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Food Pyramid Remodeled for Seniors

Sensational Seniors

As we age, our appetites may decline but our nutritional needs do not. To reflect these changes, Tuft's modified the food pyramid for seniors -- most notably to include supplements. Seniors have some specific nutrient needs not addressed in the "one size fits all" Food Guide Pyramid, say the Tufts researchers.

The base of their revised pyramid is narrowed, signifying the reduced energy intake common among seniors. With an estimated energy intake of 1200 to 1600 calories per day, elderly consumers have to make every calorie count in order to get enough of essential nutrients. The "70+" pyramid, therefore, outlines the "nutrient dense" choices in each food category, emphasizing whole grain foods, varied colored fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and lean meats, fish and poultry.

Nutritional Foods

Grains, Fruits and Vegetables

Grains, fruits, and vegetable tiers of the pyramid highlight the importance of fiber in a healthful diet. This is advice important for seniors but applicable to all adults, since most Americans eat less than the 20 grams of daily fiber recommended by the American Dietetic Association.

Tufts' researchers also recommend seniors supplement with vitamins B12 and D. Seniors do not absorb vitamin B12 properly. Vitamin D is important because as we age we tend to drink less milk and get less sunlight - sunlight is our best form of getting vitamin D. While not all seniors may need dietary supplements, this is an issue that all "70+" consumers should discuss with their health care provider.

Adequate Hydration

While grain foods anchor the USDA Food Guide Pyramid, the "70+" pyramid is built on a base of water. Adequate hydration is a chronic problem for many seniors. Seniors are advised to drink eight or more eight-ounce glasses of water daily to avoid dehydration, kidney dysfunction and constipation, which are common because thirst sensation decreases with age. In addition, some medications affect a body's ability to regulate fluid balance.

The pyramid still promotes a diverse diet rich in grains, vegetables and fruit but low in saturated fat, fatty acidsand cholesterol. The modified pyramid is narrower overall to reflect seniors' decreased energy needs, but emphasizes nutrient-dense foods and fiber in fewer servings.

The Tufts researchers point out that these dietary recommendations are aimed at healthy, mobile seniors with the resources needed to prepare adequate meals. It it not designed to consider the special dietary needs of those with significant health problems, nor does it address socioeconomic factors, such as decreased income and mobility, that make it harder for many seniors to meet nutrient needs. But all seniors, regardless of circumstances, should still hear the pyramid's main messages: people over age seventy have specific nutrient needs, and how well they meet those needs can affect overall health status.

The "70+" pyramid is now just a suggestion; it has not yet been adopted as an official USDA teaching tool. But the USDA and the Dept. of Health and Human Services are in the process of revising the US Dietary Guidelines on which the USDA Food Guide Pyramid is based, and the Tufts researchers are hoping that their "70+" pyramid will generate some discussion on how best to address the unique nutrient needs of seniors.

Remodeled Food Guide Pyramid for Seniors

 Picture of Food Pyramid Remodeled for Seniors

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