Elderly Pyramid

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Food Pyramid for older adult
Reinventing the Food Pyramid for Older Adults
by Gabriele Amersbach

More Water, More Fiber, Fewer Calories

The ubiquitous food pyramid we recognize from health class and the back of cereal boxes has been reinvented this time for persons over age 70.

Key to the 70+ Pyramid are the flag, representing supplemental vitamins, and the base of water, to prevent dehydration.

We know that older people need fewer calories because they tend to be less active and their body composition changes, says Alice H. Lichtenstein, D.Sc., one of the developers of the new pyramid and a faculty member at the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. Yet nutrient needs stay the same or even increase, so we need to select foods that provide the most nutrients per serving. We also know that as individuals age, they lose the sensation of thirst.

The base of the pyramid is eight, 8-ounce glasses of fluid a day to prevent constipation and dehydration. Because older people often don't feel as thirsty as younger persons, they are at increased risk of becoming dehydrated, says Lichtenstein.  We wanted to remind them to get enough fluid, like soup and juice, as well as water.

The pyramid is narrower than the traditional pyramid because older individuals are less active and require less food to maintain the same weight.

However, they do require higher levels of specific nutrients like antioxidants to defend against free radical damage associated with aging, Vitamin D and calcium to keep bones strong, and folic acid to retain mental acuity and reduce the incidences of stroke and heart disease.

To get these vital nutrients, the pyramid emphasizes nutrient-dense foods like darker-colored vegetables and fruits that have higher levels of vitamins.

We suggest eating dark, leafy greens like spinach, orange and yellow vegetables like sweet potatoes and squash, and colorful fruit like strawberries and mangos that are more rich in Vitamins A and C and in folic acid, says Russell.

Potatoes are not pictured in the pyramid because they are filling but less nutritious. Other nutrient-dense choices include romaine lettuce rather than iceberg, and peaches, apricots, or nectarines rather than apples, celery, or cucumbers.

To ensure adequate fiber intake, the pyramid recommends whole grain products, and a fiber icon has been added to nearly every section of the guide. "Many older people have problems with bowel function. We want to remind them to get enough fiber-to eat oranges and carrots rather than just drinking the juice, to eat legumes like beans and lentils instead of meat at least twice a week, to select brown rice rather than white, for example," says Lichtenstein. "We also wanted to stress the inclusion of high-fiber foods in every meal because diets high in fiber are also associated with lower cholesterol levels and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer."

As with the traditional pyramid, the modified food pyramid suggests using fats, oils, and sweets sparingly. "It is particularly important for older people to limit their intake of desserts and snacks like cookies and cake that contribute a lot of calories but have few nutrients," Lichtenstein says.

A flag tops the pyramid as a reminder that older individuals may not absorb enough of the vitamins that they require for healthy aging because of changes in metabolism; others face restricted food choices because of medical conditions.

Therefore, some vitamin supplements may be helpful. "Extra calcium and Vitamin D supplements may be necessary to prevent bone-thinning," says Russell. "B12 supplements can help to maintain nerve function and reduce the incidence of dementia.

Almost a third of older people develop atrophic gastritis and secrete too little gastric acid and pepsin to absorb Vitamin B12 from foods. They can absorb B12 in the pure form available in supplements."

Both Russell and Lichtenstein agree, however, that vitamins should never take the place of healthy food choices. "We recommend low-fat dairy products like milk for older adults as excellent sources of calcium, riboflavin, and potassium," says Russell.

For protein, the guide recommends grains, beans, fish, chicken with the skin removed, and lean meat. "It is important to choose a mixture of protein-rich vegetables and/or animal sources that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol," says Lichtenstein, "although too little protein is usually not a concern in American diets."

"There's been more interest in this than in anything I've ever published," says Lichtenstein. "We're becoming a country of older individuals who expect to live longer and remain healthy. People want advice on how to do that. The pyramid can help people to make small, easy changes within context of what they already enjoy eating."

Does following the pyramid guarantee long life? No, Lichtenstein says, "but it contains a distillation of the best-tested advice on how to remain healthy and active that we can give at this time."

The above opinionated views and information serves to educated and informed consumer .  The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. .It should not replaced professional advise and consultation.  A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions 

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