March is National Nutrition Month, an annual education campaign highlighting the importance of making informative food choices and encouraging physical activity. An important resource available to support healthy eating habits is MyPlate; an evidence-based tool provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), offering a visual for balanced meals, applicable for those ages 2 years and older. Older adults may benefit from slightly different dietary recommendations than their younger counterparts. As we age, nutritional needs change to retain bone density and avoid chronic conditions like heart disease, neurodegenerative conditions and more.

MyPlate for Older Adults

Throughout all life stages, diet quality dramatically affects physical health, cognitive health and immune health. As we age, physical and chemical changes occur that affect metabolism, activity and absorption of nutrients. These changes are significant because diet quality for older adults is essential to maintaining good health and allowing them to live independently longer. A helpful tool for nutrition education is MyPlate, which helps individuals visualize the recommended amount of food per group (i.e., grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables) needed per day. MyPlate can be used by anyone as young as the age of 2 to 65 and older. As part of a collaborative effort between Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, the AARP Foundation and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the MyPlate adaptation for Older Adults was released in 2011. MyPlate for Older Adults was revamped in 2015 to include five sections: fruits and vegetables, grains, dairy, protein and healthy oils with additional sections for herbs, spices and fluids.

MyPlate for Older Adults flyer.
This version of MyPlate provides food, fluid and physical activities specifically tailored for older adults. (Learn more.)

This adaptation also accommodates the increased nutrient needs and decreased nutrient absorption common in older adult nutrition and outlines meals that are easier to prepare (frozen produce vs. fresh produce) and minimize waste.

As the population of older adults in Missouri continues to grow, programs to share this information with older adults are more important than ever before. The University of Missouri Extension offers a variety of programs to help meet the needs of older adults, including Stay Strong, Stay Healthy; Tai Chi ; A Matter of Balance; Cooking Matters; and more. These programs offer opportunities to share the nutritional needs of older adults and provide a variety of educational opportunities to increase knowledge about beneficial food choices, cooking skills and physical activity. Factors such as age, physical activity level and chronic disease, play a role in the dietary needs and recommendations in response to the body’s demands. Therefore, not one diet is the same for everyone.

MyPlate and the modified MyPlate for older adults are great tools for people who are beginning their journey to make healthier food and lifestyle choices.