Putting the Food Guide Pyramid on Your Table encourages older adults to improve their food behaviors.
The older we become, the more careful we should be when choosing our food. We should depend upon food for good nutrition. Food is much more than just a collection of nutrients. Follow the Food Guide Pyramid for daily food choices and healthy eating practices.
Pasta and Rice from Food Pyramid Guide
Pasta Pleasures Quick and Easy
“Pasta” is the name for noodles, spaghetti, and macaroni products. Pasta is mostly “complex carbohydrates”—this means starch. Starting with a flour mixture, the dough is formed into dozens of different shapes and sizes. Pasta can be dried, fresh, or frozen. You may substitute one pasta for another if you use equal amounts by weight.
From hot soups to spaghetti and meatballs to cold pasta salads, the choices are endless. Pasta can help stretch the food dollar by making meat or other protein foods go farther.
- Eat six or more servings from the Breads and Cereals group daily.
- Choose a tomato sauce instead of a high-fat cream sauce if you are watching fat and calories.
- Add garlic or herbs for more flavor.
- Whole wheat pastas add extra fiber, new flavor, and texture. Follow the directions on the package for best results. Be prepared for a different feel to the pasta when eating whole-wheat styles.
- One-half pound of elbow macaroni or spaghetti equals about two cups of dry pasta. When cooked, one cup of these dry pastas will become about two cups of cooked pasta.
- Most pasta recipes tell you to cook and drain the pasta before adding the other items. If you would like to save time, look for recipes where the pasta cooks along with the other items.
- Rice is a thrifty, nutritious starch food.
- The bland flavor of rice combines well with many other foods.
- Brown rice: Have you tried brown rice? Like whole wheat, brown rice is full of good nutrients. Try one of the quick-cooking brown rices. They take only 10 to 15 minutes to cook. Brown rice, with only the outside hull removed, tastes nutty and is chewy. The oil in the germ can spoil (turn rancid), so use brown rice stored on the shelf within six months or store in the refrigerator or freezer.
- Milled white rice: Sometimes called “polished” rice, milled white rice has the hull and the outer bran layers and part of the germ removed. Three forms of white rice are long, medium, or short. The shorter the kernel, the more it sticks together when cooked. Long-grain white rice doesn’t stick together. It is ideal for soups, pasta dishes, or side dishes. Short-grain white rice can be stored in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a year.
- Instant rice: This is white rice that has been precooked and dried. It isn’t as full of nutrients as regular white rice.
- Parboiled rice: This is long-grain rice cooked under pressure before it’s milled. This preserves most of the nutrients.
- Wild rice: Wild rice is not a true rice. It is the grain of a tall grass. It is dark brown, has a nutty flavor, and is more expensive.
Grains and the Food Pyramid
Wheat, rice, and corn are used more often than other grains in the world. Many other grains can add variety to our diets. Whole or cracked grains are healthier than grains without hulls. They have more fiber and nutrients. Count a half cup of cooked cereal or 1 ounce of dry cereal as one Breads and Cereals serving.
Why Wheat Is Special
By law, wheat flours (unbleached or bleached) are white flours enriched with some B vitamins, iron, and other nutrients. They are often lower in fiber and other nutrients than whole grain flours. Many grains are low in proteins. For the best protein value, eat grains with animal products (such as milk and meat) or with dried beans and peas.
Only five of forty-four known needed nutrients are missing from the whole wheat kernel. The bran and whole kernel are high in dietary fiber, which helps you have regular bowel movements.
Besides being made into flour, wheat can be sprouted, cooked whole or cracked, rolled, flaked, or made into pasta, bulgur, cereals, and snack items. Wheat bran and wheat germ are in most grocery stores.
Variety with Barley, Rye, and Other Grains
Barley has protein, minerals, and B vitamins. Pearl barley is a refined grain like white rice or corn grits. Both medium-cooking barley and quick barley are available. Toss a small handful of quick cooking barley into soups. Barley flour does not make good bread. It may be used in quick breads made with baking powder or baking soda.
Bulgur is a word from the Turkish language. It is a cracked wheat cereal that is cooked, dried, and has parts of the bran removed. It has a nutty flavor and slightly chewy texture. This is a quick-cooking grain that can be cooked the same way as rice and is often used in place of rice in recipes.
