Researchers at Tufts University have come up with a modified food guide pyramid for the older adults to guide them about the forms of foods that could best meet their distinctive needs.
The guide also sheds light on the importance of regular physical activity. The Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults emphasizes on nutrient-dense food choices and the importance of fluid balance.
According to Alice H. Lichtenstein, the first author and Director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts (USDA HNRCA) said that adults over the age of 70 have unique dietary needs.
"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," said Lichtenstein.
"Nevertheless, their bodies still require the same or higher levels of nutrients for optimal health outcomes," she added.
Added to the new pyramid is a base depicting 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," she said.
Government statistics show that obesity in adults of 70 years and above has been increasing and physical activity is one way to shun weight gain and its adverse consequences in later years.
The Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults also emphasized on packaged fruits and vegetables in addition to fresh examples that for a number of reasons may be appropriate for older adults. These include, bags of frozen pre-cut vegetables that can be resealed or single-serve portions of canned fruit.
"Fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of fiber, as well as a whole host of other nutrients.
"These choices are easier to prepare and have a longer shelf life, minimizing waste. 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," Lichtenstein added.
The authors also specified 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.
"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," she said.
MyPyramid is an Internet-based program capable of dispensing individualized dietary guidance based on sex, age, height, weight, and exercise habits.
Lichtenstein and colleagues were concerned about computer use among older adults and the adaptability of MyPyramid to print form. The Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults is available as a graphic print-out with icons representing foods.
The Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults will be published in the January 2008 issue of the Journal of Nutrition.