A modified Food Guide Pyramid for healthy, independent-living, active people 70 years and older has been developed at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University, Boston, MA.
In an effort to help improve common health problems of people in this age group, they have modified the original 1992 food guide pyramid. Their suggested food guide is published in the March 1999 issue of The Journal of Nutrition, vol 129, pp 751-753. Authors include physician Robert Russell, dietitian Helen Rasmussen, and Dr. of Science Alice Lichtenstein.
An individualized eating guide for this group of elderly Americans recognizes their special nutrient needs. As a result of common health problems and bodily changes that occur with aging, people over the age of 70 years have:
decreased energy needs
a need for increased nutrient density in daily food selections
an increased need for fiber (20 g/d)
increased needs for calcium (1200-1400 mg/d), vitamin D (600 IU), and vitamin B-12 (with nutritional supplements sometimes necessary to achieve these levels)
special concerns for adequate hydration. Drinking 8 cups of fluid/day is recommended, in addition to any alcohol or caffeine-containing beverages consumed, and regardless of a lack of sensation of thirst.
Hallmarks of previous food selection guides that remain important for older healthy, active adults include:
choosing a variety of foods
eating a diet high in grain products, fruits and vegetables
eating a diet low in saturated fatty acids and cholesterol
using low to moderate amounts of sugar, salt, and alcohol
balancing energy intake with physical activity
Specialized recommendations for the "70 and over" senior crowd are:
Choose the lower number of recommended servings from each food group.
For grain products, choose whole grain, enriched/fortified products; brown rice rather than white; and a high fiber breakfast cereal fortified with vitamin B-12 and folic acid.
From the vegetables and fruits, choices should include deeply-colored produce and the whole food rather than just the juice. Dark green, orange, red and yellow ones should be chosen often.
Dairy choices should emphasize low fat selections, with at least 3 calcium-rich product servings/d, or the equivalent in calcium-fortified orange juice or in nutritional supplements.
From the meat/poultry/fish/dry beans/egg/nuts food group, choose a variety of lean cuts of meats and poultry. Eat fish at least once a week and legume dishes at least twice a week instead of a meat main dish.
Most fat choices should be limited. Those chosen should consist primarily of a variety of liquid oils, or foods prepared with oils, rather than hydrogenated or saturated fats.
Food selections with refined carbohydrates (sugar) should be kept to a minimum
Many elderly Americans make poor food choices that have nothing to do with their financial resources. Helping them choose wisely from among the food groups can improve their health and zest for life. As a matter of fact, these recommendations wouldn't be bad for adults of any age to use daily!
Mary L. Meck Higgins, Ph. D., RD, LD.
Extension Specialist, Nutrition Education
Timely Topics from the Department of Human Nutrition
K-State Research and Extension