Corn is very low in protein and some vitamins. Cornmeal and corn grits come with vitamins added. Corn hominy is used as a starchy vegetable or cooked cereal. Other more highly refined corn products are corn oil taken from the germ of the kernel. Cornstarch is used for thickening gravies and puddings. Corn sugars and syrups are used as sweeteners.
Rye is most often milled into flour. “Light” and “medium” are sifted rye flours that have most of the bran removed. “Dark” rye flour is not sifted and contains more nutrients. Most rye breads use 1 cup of flour to every 2 to 3 cups of wheat flour. Pumpernickel bread has rye flour in it.
Using These Grains
Add vitamins and fiber to dishes by mixing grains or add whole-grain products, such as bran or germ. Try new ideas.
- Substitute other grain flours for one-fifth to one-fourth of wheat flour in a recipe. Try this with pancakes, waffles, yeast and quick breads, and cookies.
- If substituting bran for flour, use a small amount. Add the same amount of water or milk to prevent a dry product.
- Whole or cracked grains, such as barley or bulgur, can be added to soups.
- Cook grains as you would brown rice for a side dish: one part grain to two parts water. Simmer covered for 30 to 60 minutes until the grain is tender.
- Soaking grains before cooking saves time.
- Allow one-third cup of uncooked grain per serving.
Breads and Cereals are the foundation of the Food Guide Pyramid. There are five other groups in the Pyramid. Follow the Food Guide Pyramid for daily food choices and healthy eating practices.
Breads and Cereals (MyPyramid)
While our need for calories decreases as we age, we need the same amount — and sometimes more! — of vitamins and minerals. Here are some helpful tips you can use when making food choices.
Bread: Choosing the Best
- In general, try to eat at least three to seven one-ounce equivalents from the grains group everyday. However, the amounts may vary depending on age, sex, and physical activity level. Consult MyPyramid.gov to determine the amount that fits your individual needs. Make half of your grains whole grains.
- Not all brown bread is whole grain and may be low in fiber, so be sure to read the labels. The first item listed should be whole grain.
- Bread that is all whole grain may be worth the extra cost because of the higher amounts of fiber and healthy items in it.
When buying bread and rolls, it’s important to make a healthy choice of bread so make sure to check the ingredients and see if the bread contains whole grains.
Eat at Least Three One-Ounce Equivalents of Whole Grains
The three ounces of whole grains from MyPyramid have fiber, B vitamins, and iron. This group also has starch, protein, and minerals. Whole grains have many B vitamins, vitamin E, and fiber. Fiber is important because it can decrease the risk of heart disease. It also can decrease the chance of getting some types of cancer, and it helps you have regular bowel movements.
Count one slice of bread, 1 cup of cold cereal, or one-half cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta as one ounce equivalent. A daily total of 20 to 35 grams of fiber should be eaten.
Check the food label on the bread you eat for the amount of fiber in each slice. Remember to drink a lot of liquids when you eat more fiber. If you decide to increase the fiber in your diet, do so gradually.
Wheat and Whole-Wheat Bread
All whole-wheat bread is brown, but not all brown bread is whole-wheat. Whole-wheat bread is better for you, so it is worth the higher price.
By law, bread that is “whole-wheat” must be made only from whole-wheat flour. “Wheat” bread may be made from both white flour and whole-wheat flour or white flour only. Labels that say “unbleached,” “enriched,” or “wheat” flour mean white flour. The type of flour in the largest amount is listed first on the food label. Often a darker color is provided by “caramel color.” It is also listed on the label.
Make sure the label says whole wheat. Whole-wheat flour is not the only ingredient that gives bread fiber. Look for the following ingredients in the bread you eat — wheat bran, oat bran, wheat berries, cracked wheat, oatmeal, and rye flour.
Bread and Calories
People may not eat bread because they think it will make them fat. The toppings we add to bread have many more calories or fat than the bread itself. Most breads — except for biscuits, muffins, and sweet rolls — are low in fat.
Cereal for Down-Home Goodness
- To choose a cereal, follow the guidelines listed in the section “Buying Cereals.”
- It’s better to choose a cereal with a variety of grains than one with 100 percent of the daily value* for vitamins.
