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Starting the Dialogue with Your Aging Parents: Healthy Tidbits

December 9, 2013

A startling statistic made it’s way into my world this past week which opened my eyes to a number of problems faced by an aging population. This revelatory statistic is that only one in ten adults eats the recommended suggested daily number of five fruits and vegetables.

There was no mention of what children are eating and I won’t hazard a guess on that front, but I do want address the tragedy, and health implications, for anyone. Fruits and vegetables are a necessary part of a healthy diet and here are some reasons why:

  • Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants which help our immune system fight infection and stave off inflammation.
  • Natural fiber is found in fruits and vegetables in varying amounts which aids in keeping us regular.
  • The natural fiber also helps with satiation and a feeling of fullness without the need for heavy fillers.
  • When grown in healthy soil fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals necessary for the human body to function properly so supplementation is not needed (which saves money).
  • Most fruits are naturally sweet when eaten at their peak ripeness and therefore serve to satisfy a sweet tooth without exposing the consumer to unhealthy processed foods.
  • The list goes on, but I think you can see where I’m headed.

Many additional benefits come from eating fresh fruits and vegetables, but the guidelines don’t even go so far as to say the food must be fresh. The key here is to get people, and especially our aging population, eating fruits and vegetables. Five servings a day shouldn’t be hard to incorporate. Let’s take a look at some easy ways to add these items to a simple diet without making much of a fuss in terms of preparation or a major change in food budgeting:

  • Add a sliced banana or a handful of berries to morning cereal.
  • Eat a medium sized apple, tangerine, pear, plum or other fruit with lunch.
  • When making a sandwich for lunch add some lettuce or spinach and a bit of sliced tomato or sliced bell pepper.
  • Eat a salad three or four times a week with dinner (include leafy greens, some carrots, sliced or diced tomato, some diced cucumber, or a few slices of bell pepper–make it colorful).
  • Green beans, broccoli, asparagus, spinach, stewed tomatoes, carrots (raw or cooked), and peas are simple additions to casseroles or as a side dish and can easily become a routine part of every dinner.
  • Once someone is used to adding vegetables to their plates they can explore further by adding squash, zucchini, eggplant and other veggies to the menu.
  • For those with difficulty chewing or swallowing there are soups, purees, and smoothies which can be a delicious way to get the benefits of fruits and vegetables without causing pain. They can be served hot or cold.

It really isn’t hard to incorporate five servings of fruit and vegetables a day into the average diet. Some individuals complain that availability drops off in the winter months so they don’t eat what is recommended during those times. It is true that fresh may be harder to find and more expensive at certain times of the year, but there is still a huge freezer section available and plenty of alternatives.

As a nurse who has worked in nursing homes and seen that many of the patients/residents receive as many as three different laxatives a day and still have trouble maintain regular bowel habits it is now clear to me that a large part of that can be attributed to the fact that diet is playing a huge role. Start when you’re young and develop the habit of a minimum of five servings a day and you will be doing your health a big favor.

In addition, help your aging parents by encouraging them to eat the recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables and assist them in trying new foods, finding recipes they like, and experimenting with preparation of those foods. Of course, there’s nothing that says we can’t eat more than the recommended five servings a day.

Your parents were probably raised in households where vegetables made up a major portion of the food presented to them. Somewhere along the way life got busy, microwaves and processed foods became common, and dietary habits changed. Let’s get back to eating healthy diets.

There was a Facebook post I ran across last week as well that says this perfectly: If you’re great-great grandmother wouldn’t recognize this as food don’t eat it.” How many of our great-greats would recognize Hamburger Helper as a meal? Yes, they probably made a similar casserole, but it most likely also contained some vegetables. Make food a priority for yourselves and your aging parents and watch the health benefits unfold.

Do you have a story to share about how a change in diet benefited someone’s health? Feel free to share in the comment section. I appreciate all of you who read this blog and enjoy hearing from you.

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