Experts update "food pyramid" for older adults
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A nearly decade-old food guide pyramid for older adults has gotten a makeover to make it more user-friendly and to emphasize the special dietary needs of people older than 70.
Published in the January issue of the Journal of Nutrition, the Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults stresses that older people should be careful to get enough fiber, calcium and vitamins D and B-12. It also emphasizes the importance of regular exercise and adequate fluid intake.
Researchers at Tufts University in Boston originally developed the food pyramid for older adults in 1999. They revamped it in response to changes made to the federal government's general Food Guide Pyramid -- which, along with a new look for the pyramid itself, includes an online component where people can calculate their personal dietary needs based on factors like age, weight and exercise levels.
Since older Americans are typically not as Web-savvy as younger generations, the Tufts researchers created a new version of their food pyramid that contains more graphics and underscores the importance of certain nutrients for older adults.
For example, a flag at the top of the pyramid reminds older people that they may need to take supplements of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B-12 in addition to what they get from food.
"Adults over the age of 70 have unique dietary needs," Dr. Alice H. Lichtenstein, the lead author of the report, said in a statement.
Older adults' calorie needs usually decline because they are less physically active than they once were, Lichtenstein explained. As they eat less food, it becomes even more important to choose nutrient-rich fare, like fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and high-fiber whole grains.
The new pyramid points out that packaged versions of fruits and vegetables -- frozen vegetables and canned or dried fruit, for instance -- might be good alternatives to fresh varieties for some older adults.
"These choices are easier to prepare and have a longer shelf life, minimizing waste," Lichtenstein explained. "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."
At the base of the pyramid are graphics showing physical activities that many older adults can perform -- such as walking, swimming and yard work.
"Regular physical activity is linked to reduced risk of chronic disease and lower body weights," Lichtenstein said. "Government statistics indicate that obesity in adults 70 years and older has been increasing, physical activity is one way to avoid weight gain in later years and its adverse consequences."
SOURCE: Journal of Nutrition, January 2008.