For many years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) used the food pyramid as the gold standard for nutrition guidelines. Although the food pyramid - and the later version called MyPyramid - hasn't been recommended for over 10 years now, it may still come to mind when you think about daily servings of food groups.
USDA's MyPlate concept replaced the food pyramid in 2010. "MyPlate is a simple and straightforward way to incorporate healthy nutrition into your day-to-day life," says Kathryn O'Brien, M.S., R.D., L.D., senior dietitian at Eagle's Trace, an Erickson Senior Living community in Houston, Tex.
For most meals, vegetables and fruits should cover half of your plate, protein should account for a quarter, and grains for the remaining quarter. Other guidelines suggest varying your colors of produce, sticking to whole fruits, keeping your protein lean, and choosing whole grain options for rice, pasta, bread, and the like. Round your meal out with a glass of dairy milk or a calcium-fortified, plant-based drink.
MyPlate is a general guideline, but you can use tools on MyPlate.gov to personalize your meals based on different life stages, gender, height, weight, and your level of physical activity. The site also offers shopping tips, quizzes, and information on practically every nutrition topic.
It also might be helpful to take a look at the tableware you use. "Average dinner plates in the 1950s were nine inches in diameter - compared with today's, which are over ten inches," O'Brien says. "Because of factors such as chronic conditions and medication side effects, you may have a smaller appetite than you did in your younger days. Using a smaller plate can help you adhere to realistic portions and reduce waste."
"It saves you from having to measure portions, count calories, or remember if you've had enough fruits and vegetables," O'Brien says.
She adds, "Using MyPlate helps you cut back on processed foods, lower your cholesterol, and get more fiber, vitamins, and minerals. And if you follow the plan most of the week, it gives you more flexibility to enjoy treats and other foods you love on special occasions or when you go out to eat."
Vitamins and minerals
MyPlate has limitations as an all-in-one nutrition plan, however. You are not likely to eat many vegetables for breakfast; there are no guidelines for fats, oils, or snacks; and some people may not want to drink dairy products with meals.
"Some seniors may need multivitamins or other dietary supplements to optimize their nutrition," O'Brien says. "Supplements are not meant to be used as a substitute for healthy foods, however, and seniors should have a discussion with their health care team before starting any vitamins or similar products."
The more vitamins and minerals you can get directly from food sources, the better. Studies show that people who have high intakes of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains have lower risks of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and age-related functional decline.
Getting started with any new nutrition plan can seem like a lot of effort, but MyPlate was designed as a simple guideline. "We tend to overcomplicate healthy eating," O'Brien says. "If you know what to put on your plate, and you follow that for most meals, you can feel good about your nutrition."
To learn more about how Erickson Senior Living's Signature Dining program can support your nutrition needs and goals, request a brochure today.