Seniors' Food Pyramid
The food pyramid stands as the
foundation of good eating Designed by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture more than a decade ago,
the pyramid succinctly shows how much of each type
of food we should eat to stay healthy.
But not everyone's nutritional needs are identical.
As we age, our bodies and metabolism change.
Although older adults still need plenty of fruits,
vegetables, whole grains and fiber, they need to add
or subtract a few things from the food pyramid.
Older adults, says Althea Reyes, R.D., "have
decreased taste and decreased absorption." They need
to make sure they get enough water and nutrients,
even if they must take supplements to get them.
FOCUS MORE ON FLUIDS
Researchers at Tufts University developed a modified
version of the food pyramid for adults 70 and older.
One added section of the pyramid for older 8dults is
Although we should all drink eight glasses of water
a day, it's critical for older adults to factor in
water because they have decreased kidney function
and may not feel thirsty. Yet they still need the
same amount of water that they did when they were
younger, Reyes says.
Adequate water intake helps avoid constipation.
Older adults' digestive tract doesn't work as
effectively as it once did, making constipation more
likely. And many older adults have dental problems
that keep them from eating as much fiber as they
need; fiber also helps prevent constipation.
"This pyramid heightens people's awareness to focus
more on fluids," Reyes says.
VITAMINS AND MINERALS
Another addition to the pyramid is a supplements.
The flag is a warning sign, not a mandate, about
Older adults often don't get enough calcium or
vitamin D in their diet, and a lack of either can
lead to weak bones.
Vitamin B12 is another nutrient that's often found
lacking in older adults. As the body ages, it
becomes less able to absorb B12, so a supplement can
help provide more of this lacking nutrient, which is
critical for healthy nerves and blood.
Seniors should discuss the issue of supplements with
their doctor. Older adults already purchase more
supplements than other age groups. 'They are led to
believe that many of the conditions that come with
aging can be fixed [with a supplement]," Reyes
"That's not true."
But, she adds, recent research showed that the aging
process can be slowed down with a good diet. "So we
have a lot to benefit from eating well."
FRUITS, VEGGIES AND DAIRY PRODUCTS
The other parts of the modified food pyramid for
seniors aren't that much different from the general
Older adults should consume a combined total of at
least five fruits and vegetables a day.
Fruits and vegetables are a real plus for seniors:
they are lower in calories than other foods, yet
high in nutrients, Reyes says. Fruit is much
healthier for dessert than cookies or cake-yet many
older adults indulge their sweet tooth with sugary
treats rather than fresh fruit. Because metabolism
slows down as the years pass, even a few extra
calories can add up on the waistline.
The dairy products section recommends that older
adults consume three servings of milk, yogurt or
cheese each day. "Even three is low, "Reyes says,
because of the risk of osteoporosis.
Recent research showed that the aging process can be
slowed down with a good diet.
WHEN EAT NG IS A PROBLEM
Some older adults have trouble getting adequate
nutrition because of health problems or financial
If these are problems that affect you, there are
steps you can take to ease them.
If you have trouble chewing, you might not be able
to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, or meat.
Instead, you might try the following ideas, from the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
• Instead of fresh fruit, try fruit juices or canned
fruits such as peaches or pears.
• Instead of raw vegetables, try vegetable juices,
or cooked and meshed vegetables.
• Instead of a chunk of meat, try ground meat or
protein alternatives such as eggs, milk, cheese and
• Instead of sliced bread, try cooked cereals, rice
and bread pudding.
If certain foods give you gas, making you
uncomfortable, try these alternatives:
• Cream soups, pudding, yogurt and cheese can take
the place of milk.
• Green beans, carrots and potatoes can replace
broccoli and cabbage.
• Fruit juices and canned fruits can take the place
of fresh fruit .
If you cannot shop or cook for yourself, you can
make other arrangements.
Some groceries will deliver food at no charge;
others charge a fee. A family member, friend or
church group may be able to help with shopping. A
senior citizen program in your area may deliver
meals. You can use the microwave to cook already
You might consider moving to a place where meals are
prepared for you either with a family member or a
senior citizens' center. Eating with other people
also is a good way to encourage your appetite;
eating alone can be lonely.