Tufts University Nutrition Scientists Unveil MyPlate for Older Adults

New icon provides food, fluid and physical activity guidance, corresponds with federal government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines

BOSTON (November 1, 2011) -- Nutrition scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging  (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University are introducing today  the MyPlate for Older Adults which corresponds with MyPlate, the federal government’s new food group symbol. MyPlate for Older Adults calls attention to the unique nutritional and physical activity needs associated with advancing years.

“Although calorie needs decline with age due to a slow-down in metabolism and physical activity, nutritional requirements remain the same or in some cases increase,” explains Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, senior scientist and director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the USDA HNRCA. “MyPlate for Older Adults provides examples of foods that contain high levels of vitamins and minerals per serving and are consistent with the federal government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend limiting foods high in trans and saturated fats, salt and added sugars, and emphasize whole grains. MyPlate for Older Adults is intended to be a guide for healthy, older adults who are living independently and looking for examples of good food choices and physical activities.”

MyPlate for Older Adults replaces the Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults. It is the third resource based on updated USDA food icons and created specifically for older adults created by Lichtenstein and Helen Rasmussen, PhD, RD, senior research dietician at the USDA HNRCA.The drawing features different forms of vegetables and fruits that are convenient, affordable and readily available. Unique components include icons for regular physical activity and emphasis on adequate fluid intake, both of particular concern for older adults. 

 The following foods, fluids and physical activities are represented on My Plate for Older Adults:

  • Bright-colored vegetables such as carrots and broccoli. 
  • Deep-colored fruit such as berries and peaches.
  • Whole, enriched and fortified grains and cereals such as brown rice and 100% whole wheat bread.
  • Low- and non-fat dairy products such as yogurt and low-lactose milk.
  • Dry beans and nuts, fish, poultry, lean meat and eggs.
  • Liquid vegetable oils, soft spreads low in saturated and trans fat, and spices to replace salt.
  • Fluids such as water and fat-free milk.
  • Physical activity such as walking, resistance training and light cleaning.

 “Half of the MyPlate for Older Adults includes fruit and vegetable icons, which reflects the importance of eating several servings of fruits and vegetables per day in a range of colors,” says Rasmussen, who is also an instructor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. “Consuming a variety of produce with deep-colored flesh, such as peaches, berries, tomatoes, kale and sweet potatoes, introduces a larger amount of plant-based chemicals, nutrients and fiber into one’s diet.

“We also include icons representing frozen, pre-peeled fresh, dried and certain low-sodium, low-sugar canned options because fruits and vegetables in those forms contain as many or more nutrients as fresh and they are easier to prepare, are more affordable and have a longer shelf life,” Lichtenstein adds.

MyPlate for Older Adults provides examples of whole, enriched and fortified grains because they are high in fiber. Suggested protein sources include plant-based options such as beans and tofu as well as fish and lean meat. Lichtenstein and Rasmussen recommend vegetable oils and soft spreads as alternatives to foods high in animal fats because those products are higher in saturated and trans fat.

“The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize limiting sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams per day and we echo that on the MyPlate for Older Adults by suggesting alternatives to salt such as flavoring with spices and choosing the low-sodium options of items such as canned vegetables,” says Lichtenstein, who is also the Stanley N. Gershoff professor of nutrition science and policy at the Friedman School. “Blood pressure tends to increase as we age, so it is especially important for older adults to monitor dietary salt and, for most of us, try to find ways to decrease intake.”

The inclusion of several examples of liquids such as water, tea, coffee and soup addresses the common, age-related decline in thirst that can put older adults at risk for dehydration, particularly during periods of sustained hot weather. Also intentionally represented on the MyPlate for Older Adults are a fork and knife that serve as reminders to put down remote controls and smart phones and occupy both hands with eating utensils.  “The focus should be on the enjoyment of food and beverage, on the amount consumed and, whenever possible, on the opportunity for social interaction at mealtimes,” Lichtenstein says.

MyPlate for Older Adults promotes regular physical activity with icons depicting common activities that include daily errands and household chores. Although some of those chores do not take the place of more formalized exercise routines involving cardiovascular exercises, those included serve to remind older adults that there is a variety of options for regular physical activity. 

“Government statistics continue to show that elderly obesity rates are on the rise, indicating there is a need to educate older adults about the importance of moving regularly and consuming a diet of nutrient rich foods with a calorie content matched to energy needs,” Lichtenstein says. “It seems particularly important that those nutrients come primarily from foods, especially in light of recent research showing disappointing results related to nutritional supplements.”

Lichtenstein advises older adults who are considering transitioning to a healthier lifestyle to talk with their primary healthcare provider before making major changes to diet and physical activity routines.


About Tufts University School of Nutrition

The Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University is the only independent school of nutrition in the United States. The school's eight degree programs, which focus on questions relating to famine, hunger, poverty, and communications, are renowned for the application of scientific research to national and international policy. For three decades, the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University has studied the relationship between good nutrition and good health in aging populations. Tufts research scientists work with federal agencies to establish the USDA Dietary Guidelines, the Dietary Reference Intakes, and other significant public policies.



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