Anne Osmer Reporting

Remember learning about the food pyramid when you were a kid?  The USDA recently redesigned the pyramid, now called MyPyramid, and created tools to help individuals track food intake and physical activity.  Now Tufts University researchers have taken their previously published Food Guide Pyramid for Older Adults and modified it to correspond to the updated MyPyramid.

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“Adults over the age of 70 have unique dietary needs,” said first author Alice H. Lichtenstein, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts. “Older adults tend to need fewer calories as they age because they are not as physically active as they once were and their metabolic rates slow down. Nevertheless, their bodies still require the same or higher levels of nutrients for optimal health outcomes. The Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults is intended to be used for general guidance in print form or as a supplement to the MyPyramid computer-based program.”

The Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults is available as a graphic print-out with icons representing foods in various categories as well as fluids and physical activities characteristic of older adults, such as walking, gardening and swimming.

Emphasized in the Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults are icons depicting packaged fruits and vegetables in addition to fresh examples, forms that for a number of reasons may be more appropriate for older adults.  These include bags of frozen pre-cut vegetables that can be resealed or single-serve portions of canned fruit. “These choices are easier to prepare and have a longer shelf life, minimizing waste,” said Lichtenstein.  “Such factors are important to consider when arthritis kicks in or dark, cold days mean it is less likely someone will go out to replenish their refrigerator stores.”

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The Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults stresses the importance of consuming fluids by having a row of glasses as its foundation. “As we age there can be a disassociation between how hydrated our bodies are and how thirsty we feel.  This can be particularly of concern in the summer months,” Lichtenstein said.  She noted that food and beverages with high water content, such as lettuce, vegetable juice and soups, are important contributors of fluid in an older person’s diet.

Also included as an integral part of the Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults is a flag at the top suggesting that older adults may need certain supplemental nutrients. “The need for calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12 can increase as we age and some people find it difficult to get adequate amounts from food alone, especially when calorie needs go down,” Lichtenstein said.

“The flag at the top of the Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults serves as a reminder that some people may need to discuss this potential need with their health care providers.  However, we continue to emphasize that the majority, if not all, of nutrients an older adult consumes should come from food rather than supplements,” she said.

Click here to open and print out your pyramid.

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