Nutrition Tips for Seniors: Adding More Fresh Foods to Your Diet

senior nutrition
There is no doubt that fresh fruits and vegetables are some of the most beneficial foods you can include in your diet. They are powerhouses of good things, including antioxidants that fight aging, vitamins and minerals that keep the body strong, and even better hydration, as most fruits and veggies have high water content. Besides that, many of them taste absolutely delicious.

But according to a 2020 “State of the Plate” survey from Produce for Better Health Foundation, 58% of Americans have fruits, veggies, or even juice less than twice per week, while 2% of Americans have none at all. This is despite the fact that studies have found that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help stave off dementia, digestive problems, depression, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure, among other health problems[1]. Senior health and wellness should always include fresh foods.

Why Are Fresh Foods So Important?

As we get older, our nutritional needs change dramatically. Our bodies change, we may begin taking certain medications, and we deal with a variety of medical conditions. Here are some of the reasons why it’s so important to be aware of our meals and what nutrients we’re putting into our bodies:

·         Stronger bones. As we get older, the odds of osteoporosis increase. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 10 million people aged 50 or older have osteoporosis and another 43 million people have low bone mass, making them more likely to develop the disease. Our bodies need calcium to fight this, as well as vitamin C to help the body absorb the calcium.

·         A healthier heart. The better your vitamin intake, the more likely you are to ingest something that will help your heart. For instance, eating leafy green vegetables can lower the risk of heart disease, improve arterial function, and lower blood pressure[2].

·         Improvement in memory. Those who follow the Mediterranean or DASH diets, which both include many fruits and vegetables, can lower their risk of Alzheimer’s by up to 53%[3]. Even if you don’t follow these diets to the letter, it’s clear that getting more fresh foods can have a benefit on your memory.

·         Better bowel habits. Constipation can affect up to 20% of older adults on a good day; that’s not including the constipation that can come from certain medications[4]. To keep things moving well, add more fiber and liquids to your diet. Apples, prunes, and pears are good options.

·         Slowing down the progression of some diseases. There is convincing evidence that fresh fruits and vegetables can cut down on the risk of stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, and even reduce the risk of cancer[5]. Studies have found that a diet rich in vegetables and fruits can reduce the incidence of Type 2 diabetes by half[6].

And that’s just the tip of the delicious iceberg!

Keep in mind that while eating fresh foods are best, sometimes that just isn’t possible. If it’s not, you can still get canned or frozen foods that bring many of the same nutrients as fresh and work well for senior health solutions and diets. These delicious foods include fiber, folate, vitamins of all kinds, potassium, and numerous other nutrients that are necessary for good senior health[7].

Addressing the Barriers to Healthier Eating

There are several reasons why Americans don’t get more fresh foods in their diet. Some of it comes down to access, as it can be tough for those in inner cities or urban areas to find the freshest produce. There is also the cost. When finances are tight, it can be more cost-effective to choose packaged products that bring a lot of calories for a lower cost. For some, prepping vegetables and fruits can feel like quite a chore, and for others, the taste just isn’t what they enjoy.

When it comes to older Americans, there could be other barriers as well, such as being on a fixed income, being unable to find transportation to the farmer’s market or other areas where produce is plentiful, or not having the ability to prep the ingredients, cook the vegetables, or prepare the fruits in a way that makes them taste appetizing. Those who have limited mobility might be unable to stand in the kitchen long enough to prepare their meals, or they might not be able to use a knife or other utensils necessary to prep the foods.

When working in the kitchen and being on your feet for long periods of time, it’s a good idea to have medical alert technology right there at your fingertips. This can give you the peace of mind that if you feel faint, suffer a fall, get injured, or experience any type of emergency, help is just a button press away. Simply press that button alarm and get the help you need.

How to Get More Fresh Foods in Your Diet

Just as you rely on the best medical alert wireless systems to keep you safe, you can rely on the recommended servings of fresh food to help keep you healthier and stronger. Here are some ways to make sure you get enough of the good stuff:

·         Buy fresh foods on sale. Most supermarkets and even farmer’s markets will have sales on fresh food that happens to be in season that week. When grocery shopping, make a point of buying what is on sale that week. When at the farmer’s market, try to go near the end of the day, when the farmers are eager to get rid of the extra produce at a discount.

·         Plan out your meals. A 2018 study found that we throw away over a third of a pound of vegetables and fruits each day. That number adds up fast, both for lost nutrition and for your wallet. Plan out your meals so that you don’t have too much of something that could go bad before you use it all. These recipes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, based on the SNAP program, offer menu ideas for the elderly and can help you plan low-budget meals.

·         Your freezer is your friend. Fresh foods are best, but freezing them doesn’t do much damage to the nutrients – they are still wonderful for you. If you wind up with too much food and it happens to be something you can freeze, such as chunks of bananas or a head of broccoli, cut it up and freeze it on a baking tray. Once frozen, put it in containers in the freezer to use another day. If you are creating make-ahead meals for seniors, pack them into freezer containers that can simply be popped into the microwave for a few minutes for a nutritious meal.

