Over-70 Adults Get New Food Pyramid

Stress on Nutrient-Rich, High-Fiber Foods, Not Supplements

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on December 20, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 20, 2007 -- A prominent nutrition group has updated its food pyramid for over-70 adults, stressing nutrient- and fiber-rich foods over supplements.

People tend to become less active and to eat less as they age. This makes them vulnerable to getting too few nutrients, note Tufts University nutrition expert Alice H. Lichtenstein, ScD, and colleagues.

Moreover, older adults may not be as Internet savvy as younger adults, making it hard for them to use the USDA's official, web-based "MyPyramid" food guide. So Lichtenstein's team has updated their 1999 "Modified Food Guide Pyramid" for older adults to create their new "Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults" in print form.

"The basic message in the Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults is that it is preferable to get essential nutrients from food rather than supplements," Lichtenstein and colleagues note.

However, a little flag flying atop the pyramid signals seniors that supplements or fortified foods -- particularly those containing calcium, vitamin D, or vitamin B-12 -- may be helpful for many seniors but not for all.

At the bottom of the pyramid are icons representing physical activities appropriate for healthy seniors. Next comes a row of water glasses, stressing the importance of fluid intake for older people.

Above these rows, the different food groups portray healthy choices in forms -- such as packages of frozen vegetables -- easily accessible to seniors.

Emphasis is on:

  • Whole grains and a variety of grains
  • Variety and nutrient-density of fruits and vegetables
  • Low-fat and nonfat dairy foods, including milk products with reduced lactose
  • Oils low in saturated fats and lacking trans fats
  • Low-saturated fat and vegetable choices in the meat-and-beans food group
  • Fiber-rich foods in all food groups

"It is important to communicate to older adults that eating should remain an enjoyable experience," Lichtenstein and colleagues note. "The guidance provided can be used as a road map and should be adaptable so it can accommodate many different dietary preferences, patterns, and lifestyles."

Lichtenstein and colleagues provide detailed recommendations in an article in the January 2008 issue of The Journal of Nutrition.