- We suggest oats, whole wheat bran, and other grains. Don’t be fooled by cereal names. Read labels to see how much fiber is in a serving of cereal.
Dozens of cereals are on the market. There are so many that it’s often hard to pick one. Some guidelines are:
- Fiber: Choose a cereal made from whole grain that has 2 to 3 grams of fiber per serving. Processed grains often lose minerals. Check the ingredient list for the word “whole” before the name of the grain, such as “whole-wheat flour,” not “wheat flour.”
- Sugar: Avoid cereals with a lot of sugar. Look for a cereal with only 3 to 5 grams of sugar per serving. Cereals with raisins or other dried fruits may have up to 10 grams of sugar (about 2-1/2 teaspoons of sugar). However, even though these dried fruits have a lot of sugar, they also provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber and are still a good choice.
- Sodium: Look for a cereal with 300 milligrams or less of sodium per serving.
- Fat: Choose a cereal with less than 1 to 2 grams of fat per serving.
- Vitamins: Unless you plan to eat nothing but a bowl of cereal each day, you don’t need cereal with up to 100 percent of the daily value* for vitamins. Look at the nutrition label — called Nutrition Facts — on the cereal you eat. How many of these guidelines does a cereal meet? If the cereal does not meet all or most of them, maybe it’s time to try a new cereal.
The Breads and Cereals are an important part of the Grain Group within MyPyramid. Five other groups complete MyPyramid. Follow MyPyramid for daily food choices and healthy eating practices.
Putting the Dietary Guidelines or MyPyramid on Your Table encourages older adults to improve their food behaviors.
The older we become, the more careful we should be when choosing our food. While our need for kilocalories decreases as we age, we need the same amount — and sometimes more — of vitamins and minerals. We should depend upon food for good nutrition. Follow MyPyramid for daily food choices and healthy eating practices.
Boiled, baked, or fried; hot or cold; plain or fancy — potatoes are one of our most favorite foods. In fact, the average American eats about 135 pounds of fresh and processed potatoes in a year. Potatoes can be healthy as well as tasty and low in cost. New ways to prepare them can lower the fat and salt content.
How to Choose Potatoes
There are many ways to classify potatoes: boiling, baking, or round whites; long whites; russets; and round reds.
Look for potatoes that are firm, well shaped, smooth with small eyes, and free from large cuts or bruises. Avoid ones that are green, have sprouts, or are dried up. U.S. No. 1 is the grade most often seen in stores and shows high quality.
Most sweet potatoes on the market today are yams, which are moist, with orange skin and a slightly sweet flavor. Look for well-shaped, firm, yet smooth potatoes with bright skins that are free from signs of decay. Even a small amount of decay can affect the taste of the whole potato.
Types of decay are wet, soft decay; dry, firm decay that starts at the end; and dry rot on the sides with obvious places of decay.
Sweet potatoes do not keep well, so purchase only a few at a time. Sweet potatoes should be stored in a dry place at about 55 degrees F.
How to Handle and Store Potatoes
- They can be bruised, so handle with care.
- If stored correctly, all-purpose and baking potatoes will keep for many months; new potatoes will keep for many weeks.
- Before you store them, set aside any that are bruised or cracked and use them first.
- Do not wash potatoes before you store them.
- Store in a cool (45 to 50 degrees F), dark place with lots of air circulation.
If potatoes are stored at 70 to 80 degrees F, they should be used within a week. If it is any warmer, they will sprout and shrivel.
If stored below 40 degrees F for a week or more, they may become sweet because the starch turns to sugar. For better flavor, store potatoes at a temperature higher than 40 degrees F for one to two weeks before using them.
How to Cook Potatoes in the Microwave Oven
One of the fastest and easiest ways to make just one or two baked white or sweet potatoes is in the microwave.
- In most microwave ovens, a medium-sized potato cooks in about 4 minutes. If cooking more than one potato, add 1 to 2 minutes for each.
- After cleaning the potatoes, prick each one with a fork to allow steam to escape. Arrange them in a circle on a double layer of paper towels in the microwave, making sure that at least 1 inch separates each potato.
- Halfway through the cooking time, turn the potatoes over.
- Before testing for doneness, allow the potatoes to stand while they keep cooking. For example, wrap them in paper towels and turn a bowl over on them. Do not wrap in foil after cooking because foil tends to steam and not bake them.
