Making small changes to your daily eating habits can put you on the path to being healthier and living longer.

Each year, millions of Americans resolve to lose weight and get in better shape, but it doesn’t take complicated diet plans or calorie-restrictive programs to discover healthy eating. Simple changes can bring big health boosts, including increased energy, better disease prevention and perhaps even a longer life.

Unlike a temporary diet to shed a few pounds, learning to eat for better health, energy and longevity may mean permanently changing the way you think about food. Remember, you are what you eat. If you want to be healthy and have more energy, you need to eat foods that provide a wide range of vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants.

A good place to start is to consider the basic food groups. Your body needs many different types of nutrients to slow the aging of cells, prevent disease and help you look, and feel, better. That means eating protein, whole grains and many different kinds of fruits and vegetables. Your body also needs a certain amount of fat, but it's best to get that fat from good sources like olive oil, nuts and fatty fish.

For great information on recommended servings of fruits, vegetables, grains and other foods, you can visit the USDA’s ChooseMyPlate website. The site features a wealth of information including nutrition tips, recipes and the free interactive Supertracker which lets you track the food you eat each day and see if you are getting all the nutrients you need for optimum health.

Your specific nutritional needs depend on your age, body size, physical activity level and medical condition. Yet the USDA offers some basic guidelines for daily servings of each food group for men and women over the age of 51:

  • Fruit – 1.5 cups for women; 2 cups for men
  • Vegetables – 2 cups for women; 2.5 cups for men
  • Grains – 5 ounces for women; 6 ounces for men
  • Protein – 5 ounces for women; 5.5 ounces for men
  • Dairy – 3 cups for women; 3 cups for men
  • Oils – 5 teaspoons for women; 6 teaspoons for men

To make the most of these servings: choose fruits and vegetables in many different colors to get a variety of nutrients; eat at least half of your grains from whole grains; get protein from fish, beans and lean meats; and choose healthy oils like olive oil instead of butter. Adjusting your diet takes time and practice.

One great way to make progress is to enroll in a cooking class which focuses on healthy eating. Classes like this help you learn new techniques for making flavorful food without relying on old standards like breading and frying meats. By experimenting with healthy eating, you may find that you feel better when you eat smaller portions throughout the day instead of three basic meals. Instead of reaching for chips or pretzels, try making a healthier snack of fruit, cheese and whole-grain crackers.

Once you start finding ways to add more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to your diet, you will see just how satisfying eating for energy and longevity can be.