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Older Adult Health Facts

Get the Most Nutrition Out of Your Calories

Each major food group provides a variety of nutrients, so it's important to include all food groups in your daily eating plan. You will enjoy many different foods while getting essential nutrients that help you get the most nutrition out of your calories.

Many older adults don't eat enough foods that contain calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, D, and E. Fruits and vegetables contain potassium, fiber, magnesium, and vitamins A and C. Vitamin E is found in many ready-to-eat cereals, nuts, and vegetable oils. Calcium and vitamin D are found in fat-free and low-fat milk. At the same time, many older adults eat too many foods high in calories, saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, and salt.

Getting the nutrients you need through a healthy diet is essential for overall health. So, look for foods that are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients, but lower in calories. These foods should be the foundation of your diet. Eating nutrient-packed foods helps you stay within your calorie needs while meeting your nutrient needs.

What are my daily calorie needs? There is a right number of calories for you to eat each day. Find your number in the table below. For example, a 60-year-old, sedentary woman should aim for 1,600 calories a day, while a 60-year-old, sedentary man should aim for 2,000 calories a day. You could use up the entire amount on a few high-calorie items, but chances are you won't get the full range of nutrients that your body needs.

Estimated Calories Needed by Gender, Age, and Activity Levela
Gender Age
Sedentaryb Moderately Activec Actived
Female 51+ 1,600 1,800 2,000 - 2,200
Male 51+ 2,000 2,200 - 2,400 2,400 - 2,800
aThese levels are based on Estimated Energy Requirements (EER) from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Dietary Reference Intakes Macronutrients Report, 2002, calculated by gender, age, and activity level for reference-sized individuals. "Reference size," as determined by IOM, is based on median height and weight for that height to give a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 21.5 for adult females and 22.5 for adult males.
bSedentary means a lifestyle that includes only the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life.
cModerately active means a lifestyle that includes physical activity equivalent to walking about 1.5 to 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour, in addition to the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life.
dActive means a lifestyle that includes physical activity equivalent to walking more than 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour, in addition to the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life. OLDER ADULT Health Facts

Eat a variety of nutrient-packed foods and beverages within and among the basic food groups, while limiting foods with saturated fat, trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, and salt, as well as alcohol. Those who choose to consume alcoholic beverages should do so sensibly and in moderation. Individuals taking medications that interact with alcohol and those with specific medical conditions should not consume alcoholic beverages. Select a variety of foods from each food group and within food groups. A healthy eating plan is one that:

Use the Nutrition Facts label. Most packaged foods have a Nutrition Facts label. Use this tool to make smart food choices and find out how much you are actually eating. To use the label effectively:

Check servings and calories. Find out how much you are actually eating. Look at the serving size and how many servings you are eating. If you are eating two servings, you are eating double the calories and the nutrients listed in the Nutrition Facts label for one serving of the food.

Check the percent Daily Value (% DV). For many nutrients, the Nutrition Facts label provides a % DV. Five percent DV or less is low and 20% DV or more is high.

Read the ingredient list.
Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight from most to least. Make sure that those ingredients you want more of, such as whole grains (e.g., whole wheat) are listed first. Make sure that those you want to eat less of, like added sugars, are not one of the first few ingredients. Some names for added sugars (caloric sweeteners) include brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert corn syrup, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, maple syrup, raw sugar, sucrose, and syrup.

You can get a big nutritional "bang for the bite" by making smart food choices.  The comparisons in the Smart Food Choices chart are just some examples of how you can get more from your calories.

As an older adult, you may have increased needs for particular nutrients and should select food sources of these nutrients more often. For example:

Smart Food Choices
Vitamin A 1 ounce pretzels = 0 IU (0% Daily Value) in 110 calories


1/2 cup carrot sticks, raw = 7,700 IU (150% Daily Value) in 30 calories
Vitamin C 1 12-fluid-ounce soft drink = 0 milligrams (0% Daily Value) in 160 calories


1 cup (8 fluid ounces) orange juice = 110 milligrams (180% Daily Value) in 120 calories
Dietary Fiber 1 slice of white bread = 1 gram (4% Daily Value) in 80 calories


1 slice of whole-wheat bread = 2 grams (8% Daily Value) in 70 calories
Vitamin E 1 ounce of potato chips = 3 milligrams (10% Daily Value) in 152 calories


1 ounce almonds = 7 milligrams (25% Daily Value) in 160 calories
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2004. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 18. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page,

Sample Nutrition Facts Label Content Below

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size, 1 cup (228 grams)
Servings Per Container, 2
Amount Per Serving:
Calories, 250
Calories from Fat, 110
Total Fat, 12 grams (18% Daily Value*)
Saturated Fat, 3 grams(15% Daily Value)
Trans Fat, 3 grams
Cholesterol, 30 milligrams (10% Daily Value)
Sodium 470 milligrams (20% Daily Value)
Potassium 700 milligrams (20% Daily Value)
Total Carbohydrate, 31 grams (10% Daily Value)
Dietary Fiber, 0 grams (0% Daily Value)
Sugars, 5 grams
Protein, 5 grams
Vitamin A (4% Daily Value)
Vitamin C (2% Daily Value)
Calcium (20% Daily Value)
Iron (4% Daily Value)
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Calories: 2,000
Total fat, Less than 65 grams
Saturated fat, Less than 20 grams
Cholesterol, Less than 300 milligrams
Sodium, Less than 2,400 milligrams
Total Carbohydrate, 300 grams
Dietary Fiber, 25 grams