When serving baked potatoes, top with nonfat yogurt or nonfat or low-fat sour cream or cottage cheese. Or serve plain boiled potatoes with skim milk or low-fat margarine. Try adding spices such as pepper, herbs, and parsley for a final touch of color and flavor.
It’s Not the Potato’s Fault!
Potatoes have a reputation of being high in fat. Actually, they are low in fat and also provide a great source of vitamin C and potassium. The skin is an excellent source of fiber. A medium (4-ounce) potato has only 88 calories and 0.1 grams of fat. If a potato dish is high in fat, it is because fat has been added during cooking or after being served. The fat comes from the additional ingredients used (i.e., butter or cheese).
Potatoes are found in the vegetable portion of MyPyramid. Within this group, there are five subgroups, which are organized based on their nutrient content. These subgroups are dark green vegetables, orange vegetables, dried beans and peas, starchy vegetables, and other vegetables. Potatoes fall into the starchy vegetable category.
For seniors, it is recommended that they consume about 2.5 to 3 cups of this starchy subgroup per week, or about 1/4 to 1/2 cup each day, and the rest of your vegetable intake should come from the other categories.
The Dairy Group
As we age, our need for calcium increases. Men and women over age 50 should consume at least 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day to help maintain bone mass and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Studies show that calcium offers many other health benefits and may play an important role in reducing the risk for high blood pressure and obesity.
Good Sources of Calcium
The best dietary sources of calcium are foods found in the dairy group—milk, cheese, and yogurt. Consuming three servings a day of low-fat dairy products will help keep bones strong. A serving is eight ounces or 1 cup of milk or yogurt, or 1 to 1½ ounces of natural cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese. Each serving provides about 300 milligrams of calcium. In addition to calcium, dairy products also contain other nutrients, such as protein, vitamin D, potassium, riboflavin, magnesium, and vitamin B-12. Additional sources of calcium include salmon with edible bones, calcium-fortified orange juice, breads, cereals, and dark green leafy vegetables.
Fitting Dairy into Your Diet
It’s easy to fit dairy into your daily diet. Try some of the following tips to help keep your bones strong:
- Add low-fat milk and cheeses to cream soups.
- Add low-fat cheese to pasta and salads.
- Add low-fat milk or cheese to scrambled eggs.
- Use yogurt instead of sour cream on top of baked potatoes.
- Make your own pizza by topping an English muffin or pita bread with pizza sauce and cheese; bake until cheese is bubbly and muffin is golden brown.
- Top casseroles and vegetables with cheese.
- Enjoy macaroni and cheese.
- Top a sandwich with low-fat cheese.
- If you don’t like milk, try adding cocoa.
- Enjoy puddings made with low-fat milk. (Homemade is a better choice than ready-to-eat versions, which only have about 95 mg of calcium per 4-ounce serving, compared to about 150 mg per 4-ounce serving of a dry pudding mix made with milk.)
- Use with hot cereals in place of water.
- Use non-fat dry milk powder in cooking.
- Purchase orange juice with added calcium.
If You’re Lactose Intolerant
Even if you have lactose intolerance, you can still enjoy the benefits of dairy foods. Yogurt contains a lower amount of lactose, and cheese is naturally low in lactose. When consumed with a meal, small portions of milk allow your body to break down lactose. Many lactose-free dairy products are now available in supermarkets.
- You should eat fruit two to four times a day.
- The fruit can be a big piece or a small piece; it can come in a can or it can be a fruit juice.
- It is cheap to buy fruits in season.
Buying Fresh Fruit
Fruits come in many shapes and sizes and must be firm and have a good color. A fruit should smell nice, too. The person responsible for the fruit section in a grocery store can help you learn which fruit to buy. The best looking fruit may not have the best taste.
Choosing Fresh Fruit
- Buy fruit when it is in season. The cost is lower and the fruit is at its best.
- Only buy what you will use. Fresh fruits can spoil easily.
- Buy fruits that are ripe, are bright in color, and do not have spots on them.
Picking Safe Fruit
Fruits are bad if they have cuts or openings that would allow germs to enter. Do not eat fruit that has mold or looks bruised. The use of sprays on fruit is a concern, although the U.S. Government checks these sprays to make this a matter of little or no concern.
