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As we age, our metabolism slows down, and often, our level of activity follows suit. Some older adults can quickly gain weight if they don’t adjust their eating habits. Others may lose weight too quickly by not eating enough if they are experiencing appetite loss.

Using portion control helps ensure we are eating enough of the foods that are good for us while limiting those that are not. Here are some ways we can measure and manage portion size to optimize our nutritional needs.

Eat More of This

Foods we want to fill our plate with include:

  • Vegetables: 2-3 cups daily, especially dark, leafy greens.
  • Fruits: 1 ½ -2 cups.
  • Proteins: 5-6 ounces, mostly lean proteins such as chicken and fish.
  • Whole grains: 5-8 ounces, mostly whole grains.
  • Dairy: 3 cups, low-fat milk and yogurt are healthier sources of needed calcium.

Eat Less of This

  • Refined sugars found in sugary cereals, baked goods, candy, and other treats.
  • Added salt found in many canned soups, snacks, frozen meals, and other packaged foods.
  • Saturated fats found in fatty meats such as beef and pork and cold cuts, whole dairy products such as cheese, butter, sour cream, and prepared snacks such as potato chips.

Sources: Suggested Servings from Each Food Group and My Plate for Older Adults

Photo: Getty Images

Learn the Right Portions

The first step is to understand how to identify the right portions for a healthy and balanced diet. Using everyday objects to eyeball portions is a helpful way to measure foods in almost any situation.

This Portion Size Chart provides some visual references and portion size recommendations. For example, 3 ounces of lean meat is the size of a deck of cards, and a cup of chopped vegetables or fruits is the size of a baseball.

Tips for Limiting Portion Sizes

  • Use smaller plates. Plates in the U.S. have gotten progressively larger, along with our portion sizes. Using a smaller one helps you avoid the overeating that is common when you are tempted to fill up a large plate.
  • Fill half your plate with greens. Eating a salad with mixed greens for lunch or dinner each day can go a long way in ensuring you are eating enough greens. A lightly seasoned vegetable stir fry, soup, or smoothie with greens are other ways to load up on veggies.
  • Eat at the table instead of in front of the TV. Eating mindlessly in front of a favorite show or movie often leads to overeating. Instead, try eating at a table and paying attention to what and how much you are eating.
  • Be conscious when you eat out. Most restaurants serve food in super-sized portions. When eating out, look for restaurants that offer senior size portions, ask for kids’ meals, or take half home as leftovers. Other options include splitting a meal with a friend or ordering an appetizer for lunch.
  • Measure out portions. A good way to limit snack foods is to measure out a small portion into a bowl instead of eating from the bag.
  • Use a Bento Box. A bento box or other container with divided sections can be a useful way to portion out the foods. Here are 7 Bento Box Recipe ideas.
  • Eat homemade. One of the best ways to limit refined sugars, excess salt, and saturated fats is to make snacks and baked goods using healthier recipe options.

Knowing recommended daily portions, understanding how to measure them, and following a few tips for limiting how much you eat can lead to a healthier diet. Eating well as you age can help maintain a healthy weight, fight against common diseases and illnesses, encourage better sleeping, and overall make you feel your best.

The Active Aging Series is brought to you by our partner, Cambrian Homecare. Cambrian Homecare has been assisting individuals to stay independent in their homes for 25 years. Flexible experience you can trust, when the best place is still at home.