70 and Beyond: What You Need to Eat
Concerned about the unique dietary needs of seniors, researchers at Tufts University have compiled a special MyPlate food guide for healthy people aged 70 and older. The Tufts plate highlights physical activity, fluid intake, whole grains, and nutrient-rich foods. Here is a look at what is on the plate.
On the Plate
The MyPlate illustration shows a range of activities, reminding seniors of the importance of daily exercise. The common activities shown on the plate include daily errands and household chores. Physical activity should be part of everyone's day. If you are interested in starting an exercise routine, talk to your doctor. The illustration also shows a knife and fork. This is a reminder to seniors to put down the remote or other electronic device and focus on mealtimes, especially when there is an opportunity for social interaction.
The beverage portion of the plate shows several examples of liquids to emphasize the need to stay hydrated. Drinking enough fluid is important, even if you do not feel thirsty. (Decreased thirst sensation is common with aging.) Being in hot weather and even taking certain medications can affect your fluid levels. You do not have to limit yourself to water. You can also drink tea, coffee, or soup. Space your fluid intake out over the course of the day.
The food portions of the plate are especially important. These divisions show the range of healthy food choices for seniors and the proportions they should be eaten in. Whole grains, vegetables, fruits, healthy oils, low and non-fat dairy products, and sources of protein are all important parts of a healthy diet.
Sources of fiber are included throughout the plate 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.
MyPlate for Older Adults shows a variety of forms that fruits and vegetables may come in, such as canned, dried, or frozen. This is to encourage seniors who may be worried about affording or storing a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Also, the plate emphasizes using spices to flavor food instead of salt. It is important for older adults to monitor their sodium intake, since blood pressure tends to increase with age. Although the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Agriculture recommend keeping sodium intake to under 1,500 milligrams per day, everyone has different circumstances. Talk to your doctor about your target range for sodium.
Foods to Choose
Here are some food suggestions from the Tufts MyPlate for Older Adults:
—Aim for whole grains, which increase fiber intake. Examples include:
- Breads and cereals made with whole grain flour
- Whole wheat pasta
- Brown rice
- Fruits and vegetables
—Try to choose:
- Bright-colored vegetables, such as carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, and greens
- Deep-colored fruits, such as bananas, peaches, berries, oranges, kiwis, and papayas
- 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
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+ MyPlate is not designed to consider the special dietary needs of those with significant health problems, nor does it address other 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 plate'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.
Choose My Plate—US Department of Agriculture
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Dietitians of Canada
Health Canada Food and Nutrition
Dietary interventions for cardiovascular disease prevention. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 21, 2015. Accessed February 16, 2016.
Lichtenstein A, Rasmussen H, et al. Modified MyPyramid for older adults. J Nutr. 2008;138(1):5-11.
MyPlate for older adults. Tufts University website. Available at: http://www.nutrition.tufts.edu/research/projects-initiatives/my-plate-older-adults. Accessed February 16, 2016.
Older adult health facts. Getting the most nutrition out of your choices. US Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/toolkit/olderadults/OAnutrition.htm. Accessed February 16, 20162014.
Last reviewed February 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 4/2/2014