You can help fruits that are not ripe to become fully ripened. In order to ripen the fruit quickly, place it in a brown paper bag and close the bag for a few days. For faster results, place an apple in the bag with the fruit you are trying to ripen. Wash fresh fruits before you eat them but do not wash them with soap; just water is fine. Berries should not be washed until just before you are ready to eat them.
Canned fruits are easy to use and can be stored for a long time. Read the label with care to see how the fruit was made and what type of juice has been used. It is healthier to select those fruits that are not canned in heavy syrup.
Buying frozen pieces of fruit such as whole strawberries is convenient. This saves money and less fruit will be wasted. Include fruit in salads and other dishes for flavor and color.
Dried fruits are easy to use, easy to store, and make a great snack. They can be used in salads or other foods to add to a meal.
Vegetables include things like spinach, carrots, lettuce, celery, green beans, and broccoli. It is important to eat three or more servings of vegetables every day. Vegetables will provide your body with many healthful things. When you eat vegetables, try not to add salt. Instead, use lemon juice or other tasty toppings. Most vegetables, like carrots and corn, have a high water content and low fat content. Vegetables like celery and corn are good sources of fiber, too.
What is in a Serving?
- one-half cup of cooked or chopped vegetables
- one cup of uncooked leafy vegetables (spinach)
- three-fourths cup of juice made from vegetables
A cup is about the same size as a regular coffee mug.
When you are hungry, try to eat a salad instead of foods with a lot of fat and sugar. Salads allow you to have a lot of great tasting vegetables at once. You can make a salad with leafy greens like lettuce, red juicy tomatoes, and crispy carrots. If you want, add a salad dressing or some chicken to the salad for extra flavor.
Choosing Fresh Vegetables
Vegetables are easy to buy at the store. Beans and carrots can be very cheap. Make sure not to buy carrots or lettuce with scratches or holes in them. If you are not sure if a vegetable is bad or damaged, remember that it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Making Vegetables Easy to Eat
If you buy frozen vegetables at the store, make sure that you buy the ones that come in plastic bags instead of boxes. It is easier to take out one or two servings at a time. It is a good idea to buy some canned vegetables to keep on hand when you need them.
When you go shopping look for the nutrition information located near the vegetables. The information will tell you how to select, handle, and cook the vegetables.
Many people cook vegetables by boiling them in water, draining and covering them with butter, cheese, or sauces. By doing this, you add extra salt and fat to the food, which is not a good thing. This extra fat and salt is not healthy. Instead, a great way to cook vegetables is to steam them. To steam green beans, put them in a pan above a pot of boiling water. The green beans will end up soft and full of color. Two other methods for cooking vegetables are microwaving and stir-frying. Both of these methods will save the natural vitamins found in the vegetables.
Plain vegetables without added sauces are low in fat and salt. Vegetables have their own special flavors. If the flavor is too plain, try using artificial butter flavoring instead of real butter. Real butter has a lot more fat than butter sprinkles. Other good toppings include nonfat sour cream, low-fat yogurt, and low-fat cottage cheese. Special herbs and spices can be bought at the grocery store and used to flavor vegetables.
Sugars & Sweets
Limit Junk Foods
Remember that there are no “bad” or “junk” foods; however, there are “junk diets.” A “junk diet” has little balance or variety. It often includes many foods that are high in fat and/or sugar. You can make your diet healthier by eating foods with less fat and sugar.
People often think they must completely stop eating foods with a lot of fat and sugar. They may be able to do so for a short time, but sooner or later they begin to crave these types of foods. Always wanting and not eating favorite foods can lead to eating too much of them at some point. For example, a person who has not eaten sweets, chips, or nuts for a very long time may eat a lot of them while at a party.
It is better to eat a healthy diet based on the Food Guide Pyramid, working small amounts of high-fat or sugary foods in from time to time instead of removing them from your diet completely.
Make Small Changes to Your Diet
Do not try to make big changes in your diet all at once. Small steps are easier to live with and can make a big difference over time. Make one or two small changes at a time and work slowly toward your health goals. If you only eat a food high in fat or sugar once a year for a holiday, you do not have to stop eating that food. Think about foods that are high in fat or sugar that you eat nearly every day. Try to eat less of those foods before you stop eating your birthday cake!
