by Marion Nestle
Dec 28 2007

A new pyramid for older adults?

I’ve been hearing lots of media announcements of the food guide pyramid for old folks produced by Alice Lichtenstein and her colleagues who do research on aging at Tufts University. This one is for adults age 70 and over and is published in the January issue of the Journal of Nutrition. The press announcement from Tufts compares it to the USDA’s MyPyramid of 2005. The differences: even greater emphasis on eating healthfully and staying active (because older adults don’t need as many calories to maintain weight) and, maybe, some supplemental vitamin D (bone health) and vitamin B12 (to overcome losses in absorption ability).

  • Sheila

    Nice to see modified, evidence-based suggestions for the older body. We do need guidance on obtaining a more nutrient-dense intake to compensate for the reduced caloric burning with age and with reduced activity.
    I also have noted for years that we now have canine food developed for improving the cognitive function of older canines who are showing behavioral or intellectual signs of aging, and I have eagerly awaited similar research to develop for humans. It makes sense to me that we could need a modified nutrient intake to maintain optimal function of the senescent body and brain.

  • But look at all the grain and starchy foods, which are *not* nutrient dense! Many, if not most seniors are not simply not active enough to burn off energy calories from carbohydrates. Many older people already have a high risk of glucose metabolism impairment, especially if already overweight. Excessive carbs in the diet are likely to contribute to excessive weight.

    At least dietary fat can be used for both energy as well as building blocks for structural functions in the body. Additionally, fat is very important for neurological function.

    And seniors often don’t get enough protein, especially if they have dental problems or are impoverished. Lack of dietary protein and sedentary lives leads to muscle wasting, which increases risk of imbalance, falls, loss of strength, etc.

    I’m witnessing this with my overseas 79 yo MIL. She no longer wants to cooks and relies too much on canned soups and other processed foods. Because of dental problems she primarily eats very overcooked veggies and very soft foods like bread, and not enough meats or protein-rich foods, except when my SIL makes some rich bone broth for her (she can’t even chew stewed meat anymore). While she eats enough calories from carbs to maintain her weight (or even gain unless she is careful), her muscle tone and mass as well as strength are going downwill because of lack of protein in her diet.

  • Fascinating Blog! Eager to navigate through it, as I just stumbled across it a moment ago.

    Cheers and Happy Holidays!

    Kristen’s Raw

  • Daniel Ithaca,NY

    Yes, with a lower metabolism, partly due to decreased physical activity, seniors are not as able to burn off calories from any source–and their weight increases if they are not careful.
    Those with minimal ability to chew–and who are not getting enough calories/protein/fiber may benefit from doing things like adding ground flax seed to foods.

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