As people age they typically need less food (less calories), but about the same amount of most vitamins and minerals. This means that older adults need to focus on eating nutrient-dense foods — those high in vitamins and minerals at a lower calorie “cost”. Nutrient-dense foods include most fruits and vegetables, low-fat or fat-free dairy foods, lean meats, legumes, and whole grains. As one eighty-five year old put it, “I need more carrots and less coconut cake.”
Increasingly, research is finding that specific foods – typically the more colorful, plant-based foods – have disease-fighting capabilities. Blue, purple, and red foods, such as berries, are rich in phytochemicals that may reduce risk for some cancers.
Dark green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale, may be beneficial in preventing or slowing the disease of macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in aging adults.
For the typical caregiver, buying nutrient-dense foods means shopping with color in mind. Upon entering the grocery store, start with the produce section and select a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, especially those in season. Buying produce in season is important for taste and nutrition, and it is economical. Spend as little time as possible in the aisles with processed or canned foods. Those generally contain ingredients, like sugar, salt, and fat, which add calories with few or no micronutrients that are important for good health.
Start slowly and select one or two appealing vegetable items; then identify a variety of simple tasty ways to prepare them. The options abound. Even something less well known, such as kale (the curly-edged, dark green, leafy vegetable often used as garnish in restaurants}, has tasty possibilities. Consider making “kale chips” by washing and thoroughly drying the kale and cutting it into chip-size pieces with kitchen shears. Be sure to remove the middle rib on each leaf of kale. Place on a baking sheet. Drizzle the pieces with a little olive oil and sprinkle them with a seasoning (such as turmeric, nutmeg or a salt-substitute). Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Another approach might be to place cut-up, well washed, and dried kale leaves in a blender or food processor and turn them into flakes. Store those flakes in the freezer in a sealable bag. Regularly add a spoonful of kale flakes to soups or sprinkle on salads. Those are just a few of the type of ideas found on Oregon State University’s recipe Website http://healthyrecipes.oregonstate.edu.
The question of food as medicine?