How much of the high-fat foods do you eat? Try to eat less of them or eat them less often. If you do not like the taste of diet margarine, just use less of it. Or, try using very small amounts of regular margarine or butter. If you like pies, make a one-crust pie, eat only a small piece of a two-crust pie, or make a crust-less pie. Then ask yourself, “How often do I eat this food?”
How to Make Healthy Changes in Recipes
If you want to change a recipe, first think about what ingredients make the food less healthy. These things are likely to be fat and sugar. Then you can:
- take it out;
- add less; or
- use a product that is better for you.
To lower the fat or animal fat in the food:
- Lower the fat to the next lower measure on a measuring cup. Add less and less fat until you find the limit at which the product still tastes good. Note: This works best with a recipe that is not already low in fat.
- Do not use added fat like butter when baking; use a nonstick pan or a nonstick spray.
- Chill soups and gravies, then take off the hard fat layer that forms on top.
- Use two egg whites to replace one whole egg. You can use fewer eggs than the recipe calls for in some dishes.
- Try to use margarine, not butter. Liquid vegetable oil should be the base ingredient in the margarine.
- Fats that are solid at room temperature are higher in saturated fats than those that are soft or liquid at room temperature. This is true regardless of whether the fat comes from an animal or a vegetable. To reduce your saturated fat intake, try to use the fats that are soft or liquid at room temperature.
- Use butter-flavored spray on top of your bread.
- Use a low-fat margarine that is mostly water, not oil.
- Use only half of the oil in cakes, cookies, or quick breads and replace the rest with unsweetened fruit puree from apples, prunes, or pears. Be careful, because these fruits make the product spoil faster. Put waxed paper on the bottom of pans or use cooking spray to keep food from sticking.
- To lower fat, use vegetable oils, not solid fats. When using liquid oils, use ¼ less fat than the recipe calls for. For example, if you are supposed to use 4 tablespoons of solid fat, use only 3 tablespoons of oil. For cakes or pie crust, try to choose recipes that call for oil, because liquid fats must be mixed in a special way with a different amount of sugar.
- Use reduced-fat sour cream, cream cheese, and mayonnaise. Use low-fat or nonfat yogurt, buttermilk, or nonfat cottage cheese for sauces, dips, and salad dressings. If a sauce with yogurt is to be heated, add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to 1 cup of yogurt to make it thicker.
To decrease sugar:
- You can decrease sugar by ¼ to ½ in most baked products. This works well with quick breads, cookies, pie fillings, custards, puddings, and fruit crisps. Do not do this with plain yeast bread because sugar is needed for the bread to rise.
- Because sugar may be needed to add volume to a product, it is a good idea to use specially-developed recipes when trying to bake low-sugar foods.
- When making cookies, dry nonfat milk can be used to replace some of the sugar.
Food Pyramid Breakfast Guide
We should depend upon food for good nutrition. Food is much more than just a collection of nutrients. Follow the Food Guide Pyramid for daily food choices and healthy eating practices.
Breakfast Is Important
- A good breakfast has foods from at least three of the five food groups.
- Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Breakfast can start the day off right. You refuel your body, getting ready for the day ahead. It helps many people wake up and feel better all day long. A healthy breakfast may help you control your weight.
Many people find that they are more hungry for breakfast than any other meal. Most often they have more trouble with what to eat rather than how much. Many nutritious choices from the Food Guide Pyramid are good for breakfast and are easy to prepare.
The Quick and Easy Breakfast
For a change of pace, here are some ideas for breakfast.
- Try some granola, cheese, and a piece of fruit.
- Combine healthy cookies with a bowl of fruit and yogurt.
- Heat some soup and eat it with crackers and milk.
- Try peanut butter on graham crackers with sliced bananas and raisins.
- Enjoy instant cereals topped with fresh or canned fruit and a glass of milk.
- Leftovers make great breakfast foods. Try extra macaroni and cheese or other pasta dishes, pizza with vegetable or fruit juice, and a glass of skim milk.
- Mix cottage cheese with fruit. Add whole grain muffins or bread with lowfat cream cheese or a dab of jam to complete your breakfast.