·         Prep produce right away. Don’t let it sit on the counter for a few days while you think about what to do with it. Prep is as soon as you get it home, if you can. Chop up those onions, cut the squash down to bite-size pieces, and cut up the watermelon to put in a container in the fridge. Then when you want to use it, it’s ready to go.

·         Buy foods already cut for you. If cutting up foods is too much for you to do, consider buying fruits and vegetables from the frozen foods aisle that have already been cut up for you. These foods are often flash-frozen straight from the field, so they are still packed with the vitamins and nutrients they carried when they were perfectly fresh.

·         Blend your produce with more convenient foods. It’s easy to sneak extra vegetables into meals. Heating up a can of soup? Add some finely chopped vegetables to it. Making a can of chili? Stir in several chopped tomatoes and some cooked pinto beans. And of course, add fruit to your oatmeal or cereal in the morning.

·         Add greenery everywhere. Spinach can melt down into a variety of foods, from soups to chicken dishes to pizza. Sprinkle fresh herbs like parsley or mint on top of vegetables for an added kick. Slice zucchini very thin and use that in place of lasagna noodles for a healthier version of the Italian dish. Add parsnips, celery root, or even fennel to mashed potatoes for a kick of flavor and even more nutrition.

·         Roast the veggies. Sometimes vegetables aren’t the most appetizing things in the world, but add a bit of heat and the flavor changes dramatically. Bring out that unique profile by roasting vegetables on a sheet pan until they are golden and crisp on the edges. Almost any vegetable can taste delicious when prepared this way.

·         Blend fruit into a smoothie. Juicing fresh fruits offers a delicious drink, but it leaves behind the pulp of the fruit, which is loaded with fiber and other nutrients. To make sure you get everything you can from your fresh food, blend it with milk or yogurt to create a smoothie. Don’t just use fruit! This is a good opportunity to add in leafy greens, like kale, spinach, or even spicy arugula. Smoothies make great soft food recipes for the elderly who have trouble with swallowing.

·         Choose 100% fruit juices. Avoid juices that are labeled as a “cocktail” or anything other than 100% juice. Cocktail blends often have far too much added sugar. To be certain of what you’re getting, go with fresh fruit and create a smoothie – or juice the fruit if you really want to avoid any sort of pulp.

·         Drink plenty of water. Not only does water keep you hydrated, but it also helps your body process the fresh foods you’re eating, and that helps you retain more of the nutrients. Aim for six to eight glasses each day. Remember that as we get older, we might not feel as thirsty, but our bodies still need plenty of hydration[8].

·         Make a game of a colorful plate. One of the best ways to ensure you get plenty of fresh food is to create a colorful plate. This beautiful infographic from the American Heart Association offers an idea of what an ultra-healthy plate looks like.

·         Take a dip. Sometimes fresh foods just aren’t to our liking. Some flavors can be overwhelming – or underwhelming. When you come across a vegetable that just doesn’t sit well with your palate, take a tip from kids and dip it in hummus, yogurt, or dressing. If it’s something that doesn’t do well with dipping, smear a little something on it, like peanut butter on celery.

·         Experiment with new flavors. The next time you are craving a bagel, why not cover it with avocado instead of cream cheese? Chop up scallions to blend into potato salad, or use spiralized zucchini in place of fettuccini. You might be surprised by a new favorite.

How Much Do You Really Need?

The calories you really need depend upon your gender and how active you are. This is a good rule of thumb from the National Institute on Aging:

·         Women: 1,600 if not physically active, 1,800 if moderately active, 2,000 – 2,200 if active

·         Men: 2,000 – 2,200 if not physically active, 2,200 – 2,400 if moderately active, 2,400 – 2,600 if active

Serving sizes can be tricky. But when it comes to fruits and vegetables, more is always better. The American Heart Association recommends filling up at least half your plate at every meal with fruits and vegetables. This will help you eat the 4.5 cups suggested each day for better health[9].

When creating any sort of meal plan or determining the calories you need, speak to your doctor or dietician to make sure you are getting everything you need for your specific dietary requirements. For instance, some will need low sodium meals for seniors, while others will need to focus on less fat or lower amounts of carbohydrates.

It’s also important to speak to your doctor about the foods you can and can’t have. For instance, some people shouldn’t eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sounds the alarm on how that particular fruit interacts with some medications.

Staying Healthy and Safe

A diet full of fresh foods can help you stay healthy, just as medical alert systems with fall detection can help keep you safe. As we get older, balance issues and problems with mobility can become the norm rather than the exception. This means that we aren’t going to be as steady on our feet while we’re standing in the kitchen cooking up those delicious foods for our meals. A medical alert watch, pendant, or bracelet can provide the peace of mind that will support your efforts to get into the kitchen and work with produce, knowing that if you have an emergency or an accident at any time of the day or night, help is a touch away.