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Simple Rules for Eating Well

Tips for good nutrition and food safety

Adapted from National Institutes of Health | May 7, 2012

Based on content from NIHSeniorHealth “Eating Well As You Get Older” and “Eating Safely.” 

Whatever your age, your daily food choices can make an important difference in your health and how you look and feel.

Older adults may have special concerns, like paying close attention to food safety and making sure they are getting a full range of nutrients.

How to Eat Well

Eating well means choosing a mix of healthy foods that give your body the nutrients it needs. Eating well also means consuming the right number of calories for your age, sex and level of physical activity. You also need to know what foods to limit. And, of course, it's important to enjoy your meals.

To eat well, it's best to choose a mix of nutrient-dense foods every day. Nutrient-dense foods are foods that are high in nutrients but low in calories. Look for foods that contain vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fats.

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 and whether you are a man or woman. 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.

Choosing foods and beverages that give you the most nutrients for the calories consumed is one way to eat well. At the same time, it's important to avoid “empty calories” — foods and drinks that are high in calories but low in nutrients. Limit your intake of saturated fats and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars.

How to Eat Safely

Whether you cook for yourself at home, eat out or have ready-to-eat meals brought in, you want the food you eat to be tasty and safe. Eating safely means making sure the food you consume is properly handled, prepared and stored. It also means knowing when not to eat certain foods. Eating safely is especially important for older adults, who may be less able to fight off food-borne illness. Learning about food safety can help make your meals safe as well as enjoyable.

Food safety is a vital part of staying well. Each year, about 76 million people in the United States become ill from eating contaminated foods. Of those, about 5,000 die. These illnesses may come from eating foods contaminated with bacteria, viruses or parasites. Illnesses you get from contaminated food are called food-borne illnesses, also known as food poisoning.

Handling foods safely is an important part of staying healthy. If your food is not safely prepared, it can make you or someone else sick. Many older adults are used to cooking for themselves, while others may have little cooking experience. It is important for anyone who handles food or cooks their own meals to know how to keep food safe and avoid food-borne illness.

In the past, many people grocery shopped nearly every day and cooked their own food at home. Eating in restaurants was saved for special occasions. But times have changed. Today, many older adults find it easier and more convenient to eat at restaurants, or get ready-to-eat foods from a deli, take-out counter or grocery.

How to Shop Wisely

Planning ahead and being creative can help you eat well, even if your budget is limited. Planning ahead can also help you choose healthy foods when you shop, and get the most for your money.

Eating well doesn't have to mean spending more money or buying costly “health foods.” You can eat well on a budget by planning ahead and choosing foods that give you more nutrition for your money. In fact, you might find that you spend less, not more, to eat right.

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