foods, the one that is the best nutritional value for you. So for 100 calories that you obtain from something like a fruit, you might have a load of good vitamins and some minerals. For 100 calories that you obtain from a fruit dish, you might have only a few nutrients and mostly just calories. Whether you're cutting calories or just trying to make sure you get enough calories for the day, either way, nutrient density is a very important concept.

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