Following a healthy eating plan and being physically active are keys to a healthy lifestyle. But just what does “healthy eating” mean?
The answer is found in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (the National Institute on Aging is part of this Department). According to the Guidelines, a healthy diet:
MyPyramid.gov, a website developed by the USDA, offers personalized eating plans, tools to help you plan and assess your food choices, and advice to help you make smart choices from every food group and get the most nutrition out of your calories.
Here are some recommendations for healthy eating:
It’s important to drink enough liquids to keep your body working properly. This is particularly true for older adults because they often don’t feel thirsty even if their bodies need fluids. Drinking enough fluids every day is essential for those who exercise regularly, eat large amounts of protein, use laxatives, or live in areas with high temperatures. Check with your doctor, however, if you’ve been told to limit how much you drink.
Drink plenty of liquids such as water and other drinks without added sugar. Fat-free or low-fat milk, 100% juice, coffee, and tea also are good sources of fluids, as are foods with high moisture content such as fruits, vegetables, and low-sodium broth-based soups. Those who choose to drink alcoholic beverages should do so sensibly and in moderation, which means up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.
Eating out is enjoyable, but restaurants often serve large meals, which can be high in calories, fat, and salt. Here are a few tips to help make your meal both delicious and nutritious:
Do you have a urinary control problem? If the answer is yes, don’t stop drinking liquids. Talk with your doctor about treatment.
Beware of diets that make big promises about losing weight, regaining youth, or achieving high energy.
Dietary supplements are substances you might use to add nutrients to your diet or to lower your risk of health problems such as osteoporosis or arthritis. Dietary supplements come in the form of pills, capsules, powders, gel tabs, extracts, or liquids. They might contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs or other plants, or enzymes. Sometimes, the ingredients in dietary supplements are added to foods, including drinks. You do not need a prescription to buy most dietary supplements.
Some ads for dietary supplements seem to promise that they will make you feel better, keep you from getting sick, or even help you live longer. Sometimes, there is little, if any, good scientific research to support these claims.
Although certain dietary supplements may help some people, sometimes supplements can be harmful. For example:
Eating healthy foods is the best way to get the nutrients you need. For example, fruits and vegetables provide a variety of important nutrients, including fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamins A and C.
People who eat the recommended amount of a nutrient in food and who do not have problems absorbing that nutrient will not gain any additional health benefit by taking the nutrient as a supplement. For example, people who eat enough fruits and vegetables don’t need extra vitamin C.
Certain dietary supplements, however, can help some older adults with specific nutrient needs that cannot be met by their daily diet. For example, some older adults may not get enough calcium, vitamin D, or vitamin B12. Supplements containing these nutrients help them stay healthy.
The best way to find out if you need to take a supplement is to talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian. Together, you can review your diet, prescription medicines, and health needs, and decide whether a supplement is right for you.
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