Age Friendly: Smart Lifestyle Choices for Healthy Aging—The Protein and Dairy Food Groups

In our last post in this “Age Friendly” series, we talked about the vegetable, fruit and grain food groups. This post, we will take a look at the protein and dairy food groups.

But first, a reminder: our bodies need a variety of nutrients and minerals to survive. So, make sure to get foods from each of the food groups to meet your nutritional requirements.

The Protein Group

Protein can be found in meats and poultry products, but also in a wide array of other foods, like eggs, beans, seafood, nuts, seeds and soy products. Older adults should try to include a variety of protein sources in their daily diet, as proteins serve as a building block for creating and repairing tissues, a source of energy, and a key tool to help fight infection.

Plant-based proteins generally have lower levels of saturated fat, contain no cholesterol, and provide fiber and nutrients needed for good health. Plant-based meat alternatives can be heavily processed and high in sodium, though. So, as always, make sure to carefully read the nutrition facts label of any product you are considering.

How much protein should be on your plate? Federal Dietary Guidelines recommend that a little less than 1/4 of your plate contains foods from the protein group. Filling your plate with more plant-based proteins is a great habit to get into. Also, note that older adults should include 8-10 ounces per week of a variety of seafood. That serves as a protein source, of course, but also provides valuable omega-3 fatty acids. Some good seafood choices include salmon, anchovies, and trout.

a person pours milk from a glass pitcher into a drinking glass, with berries, bowls and other items on a countertop. [credit:, vlada karpovich]
[credit:, vlada karpovich]

The Dairy Group

Dairy products contain a range of needed nutrients, including calcium, potassium and vitamin D. And, as many of us have heard since childhood, consuming dairy products helps maintain strong, healthy bones. It also can help older adults suffering from bone-weakening conditions, like osteopenia or osteoporosis.

When shopping for dairy products or choosing from menu items, try to look for low-fat or fat-free options. These help your health by cutting down on your fat intake but still providing an array of nutrients found in other dairy products.

Lactose intolerant? Try dairy alternatives (many people simply prefer them, for a variety of reasons). Again, make sure to carefully read the nutrition facts label on any product you’re considering. Make sure the food item has been fortified with calcium, and vitamins A and D. Not all items are.

So, how much dairy should you scoop onto your plate or into your bowl… or pour into your glass? According to the Dietary Guidelines, shoot for a cup of milk or yogurt, 1 1/2 ounces of hard cheese (such as mozzarella, cheddar or Swiss), or 2 cups of cottage cheese the with each meal through the day.

Remember, diets work best if you enjoy the changes you make. So, pick foods you like, working in lower-fat options more often.


Posted: March 3, 2023

Category: Health & Nutrition, Work & Life
Tags: Age, AgeFriendly, Aging, Cheese, Dairy, Diet, Food, Health, Healthy, Lifestyle, Milk, Nutrition, Pgm_FCS

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