Eating Well As You Get Older

Know How Much to Eat

Eating a mix of healthy foods every day provides the nutrients, fiber, and calories your body needs. The amount you should eat depends on your age, whether you are a man or woman and your height and weight. It also depends on your level of physical activity. The more physically active you are, the more calories you might be able to eat without gaining weight. Most people in the United States eat more calories than they need.

Daily Calorie Levels for Women

A woman over age 50 should consume about

Daily Calorie Levels for Men

Calorie Intake and Physical Activity

Plan your meals and snacks to include the right number of calories for your activity level. For information about exercise and older adults, go to the Exercise for Older Adults topic on this website or visit Go4LifeĀ®, the exercise and physical activity campaign for older adults from the National Institute on Aging.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend eating the following amounts of food if you are eating 2,000 calories per day. Remember to adjust the amounts depending on your daily calorie level.

How Many Vegetables Each Day?

A person who eats 2,000 calories daily should have 2 ½ cups of vegetables a day. This might include a half-cup each of broccoli, tomatoes, cauliflower, and a sweet potato. Aim for lots of color on your plate as a way to get a variety of vegetables each day.

How Much Fruit Each Day?

A person who consumes about 2,000 calories daily should plan to eat 2 cups of fruit a day. This might include one large banana, one-half cup of strawberries and a half-cup of orange juice. To help you get enough fiber, most of your daily fruit intake should be in the form of whole fruits rather than fruit juices.

How Many Grain Foods Each Day?

A person who eats 2,000 calories per day should eat 6 ounces of grain foods daily. At least half (3 ounces) of the grain foods eaten should be whole grains. Approximately one ounce of grain foods counts as a serving. This is about one slice of bread, one roll, or one small muffin. It is also about one cup of dry flaked cereal or a half-cup of cooked rice, pasta, or cereal.

How Much Dairy Each Day?

Dairy products are another important part of eating well. A person who consumes 2,000 calories daily should have the equivalent of 3 cups of low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, or other dairy products daily. One cup of yogurt contains about the same amount of calcium as 1 cup of milk. Eating 1½ ounces of natural cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese counts as drinking 1 cup of milk.

How Much Protein Each Day?

A person who consumes 2,000 calories daily should eat about 5½ ounces of protein each day. You can get protein from seafood, lean meat and poultry, as well as eggs, beans and peas, tofu, nuts, and seeds. One egg or one-fourth cup of cooked dry beans or tofu counts as 1 ounce of meat, poultry, or seafood. One tablespoon of peanut butter or a half-ounce of nuts or seeds also is the same as 1 ounce of meat, poultry, or seafood.

How Much Oil Each Day?

Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, like the vegetable oils used in cooking. Use mainly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils like those that come from olive or canola oil. A person who eats 2,000 calories daily should not consume more than the equivalent of 6 teaspoons of oil daily.

See a chart showing how much to eat from each food group to reach a daily calorie amount.

Pay Attention to Portion Sizes

When eating out or buying packaged foods, pay attention to portion sizes. Portion sizes are not the same as the serving sizes listed on the Nutrition Facts label. A portion is the amount of food served in one eating occasion. A serving size is a standardized amount of food, such as a cup or an ounce, which is used to provide dietary guidance or to make comparisons among foods. The portions served at fast-food and other restaurants have grown a lot in recent years.

Whether you're eating out or at home, one portion may be much more food -- and many more calories -- than the amounts recommended for a specific daily calorie level. For instance, a bowl of pasta from a restaurant may have two cups of pasta or more, which is almost the recommended daily amount of grains.

See pictures of portion sizes.

Look at Serving Sizes

Also, read the Nutrition Facts label on packaged and canned foods. It tells you the serving size, how many servings per container, calories, calories per serving and key nutrients the food provides. You can use it to help you keep track of how much fat, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, cholesterol, sugars, and calories you get from different foods.

(Note: The FDA recently proposed updates to the Nutrition Facts label to reflect the latest scientific information linking diet and chronic diseases like obesity and heart disease. Proposed updates include a new design that better highlights key parts of the label such as calories and serving sizes.)

Pay attention to the serving size and the number of servings in the package. A package might contain two or more servings, so if you eat two servings, you would consume twice the calories, fat, sodium, carbohydrates, protein, etc., as you would for one serving.

Check Out the Nutrient Content

The Percent Daily Value (written as "% daily value") on the right of the label tells you what percentage of the recommended daily amount of a nutrient is in one serving of the food. It is based on the nutritional needs of a person who consumes 2,000 calories per day. For example, on this label for macaroni and cheese, the Percent Daily Value for total fat is 18%. This means that one serving of macaroni and cheese (1 cup) will give you 18 percent of the total amount of fat you should allow yourself each day, assuming you eat about 2,000 calories daily.