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How to Fit Foods for Healthy Aging Into Your Daily Diet

For optimal health as you age, it is important that you increase protein to preserve muscle, meet your increased demand for many vitamins and minerals, and eat foods that promote increased nitric oxide production and oppose inflammation. It has been said that, “Knowing is half the battle.”  Now that you have accomplished that 50%, it is time to figure out how to implement all these foods on a daily basis. The good news is that you are likely already achieving your increased protein needs. The average American gets three times the amount of their actual protein needs on a daily basis. With that crossed off the list, let’s take a closer look at how to get the rest.


The Mediterranean Diet, The DASH diet, and a vegetarian diet have all been shown through ample research to be some of the most effective diets for helping to lower your potential risk for many health issues and supporting an overall healthier lifestyle, including improved cardiovascular and heart health. This does not mean you have to follow three diets.  They have many commonalities that easily come together as a unified meal plan. The most important thing they have in common is that they are all plant based diets that limit any processed food. This seems to be the challenge for most people. Although it is recommended that we eat 2-3.5 cups of vegetables and 1.5-2.5 cups of fruit every day, studies show that our average intake is only 1.47 cups vegetables and 0.84 cups fruit daily. Eating this quantity of produce, versus close to it, is essential for getting the necessary protective potassium, nitrates, and antioxidants to effectively lower your risk of health issues.

Challenge: You may have heard of “meatless Monday.” Why not try it, as well as a “meatless Wednesday.” Doing so may force you to try new foods (increased variety) and help you get more plant based foods.

Following the current nutrition guide published by the United States Agriculture Department, My Plate, is one of the most practical ways to achieve the proper quantity of desired foods and within the ideal balance. My Plate emphasizes 50% of every meal should be produce. About ¼ of your plate, a serving about the size of your palm should be lean protein. No more than ¼ of your plate, about the size of your fist, should be quality carbohydrate.  Following this nutrition guide ensure you get 4-6 cups of produce daily and no more than about 5-10 oz. lean protein. The My Plate guide also makes it difficult to follow and fit in any fast food or processed food. Clearly this is a naturally plant based plan that still provides 35-70g. protein.

Clearly quantity is important, but the variety of foods eaten is equally if not more so, important. By eating many different foods, you are more likely to get the nutrients you need and limit those you need less of.

Challenge: Aim to not eat the same animal more than twice per week.

With meat, aim to not eat the same animal more than twice per week. Yes, this mean you won’t be having chicken for dinner every night anymore. This is most easily accomplished if you choose seafood every night for dinner and choose an animal with legs for lunch (if any meat at lunch at all). While it might seem wise to get your Omega-3 fats from nuts or seeds since they are plant based, even though they are beneficial, they do not have the same effect as marine based Omega-3 fat. Also, with increased seafood intake, you are more likely to consume fatty fish, which is one of the few natural food sources of Vitamin D. Following these suggestions means you will increase the amount of inflammation squelching Omega-3 in your diet and decrease the amount of inflammation promoting Omega-6 and saturated fat

Summary of Daily Diet for Healthy Aging

  • Make half of every meal produce.
  • Aim for “four or more” colors on your plate.
  • Get at least 2 cups of high nitrate vegetables daily.
  • Choose seafood as much as possible for your protein source.

When it comes to variety of produce, aim to eat what is in season. This will help you naturally rotate the crops you eat throughout the year, as well as provide the highest quality and most affordable fruit and vegetables. To increase nitric oxide production in your body and help minimize health complications associated with aging, be sure that at least two cups of your daily produce intake comes from foods high in nitrates, like dark green leafy vegetables such kale and spinach, beets, celery, fennel, cabbage, and parsley. You will be sure to have adequate variety in your daily diet if you always have at “four or more” colors on your plate.

Watch out kitchen. Here you come!  It may take some extra planning and prep to eat this way. But, by successfully avoiding processed food, increasing the amount of seafood and following a plant based diet that is high in variety, especially green leafy vegetables, you should feel stronger, more energetic, and reduce your risk for health issues as you age.

What happens when you try your best but just can’t eat it all? How do supplements fit in? Stay tuned for the next blog to find out.



US department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion 2012. page accessed Jan. 2013 ®

U.S. Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion September 2011. page accessed Jan. 2013. 

Craig WJ, Mangels AR, American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Asssociation. July 2009. 109(7):1266-82.

Miller ER 3d, Erlinger TP, Appel LJ. The effects of macronutrients on blood pressure and lipids: an overview of the DASH and OmniHeart trials. Curr Atheroscler Rep 2006;8(6):460–5.

Author Mari-Etta Parrish RD, CSSD, LDN

Mari-Etta Parrish RD, CSSD, LDN, RD and endurance athelete

MariEtta Parrish is a Registered Dietitian, Exercise Physiologist, and endurance athlete. She is also a board certified Sports Nutritionist. After working in clinical and community nutrition for a decade, she combined her passion for nutrition and exercise by founding her own sports nutrition consulting company, called Healthlete. MariEtta has co-authored medical text books and been a keynote speaker for multiple conferences. She is currently the team dietitian for the two professional sport teams in Nashville, as well as an adjunct professor at Lipscomb University. She provides an effective evidence-based approach to help individuals achieve their goals using: focus, food, and fitness- from the weekend warrior to the professional athlete. Most importantly, she “practices what she preaches.”

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