Healthy Eating After 50

Along with all the other changes we go through as we age, food may start tasting different, according to the National Institute on Aging. Here, from the NIA experts, is why that happens and how to handle it:

There are a few reasons food might be tasting differently these days:

Medicines can alter the way foods taste, or even make you feel less hungry.

Some foods may not agree with you any more. People can become lactose intolerant, and have symptoms like stomach pain, gas or diarrhea after consuming dairy products. Your doctor can test if you are lactose-intolerant; if so, lactose-free foods are your best choice.

If food is harder to chew, your dentures may not fit well, or your gums might be sore. Until you get to a dentists, you might want to focus on softer foods.

Calorie needs also change. How much you should eat depends on how active you are. Here’s a guide to how many calories you should be consuming after age 50:

A woman:

who is not physically active needs about 1,600 calories

who is somewhat active needs about 1,800 calories

who has an active lifestyle needs about 2000–2,200 calories

A man:

who is not physically active needs about 2,000 calories

who is somewhat active needs about 2,200-2,400 calories

who has an active lifestyle needs about 2,400-2,800 calories

Try for at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week. You can do ten-minute sessions several times a day.

How Much Should You Eat?

We’re all familiar with the kind of eating plans that are healthiest: plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables; whole grains; lean cuts of meat; fiber derived not from supplements but from foods such as beans and nuts; seafood twice a week; and only small amounts of foods with trans fats, added sugar or solid fat.

But that doesn’t mean we can eat huge quantities of the healthy stuff. Here are some concrete examples of the size of appropriate portions. (You’ll probably be shocked.)

A deck of cards = 3 ounces of meat or poultry

½ baseball = ½ cup of fruit, rice, pasta, or ice cream

baseball = 1 cup of salad greens

4 dice = 1-1/2 ounces of cheese

The tip of your first finger = 1 teaspoon of butter or margarine

A ping pong ball = 2 tablespoons of peanut butter

A fist = 1 cup of flaked cereal or a baked potato

A compact disc or DVD = 1 pancake or tortilla

As you age, you may also lose some sense of thirst. Keep hydrated with liquids like water, juice and milk. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty. Drink liquids throughout the day and at each meal.

Most of us eat more salt than we should. Instead of eating high-sodium foods like packaged meats, broil or bake meat yourself and add herbs and spices for flavor. Check the nutrition labels on canned, frozen or prepared goods so you can be sure to stay under the recommended limit of 1,500 mg of sodium each day.

Food safety is a related issue as well. Older people must take extra care to keep their food safe to eat. You are less able to fight off infections. Here are the NIA’s recommendations for preventing that:

Handle raw food with care. Keep it apart from foods that are already cooked or won’t be cooked. Use hot soapy water to wash your hands, tools, and work surfaces as you cook.

Don’t depend on sniffing or tasting food to tell what is bad. Try putting dates on foods in your fridge. Check the “use by” date on foods. If in doubt, toss it out.

Make sure food gets into the refrigerator no more than 2 hours after it is cooked.

For more information on aging and a healthy lifestyle, or To sign up for regular email alerts about new publications and other information about the NIA, go to


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