70 and Beyond: What You Need to Eat
Concerned about the unique dietary needs of seniors, researchers at Tufts University have compiled a special Food Guide Pyramid for healthy people aged 70 and older. The Tufts pyramid highlights physical activity, fluid intake, whole grains, and nutrient-rich foods. Here is a look at what is inside the pyramid.
Inside the Pyramid
The base shows a range of activities, reminding seniors of the importance of daily exercise. The Tufts researchers placed this at the bottom because some people become inactive as they get older. But, physical activity should be part of everyone's day. If you are interested in starting an exercise routine, talk to your doctor.
The Second Level
This level shows eight glasses of water to emphasize the need to stay hydrated. Drinking enough fluid is important, even if you do not feel thirsty. (Decreased thirst sensation is common in aging.) Being in hot weather and even taking certain medicines can affect your fluid levels. An important point to remember is that drinks like coffee, tea, and alcoholic beverages act as diuretics, causing you to lose fluid. So, you will need to be especially careful to drink plenty of water.
The Food Levels
The next levels of the pyramid are positioned horizontally. These levels show the range of healthy food choices for seniors. Whole grains, vegetables, fruits, healthy oils, dairy products, and sources of protein are all important parts of a healthy diet. Sources of fiber are highlighted throughout the pyramid because many Americans do not get the recommended amounts—20-30 grams per day. Fiber can help to prevent constipation, a common problem as people age, and may reduce the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer. High-fiber foods include whole grain breads and cereals, fruits, vegetables, and beans.
The flag at the top of the pyramid is there to remind seniors to talk to their doctors about supplements. Not everyone aged 70 and older has to take supplements, but some people are not able to meet their nutritional needs through diet alone. Calcium, vitamin B12, and vitamin D are common supplements that you may be deficient in. The Tufts researchers also point out that older people may take too much folate, which can hide a B12 deficiency. If you are concerned about whether you are getting enough vitamins and minerals, talk to your doctor.
Foods to Choose
Here are some food suggestions from the Tufts pyramid:
- Grains—Aim for whole grains. Examples include:
- Breads and cereals made with whole grain flour
- Whole wheat pasta
- Brown rice
- Fruits and vegetables—Try to choose:
- Bright-colored vegetables (eg, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, greens)
- Deep-colored fruits (eg, bananas, peaches, berries, oranges, kiwis, papayas)
In addition to fresh choices, remember that canned and frozen veggies, as well as canned, frozen, and dried fruit, are always an option. These products may be less expensive, and you can store them.
- Healthy oils—Choose heart-healthy oils, such as olive oil, which contain unsaturated fats that may lower blood cholesterol. Avoid saturated fats, like butter and animal fat, and do not eat trans fat, which can raise your cholesterol levels.
- Dairy products—When shopping, select:
- Low-fat milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese
- Lower-fat cheeses
- Protein-rich foods—When adding protein to your diet, choose:
- Lean meats, poultry, and fish
- Eggs, beans, and nuts (eg, peanut butter)
The Main Message
The Tufts researchers point out that these dietary recommendations are aimed at healthy, mobile seniors with the resources needed to prepare adequate meals. The 70+ pyramid is not designed to consider the special dietary needs of those with significant health problems, nor does it address the socioeconomic factors—such as decreased income and mobility—that can make it harder for many seniors to meet nutrient needs. But all seniors, regardless of circumstances, should still hear the pyramid's main message: people over 70 have specific nutrient needs, and how well you meet those needs can be influential in how well you face the challenges of getting older.
American Dietetic Association
Dietitians of Canada
Lichtenstein A, Rasmussen H, Yu W. Epstein S, Russell R. Modified MyPyramid for older adults. J Nutr. 2008;138:5-11.
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Tufts researchers update their food guide pyramid for older adults. Tufts University website. Available at: http://nutrition.tufts.edu/1197972031385/Nutrition-Page-nl2w_1198058402614.html. Updated June 22, 2011. Accessed June 23, 2011.
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Last reviewed May 2010 by Maria Adams, MS, MPH, RD
Last updated Updated: 6/23/2011
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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