Tufts researchers update food pyramid for older adults

by Eric Schroeder
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BOSTON — Researchers at Tufts University in Boston have updated their Food Guide Pyramid for Older Adults to better reflect the MyPyramid of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Whereas the U.S.D.A. pyramid is more Internet-based and is geared toward children and adults alike, the Tufts version is specifically designed for older adults and has changed in appearance and content.

According to Tufts, the Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults will continue to emphasize nutrient-dense food choices and the importance of fluid balance, but has added additional guidance about forms of foods that could best meet the unique needs of older adults and about the importance of regular physical activity.

"Adults over the age of 70 have unique dietary needs," said first author Alice H. Lichtenstein, D.Sc., director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer U.S.D.A. Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts. Ms. Lichtenstein also is the Stanley N. Gershoff Professor at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. "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."

Because Tufts researchers are concerned about the ability of older adults to take advantage of the full value of MyPyramid, Ms. Lichtenstein said Tufts is making the Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults available as a graphic print-out with icons representing foods in the following categories, and fluid and physical activity:

• Whole, enriched, and fortified grains and cereals such as brown rice and 100% whole wheat bread.

• Bright-colored vegetables such as carrots and broccoli.

• Deep-colored fruit such as berries and melon.

• Low- and non-fat dairy products such as yogurt and low-lactose milk.

• Dry beans and nuts, fish, poultry, lean meat and eggs.

• Liquid vegetable oils and soft spreads low in saturated and trans fat.

• Fluid intake.

• Physical activity such as walking, house work and yard work.

The Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults will be published in the January 2008 issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

Tufts researchers said the new pyramid depicts physical activities characteristic of older adults, such as walking, yard work and swimming.

"Regular physical activity is linked to reduced risk of chronic disease and lower body weights," Ms. 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. In addition, regular physical activity can improve quality of life for older adults."

The Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults also prominently features 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 choices are easier to prepare and have a longer shelf life, minimizing waste," Ms. Lichtenstein said. "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."

She added the new pyramid continues to emphasize the importance of consuming adequate amounts of fiber rich foods, which means choosing mainly whole grain products rather than highly refined forms, and whole fruits and vegetables rather than juices.

"The Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults is replete in good examples," she said. "Fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of fiber, as well as a whole host of other nutrients. The increased availability of whole grain products lowers the barrier on making those choices."

The importance of drinking fluids also is stressed in the Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults.

"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," Ms. Lichtenstein said.

Tufts researchers first published the Food Guide Pyramid for Older Adults in 1999. It is widely used as an illustration in textbooks and manuals, featured in newsletters for older Americans, and in informational material prepared by the Departments of Elder Affairs in a number of states.

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