This article was also published in Area 97, a special publication from the Bend Bulletin.
Eating well is a major part of living well. Yet it can be difficult for older adults to get all the nutrition they need. With age, food and nutrient absorption often slow down. Appetites can diminish. And medications can interfere with taste and enjoyment. As a result, many older folks end up malnourished and at risk for illness.
It is important to be aware of these changes and to address them with nutrient dense foods that help counter ailments associated with aging, boost immunity, and support overall good health. Luckily, noshing on the array of fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts available this summer makes eating well achievable. Here are just a few nutrients to focus on and why:
Vision may worsen as a result of macular degeneration. Omega-3 fatty acids can slow this progression; they also can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and keep the brain alert. In addition to fish such as sardines, tuna, mackerel, and salmon, you’ll find Omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed, soybeans, canola oil, and walnuts.
The bone fractures and osteoporosis commonly experienced by older adults can be countered with adequate calcium intake. This mineral helps build and maintain healthy bones; it’s also been known to lower blood pressure. Research shows that consuming 2 ½ to 3 servings of milk, yogurt, or cheese each day is associated with higher bone density in the hip and reduced risk of hip fracture. In addition to dairy products, leafy green vegetables, and fortified cereals are also good sources of calcium.
Magnesium plays a crucial role in keeping the heart and immune system healthy and bones strong; however, with age–and some medications–the body’s ability to absorb magnesium decreases. Good sources for magnesium include whole grains, nuts, fresh fruit, and vegetables.
This mineral aids in cell function, reduces blood pressure, and lowers the chance of forming kidney stones. It is also believed to strengthen bones. Fruits and vegetables such as bananas, prunes, and potatoes are potassium rich and delicious.
Vitamin B12 is responsible for maintaining nerve function, production of red blood cells, and DNA, yet as we age, absorbing this key nutrient can become challenging. While B12 is abundant in eggs, dairy, meat and poultry products, it can also be found in fortified cereals.
Vitamin C‘s antioxidant properties are legendary. It helps repair bones and teeth. It supports wound healing and contributes to collagen production and the sloughing of dead skin cells to make skin elastic and healthy. It’s also believed to prevent cancer and heart disease. Fruits and vegetables are great sources of C.
Vitamin D aids in the maintenance of bone density–and the prevention of osteoporosis–by assisting calcium absorption and slowing down the rate at which bones lose calcium. In food sources, you’ll find Vitamin D in eggs, salmon and tuna, and fortified foods such as cereals, milk, yogurt, and juices. Skin also produces Vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight, which is why some experts recommend 20-30 minutes of sun exposure, without sunscreen, three times a week.
With age, the walls of the gastrointestinal tract thicken, and contractions are slower and fewer, which may lead to constipation. Fiber prompts proper digestion by moving food through the digestive tract. You’ll find fiber in nuts, whole-grain cereal, bread and pasta, brown rice, brown bread, fruits, and vegetables.
Most of us are able to meet our nutritional needs through a healthy and varied diet; however, at times, vitamin and mineral intake is less than optimal, and supplementation may be required. It is recommended that prescription or over-the-counter supplements be given under the direction of your health provider. As always, please consult your primary care provider for advice tailored to your individual health and well-being before making any changes to your diet.
A Word About Water
Aging decreases the body’s ability to conserve water and our ability to recognize thirst, which can lead to dehydration, drowsiness and confusion. Staying hydrated, especially in the heat of summer, is critical, which is why many dietary guidelines recommend drinking eight eight-ounce glasses of water per day. (Anyone with kidney or liver disease should consult their healthcare provider about a suitable amount of water.) Light and transparent urine suggests adequate hydration. Dark or bright yellow and cloudy urine can be a sign of dehydration.
If mobility challenges restrict your ability to travel away from home, to shop or cook, call us at (541) 678-5483 for information about our Meals on Wheels program. We are committed to addressing all issues of food insecurity in the near term—perhaps you’ve just gotten home from the hospital and are on the mend—and in the long-term.
An Alphabetic Cornucopia of Summer Eating
Central Oregon farms grow a bounty of fresh fruits and veg with high nutritional content to underpin good health, bolster immunity, and provide tasty eating. Below we’ve compiled an almost-A-to-Z listings of produce you can enjoy this summer and well into Fall. How many of them have you tried?
- Plums and Pluots
- Fava Beans
- Green Beans
- Green Onions
- Jerusalem Artichokes
- Snap peas
- Summer Squashes
- Yellow Beans
Lettuces & Herbs