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Nutritionists Modify Food Pyramid for Senior Citizens

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The generation that raised its kids on the four basic food groups may be lacking some of the basics of good nutrition: vitamins, minerals and water.

A group of nutritionists at Tufts University is recommending that healthy people 70 years and older drink more water, eat foods that are richer in nutrients and increase the amount of fiber in their diets.

To make their point, the nutritionists have proposed for seniors a modified version of the food pyramid, which replaced the basic four--the milk group, meat group, bread-cereals group and vegetable-fruit group.

The new recommendations, to be published in the March issue of the Journal of Nutrition, are aimed at helping seniors live healthier lives while slowing the onset of medical problems associated with aging, including heart disease, osteoporosis and hypertension.

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“This pyramid is especially designed to give them a little more guidance on how to optimize their diet,” said Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition at Tufts who worked on the study. “It’s not suggesting that radical changes be made.”

The new food pyramid modifies the original 1992 Food Guide Pyramid, which is based on guidelines of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The new pyramid includes roughly the same minimum number of daily servings as the original: six or more servings of breads and grains, two or more servings of fruit, three or more of vegetables, two or more servings of meat, three servings of dairy products and a small amount of fats and sweets.

Because older people need fewer calories and generally eat less, the researchers recommend a higher concentration of nutrients with each serving. At the grocery store, that translates to choosing darker, more nutrient-rich vegetables and cereals fortified with vitamins.

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Seniors should also consider eating foods with more fiber to keep their intestines healthy. For example, someone could eat an apple instead of just having a glass of apple juice.

The modified pyramid also stresses the need for water--the equivalent of eight 8-ounce glasses a day.

Seniors are at greater risk for dehydration than younger people because their bodies are less effective at letting them know when they need water, Lichtenstein said.

Lastly, the new pyramid is topped with a flag suggesting that some might need supplements of calcium and vitamins D and B-12.

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According to the study, many seniors do not get enough calcium, in part because they drink less milk. Limited exposure to the sun can cut back on vitamin D, and many older people do not properly absorb vitamin B-12.

Fortified cereals and orange juice with extra calcium, as well as pills, could help compensate for deficiencies.

Before changing their diets, seniors should take time to evaluate their current eating habits. Lichtenstein said they might only need a minor change in habit, such as eating wheat bread instead of white or eating more green vegetables.

“They should really take a look at their diet and see whether over a few days they’re getting an adequate number of servings in each category,” she said. “Then I personally would suggest that before they go down the vitamin aisle that they talk to their health care provider.”

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The nutritionists based their recommendations on studies gathered within the past 20 years along with recent recommended dietary allowances produced by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences.


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