As we age, we tend to eat differently.

As we age, we tend to eat differently.

At our dinner table, we eat smaller protein portions, larger salads and fewer desserts. That may explain how my husband lost more than 40 pounds in the past year.

Me? I admit to the occasional dessert and no weight loss — or gain.

I have come to believe that monitoring what we eat (at any age) is critical. As illustration, exactly what did you eat yesterday? Journaling a day of eating behaviors can be enlightening. One woman I know wrote down what she ate every day for a week and lost three pounds in the process, in part because she did not want to confess in writing, even to herself, the three cookies she ate in the evening before bed or the sugary sweetener that went in her coffee every morning.

At the other extreme, journaling a few days can be a reminder you're not eating enough — or that what you're eating is not necessarily healthful. Tea and toast, for example, is not what anyone would call nutrient-dense. And you probably shouldn't count the strawberry jam you put on the toast as a daily serving of fruit. By the way, current recommendations suggest aiming for seven servings of fruits and vegetables each day— and a serving size is typically a half-cup cooked and 1 cup raw.

Have you heard about the makeover of the Food and Drug Administration's food-labeling guidelines and the FDA's intention to help us make more informed decisions about what to eat?

I wish I'd had this kind of information as a young mom. I must have been at least 30 before I even read a nutritional label — even older before I realized the box of macaroni and cheese I purchased (sometimes by the case) was not "one serving," it was "three," which meant all the sodium and fat indicated on the box had to be tripled. I'm now thinking one cheesy meal had more salt and saturated fat in it than my kids probably should have had in a week. That might be an overstatement, but it will get their attention next time I chat with them about what they're feeding their own children. I do that carefully, but with vivid illustrations.

Nutrition labels are like gifts. They make us more informed consumers and, if we use the information, healthier overall.

This week, when you're in a store buying food, let's say soup, pick up the can and look at "serving size" at the top, then calculate what it gives you nutritionally. I have a can of soup right in front of me as I type. One serving (there are two in this particular can — and who eats half a can of soup?) gives me 690 mg of sodium. The new guidelines are leaning toward a maximum of 1,500 mg of sodium a day — especially for older adults. It's enough to make me want to create a big crockpot of soup from scratch, flavored with garlic, onion and parsley, and eat it all week.

There's a 90-day comment period on the new FDA guidelines that came out in late February. Weigh in.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at