To Stay Healthy, Eat Right

Tips from the American Heart Association (AHA) & the National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Healthy aging requires that you make healthy choices. This happens at least two times a day and usually three. This means at meal time. We are all faced with the decision of what to eat, and the good news is that at most meals it is totally up to us. In other words we are responsible for our own eating habits and our health.

Diet is important in preventing some of the most dreaded diseases we potentially face, such as obesity, hypertension, heart attack, stroke, many cancers, and diabetes. The data are in and there are no excuses for not knowing this. (We mention this at least in about a third of these columns annually.)

Each year more and more is learned about what to eat and what to avoid, the bad news is we don’t have better strategies to abide by good habits. If we had those we would publish them, and since we don’t we must rely on repeating the information in hopes that compliance with healthy dieting is improved.


The verb 'diet' has a negative connotation often synonymous with deprivation, but it doesn’t have to mean that and this is why there are a plethora of magazines and even more recipes in many popular magazines about food that is good and good for you. While every health organization and nutrition outlet has diet information on their Websites, the two that make the best sense for most Americans are the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health. The remainder of this month’s offering comes from these two sources.

What to Eat?

There are some simple rules to follow when eating.

Rule 1: To maintain, lose, or gain weight one must eat the same, less, or more calories than one expends during a day with routine activities and exercise. Calories are listed in some common foods listed below. The number to shoot for is 2000 calories a day to maintain weight, more to gain, and less to lose weight.

Calories of 40 Representative Foods, in Alphabetical Order

  • Apple, medium: 72  
  • Bagel: 289
  • Banana, medium: 105
  • Beer (regular, 12 ounces): 153
  • Bread (one slice, wheat or white): 66
  • Butter (salted, 1 tablespoon): 102
  • Carrots (raw, 1 cup): 52
  • Carrots (raw, 1 cup): 52
  • Cheddar cheese (1 slice): 113
  • Chicken breast (boneless, skinless, roasted, 3 ounces): 142
  • Chili with beans (canned, 1 cup): 287
  • Chocolate chip cookie (from packaged dough): 59
  • Coffee (regular, brewed from grounds, black): 2
  • Cola (12 ounces): 136
  • Cola (12 ounces): 136
  • Corn (canned, sweet yellow whole kernel, drained, 1 cup): 180
  • Egg (large, scrambled): 102
  • Granola bar (chewy, with raisins, 1.5-ounce bar): 193
  • Green beans (canned, drained, 1 cup): 40
  • Ground beef patty (15 percent fat, 4 ounces, pan-broiled): 193
  • Hot dog (beef and pork): 137
  • Ice cream (vanilla, 4 ounces): 145
  • Jelly doughnut: 289
  • Milk (2 percent milk fat, 8 ounces): 122
  • Mixed nuts (dry roasted, with peanuts, salted, 1 ounce): 168
  • Oatmeal (plain, cooked in water without salt, 1 cup): 147
  • Orange juice (frozen concentrate, made with water, 8 ounces): 112
  • Peanut butter (creamy, 2 tablespoons): 180
  • Pizza (pepperoni, regular crust, one slice): 298
  • Pork chop (center rib, boneless, broiled, 3 ounces): 221
  • Potato, medium (baked, including skin): 161
  • Potato chips (plain, salted, 1 ounce): 155
  • Pretzels (hard, plain, salted, 1 ounce): 108
  • Ranch salad dressing (2 tablespoons): 146
  • Red wine (cabernet sauvignon, 5 ounces): 123
  • Rice (white, long grain, cooked, 1 cup): 205
  • Shrimp (cooked under moist heat, 3 ounces): 84
  • Spaghetti (cooked, enriched, without added salt, 1 cup): 221
  • Spaghetti sauce (marinara, ready to serve, 4 ounces): 92
  • Tuna (light, canned in water, drained, 3 ounces): 100
  • White wine (sauvignon blanc, 5 ounces): 121
  • Yellow cake with chocolate frosting (one piece): 243

Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 19 (2006), accessed September 8, 2015

Rule 2: Calories tend to come in good and bad foods for you. The good foods are a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry, fish, nuts, legumes, and non-tropical oils. These also taste good when properly prepared. The bad calories to avoid as much as possible are saturated fat, trans fat, sodium (salt), red meat, sweets, and sugar-sweetened beverages. Saturated fat is found in fatty beef, lamb, pork, poultry with skin, cream, butter, cheese, and dairy products made from whole or reduced-fat (2%). Try to eat less than 6% of your 2000 calories from these fats. Trans fats have been in the news since they have been removed from the healthy diet by the FDA (2013). Food with trans fats primarily come from processed foods that are made with partially hydrogenated oils (this is on the label) or that are fried in them. Foods to avoid are doughnuts, baked goods, crackers, stick margarines, and other spreads. If the food label states "made with monosaturated or polyunsaturated fats," it is OK to eat. Unhydrogenated oils such as canola, safflower, sunflower, or olive oil are fine. Look for foods whose labels have 0 grams trans fat in their preparation. If you find yourself at a fast food site, ask them what oil they use to fry the food!

Rule 3: Make a healthy diet plan and stick to it. One such diet is the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, commonly called the DASH diet (see Table 1). Your healthy diet can be DASH or some variant of it that obeys the rules above. It should contain a good variety of fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables and fruit. More poultry and fish and less red meat should be included. Drink and eat skim milk and low-fat (1% diary) products instead of whole milk products and cheeses. Finally, avoid alcohol in excess since these are bad calories – moderate drinking is one a day for women and two for men.

Table 1: The DASH Plan 

DASH Eating plan table

The Bottom Line

There are some special diets for selected patients and diseases that you, your spouse, your doctor, and nutritionist can agree upon. In the final analysis and in our age of self-empowerment, it is essential to know that only you decide what to eat each day. The important thing is to eat enjoyable food that obeys the three rules above, and this fine diet will help you in your quest for healthy aging.