Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains. Choose healthy sources of protein and foods that are minimally processed. Limit your intake of salt, added sugars and alcohol.
These are among the American Heart Association’s guidelines for an overall healthy diet. If they sound familiar, it’s because they’re similar to the recommendations made by most trustworthy health organizations that offer dietary advice.
Some organizations may modify or add to these recommendations, especially if they’re targeting a specific health concern. And some, like the American Diabetes Association (ADA), offer recipes, articles and helpful tips for starting and adhering to a healthier diet.
You can find a lot of reliable information about healthy eating on the websites of national health organizations like these and on U.S. government websites such as the National Institute on Aging. But while you’re here, we’ll provide some more of the basics in this blog post.
For the Widest Variety of Nutrients, Follow the Rainbow
If you’ve ever had vegetables picked fresh from the garden, then you know how scrumptious they are. Fortunately, most of us don’t have to live on or near a farm to get fresh produce. We can venture out to the local farmers market — like the one here in Gig Harbor — and “harvest” our dinner from the merchants’ booths.
What if fresh produce isn’t available? No need to worry. In many cases, frozen, canned and dried alternatives can provide almost as much nutritional value as, and sometimes even more than, their fresh counterparts.
Whether you’re a pro a picking out produce or you’re on a new mission to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, the key is to add more color to your plate. Read on to find out why.
More Purples (and Blues), Please
Purple and blue foods contain flavonoids such as anthocyanin that give them their deep, dark color. Research suggests that anthocyanins may slow cognitive decline and possibly even help prevent memory loss.
These flavonoids offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, which may prevent cell damage associated with chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. They may be beneficial for your vision, too.
For healthy doses of flavonoids and polyphenols, try these purple and blue foods:
- Berries, such as blackberries, boysenberries, blueberries, black raspberries and elderberries
- Plums (fresh or dried)
- Concord/purple grapes
- Purple varieties of asparagus, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, potatoes and Belgian endive
Like the blue and purple foods above, many red and deep pink fruits and vegetables also contain anthocyanin. Others, such as tomatoes and watermelon, get their vibrant hue from a different phytonutrient called lycopene.
In addition to being good for your heart and eyesight, red fruits and vegetables may help keep your immune system and urinary tract functioning at their best. They may help lower your risk of developing certain types of cancer.
Besides tomatoes and watermelon, be sure to add these red and pink fruits and vegetables to your diet:
- Berries, such as strawberries, red raspberries and cranberries
- Red grapes, pears and apples
- Red varieties of peppers, onions and potatoes
Greens Are (Very, Very) Good
It probably comes as no surprise to read that dark green, leafy vegetables (e.g., spinach, Swiss chard, collard and mustard greens, kale, romaine, arugula and watercress) are nutritional powerhouses. Not only are many of them high in folate, but they — and certain other green fruits and vegetables — are excellent sources of lutein, which may be good for eye health.
Cruciferous green vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts, also contain phytochemicals called indoles, as well as isothiocyanates, all of which are believed to have antioxidant and antibacterial properties that help prevent cell damage.
These are other green fruits and vegetables that may help keep your heart and eyes healthy and reduce the risk of some types of cancer:
- Green apples, grapes and pears
- Green beans
- Green peppers
- Peas, including snow peas and sugar snap peas
Say Yes to Yellows and Oranges
Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables have many of the same health benefits as those of other colors — they’re good for your heart, immune system, vision and so forth. And they may lower the risk of certain cancers.
Many orange and intensely yellow foods are rich in beta-carotene (e.g., carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, cantaloupe, mangoes and pumpkin). Our bodies convert beta-carotene to vitamin A, which supports skin and eye health. And, of course, there’s the antioxidant vitamin C in citruses such as oranges and tangerines.
