Last week, Tufts University scientists working out of the Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) released a version of MyPlate modified for older adults, who have significantly different and unique dietary needs compared to younger people.

This version of MyPlate, much like the version developed by Harvard, is more illustrative than the color-blocked image provided by the USDA. Like the original version, half of the plate is composed of fruits and vegetables, with smaller portions of protein and grains, as well as beverages. However, there are a few distinct changes that take into account the specific nutrients that older adults should be consuming:

  • Dietary fiber – seen in the fortified cereal, oats, dried fruits, and whole fruits and vegetables
  • Beverages – the original MyPlate only shows dairy as a beverage, but this image includes 3 cups of water, tea, coffee, OJ, and brothy soups. Adequate fluid intake to prevent dehydration is especially important for older adults because thirst declines with age, which is why there are 3 cups of water instead of just one.
  • Flavor-enhancers – Oil, spreads, and spices are included in the middle to emphasize healthy fats (unsaturated fats, or those not from animal sources) and alternatives to salt that can enhance the flavor of foods. Because blood pressure naturally increases with age, it is recommended than older adults limit their sodium intake to minimize their risk of hypertension.
  • Physical activity and meal preparation – the images in the top left emphasize the importance of maintaining physical activity as one ages, as well as the importance of taking time to prepare and eat meals. The fork and knife also point to spending more time focusing on meals and “serve as reminders to put down remote controls and smart phones and occupy both hands with eating utensils.”

One of the important aspects of this image is that foods are represented in various forms – fruits and vegetables, for example, are pictured as whole, dried, and canned (although canned vegetables should be limited due to their high sodium content). Although fresh produce is ideal, canned and dried versions “are easier to prepare, are more affordable and have a longer shelf life.”

Obesity among older adults is becoming more common, but as many older adults may not consume adequate amounts of important micro- and macronutrients. This version of MyPlate encourages older adults to meet their caloric needs with specific nutrient-dense foods, while also maintaining an active lifestyle.

Read more about it on TuftsNow.