At long, last summer is here! And that means fresh fruits and vegetables straight from the garden, food co-op, roadside stand or local grocery. As a caregiver, you can help the senior in your life eat well, enjoy the best of the season’s bounty, and reap the benefits of healthy eating.
Eating well this season is about fresh, colorful food, and on many occasions, eating out of doors with family and friends which adds to the pleasure. For older adults, there are particular benefits of healthy eating. They include increased mental acuteness, resistance to illness and disease, higher energy levels, faster recuperation times and better management of chronic health problems. Eating well can also be the key to a positive outlook and staying emotionally balanced.
MyPlate for Older Adults, developed by Tufts University researchers to replace the USDA food pyramid, continues to emphasize the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables in the senior diet. Included among the recommendations of MyPlate are eating bright-colored vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, summer squash, and broccoli, and deep-colored fruit such as plums, berries and melon. Foods with high water content such as lettuce, garden fresh tomatoes, watermelon, homemade fruit and vegetable juices are good for seniors to add hydration especially during the heat of summer. Soups, such as gazpacho, which can be made from fresh vegetables and served chilled during warm weather are ideal and healthful, too.
Be creative in the kitchen. Making small changes in the way you prepare food can often help overcome challenges to adding fresh fruits and vegetables to your senior’s diet. They can help him or her enjoy meals more, and assure that he or she gets the nutrients and energy needed for healthy, active living as well. If your senior doesn’t feel like eating because food no longer tastes good, you can enhance the flavor of food by cooking meals in new ways or by adding different fresh herbs such as basil, dill, thyme, mint, or chives. Be sure to check with a doctor or registered dietitian about foods to include or avoid.
Does your senior have cardiovascular disease, suffer from poor circulation or have challenges with eye health such as macular degeneration or cataracts? Antioxident rich fruits are plentiful this time of year and are outstanding foods for protecting cardiovascular and eye health. Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, mulberries, cherries, black plums and even grapes – but especially fruits with dark purple pigments — fight inflammation and improve blood flow and also help prevent blockages to the arteries.
Super foods like spinach, the king of the green leafies, and other good greens like kale, Swiss chard, turnip, mustard, and collard greens are rich in lutein, a carotenoid compound found in colorful fruits and vegetables that protect cells from damage. A diet rich in spinach helps shield the macula, the center of the retina, from cell damage that can cause both age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. If your senior already has macular degeneration, he or she should be loading up on that vegetable. Orange bell peppers are the best dietary source of the carotenoid zeaxanthin, the other carotenoid that concentrates in the back of the eye. They have a lot of vitamin C and more zeaxanthin per mouthful that any food on the planet. Other orange vegetables such as pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes and carrots are also chock-full of vitamin A, which boosts night vision. They also contain a carotene that helps lower the risk of cataracts.
Nothing harkens us back to our youth like the smell and taste of fresh fruit pies, tarts, cobblers or crumbles. And adding fruits like peaches, mangoes and berries to smoothies or homemade ice cream is a perfect way to get calcium, too. Look for ways to combine foods from the different food groups in creative ways. For instance salsas or relishes made from a mixture of fresh fruits, vegetables, onions and spices are ideal accompaniments to grilled fish or meats. You can do this while continuing to eat familiar foods that reflect your cultural, ethnic or family traditions. Experiment with ethnic foods, regional dishes, or vegetarian recipes. Try new recipes from friends, newspapers, magazines, television cooking shows, or cooking websites.
Older adults can feel better immediately and stay healthy for the future by choosing healthy foods and the choice is never better than in summer. But as always, before you make any dietary changes for your senior, be sure to consult a doctor or a health care provider.
- ‘Eating Well As You Get Older’, published by National Institute on Aging on NIH Senior Health, (http://nihseniorhealth.gov)
- ‘MyPlate for Older Adults,’ Published on Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy (http://www.nutrition.tufts.edu)
- ‘Foods for Your Anti-Aging Diet’, By Peter Janet, Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD, (http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/50-plus-guest-expert-12)
- ‘20 Common Foods with the Most Antioxidants’, published by WebMD, (http://www.webmd.com/food-recipies/20-common-foods-most-antioxidants)