Other yummy yellow and orange foods that add to a healthy diet:
- Yellow pears, apples and figs
- Yellow squashes, including butternut
- Yellow varieties of peppers, potatoes, beets and tomatoes
- Sweet corn
Whites With a Wealth of Healthy Nutrients
The “white” category of produce includes fruits, vegetables and fungi — mushrooms — that are tan and brown, as well. The more pungent ones, including onions, garlic and leeks, contain allicin, which may help reduce both blood pressure and cholesterol.
Cauliflower contains the same compounds as the green cruciferous vegetables we mentioned above. Potatoes and bananas are good sources of potassium, which helps to maintain heart health among its many benefits. And most white produce contains flavonoids such as quercetin and anthoxanthins.
Along with the fruits and vegetables we’ve already noted, look for these other white and brown options in the produce aisle:
- White peaches and nectarines
- Brown pears
- White varieties of asparagus and corn
For Balanced Meals, Consider the Diabetes Plate Method
The goal of most so-called diabetic diets is to manage blood sugar levels. But because we all respond differently to the food we eat, the ADA says there isn’t really a specific diet that’s ideal for people with diabetes. Instead, the organization suggests consulting a registered dietitian for personalized recommendations.
The ADA also offers the Diabetes Plate Method as a simple way to create “perfectly proportioned meals.” Here’s how it works:
- Fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables. Basically, these are most vegetables other than potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, corn, green peas, parsnips and acorn and butternut squash.
- Fill one-quarter of your plate with lean protein. Among the ADA’s suggested options are chicken, turkey, eggs, lean cuts of beef or pork, plant-based protein and fish. Note that in addition to being heart healthy, eating at least two servings of fish each week may lower the risk of brain changes that have been associated with dementia. If you’re fortunate enough to live in a coastal area like Gig Harbor, then adding more fresh fish to your diet is a cinch!
- Fill one-quarter of your plate with “carbohydrate foods.” These include the starchy vegetables listed above, as well as whole grains and products made with whole grains, beans and legumes, fruits, dairy products and milk substitutes.
Dietary Advice for Older Adults
Our nutritional needs changes as we get older. One reason is that our bodies don’t absorb certain nutrients from food as well as when we were younger.
Another reason is that our lifestyles tends to change and we become more sedentary. As a result, we don’t need to consume as many calories.
These and other factors mean it’s even more important as we age to make sure the food we eat is as nutritious as possible.
This isn’t to say that we can’t continue to enjoy dessert and the occasional splurge. To safeguard our health, though, we need to choose wisely.
An example would be to grab a piece of fruit instead of chips or a cookie for a snack. Another would be to opt for spices, herbs or a splash of citrus to enhance flavor instead of reaching for the saltshaker.
One last note: It’s not unusual for older adults to have a diminished sense of thirst. That can make staying hydrated more challenging — and awareness of the potential for dehydration more important. Proper hydration can also aid digestion.
For more helpful information on healthy eating for seniors, including recipes, the National Institute on Aging and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are great resources.
Dining and Fun With Food at Heron’s Key
As you explore senior living options and different retirement communities in Washington state, you’ll find a variety of approaches to dining.
At Heron’s Key, we help residents maintain a healthy, active lifestyle — to the best of their abilities — across our independent living, assisted living and memory care areas. Having easy access to healthy meals is crucial to the lifestyle we encourage.
Easy access for some residents means dining regularly at Syren’s Grille, where Chef Jason has created signature dishes prepared with fresh and seasonal ingredients. For other residents, it means shopping at the nearby farmers market for local seafood and produce, and then preparing a meal at home using one of Chef Jason’s healthy recipes.
Chef Jason takes resident input seriously and frequently adjusts his menus to reflect residents’ preferences. You’ll even find favorite recipes from residents in the Heron’s Key recipe book. And every so often, among our activities for seniors, we’ll have an event that showcases Chef Jason’s skills, like our upcoming brunch.
We invite you to learn more about the active lifestyle and dining opportunities at Heron’s Key here on our website. Then, come for a visit so you can check them out firsthand!