Post by Kindy Peaslee, Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Coach
“It’s nearly impossible to overstate the health benefits of eating fruits and veggies,” says registered dietitian, Dayle Hayes. “Name a health problem in the United States and produce has probably been shown to help in its prevention and/or treatment. The incredible array of phytonutrients in plant foods has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, macular (eye) degeneration, prostate problems, osteoporosis, and many types of cancer.”
In the food world, fruits and vegetables have it all – a huge range of flavors, a wide variety of textures, a rainbow of colors, and a list of health benefits for seniors that’s hard to beat. Unfortunately, many seniors are not taking full advantage of these health benefits. Studies by the Produce for Better Health Foundation show that older Americans are eating only about 3½ servings of produce per day – far short of the recommended minimum of five servings per day. Most of the vegetable choices come from just three items – lettuce, canned tomato products and potatoes (as fries and chips). The best way to get the power of produce is to enjoy as many different kinds, and colors, of fruits and vegetables as possible. It’s important to remember that five is a healthy start, but 8 to 10 servings may be needed to get the full power of produce with the goal of making half your plate fruits and vegetables.
The good news is that a serving is smaller than you may think. One serving can be a medium piece of fruit; ½ cup of cooked, canned, or cut-up vegetables or fruit; a cup of chopped lettuce and other raw leafy vegetables; ¾ cup (6 oz.) of 100-percent fruit or vegetable juice; ½ cup of canned legumes (beans and peas); or ¼ cup dried fruit. So, start counting your servings by learning more about ‘coloring’ your diet – and start feeling healthier!
BLUE: Blueberries contain anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant that may improve short-term memory, intelligence, night vision and coordination. They may also have the ability to prevent diseases such as cancer, strengthen blood capillaries, ease arthritis pain, and even slow the aging process.
RED: Cranberries are a rich source of vitamin C and proanthocyanidins. Cranberries have been shown to promote urinary health and other bacteria (like those that cause gum disease).
Along with great taste, strawberries offer a powerhouse of nutrition – fiber, vitamin C, folic acid, potassium, and a whole list of phytonutrients
GREEN: Green vegetables are some of the best food sources of folic acid which helps to reduce the risk of heart disease and may slow down Alzheimer’s developing in old age. Find it in broccoli, asparagus, fresh peas, Romaine lettuce, and other leafy greens.
ORANGE: Orange produce means large amounts of vitamin C and beta-carotene.
Potassium (found in cantaloupe, oranges and carrots) helps to reduce high-blood pressure and stroke in women. Low blood levels of vitamin C (found in citrus, papaya, and mango) increased the risk of cancer death in men. Everywhere you look, orange, yellow and red produce packs a healthy nutrition punch.
Be encouraged that it’s never too late to take steps to a healthy lifestyle at any age. Eating right doesn’t have to be complicated especially in the ‘golden’ years. Be a role model for the next generation as an older consumer who makes colorful food choices in every meal.
Kindy Peaslee is a Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Coach for the Everyday Health calorie counter tool. She also loves creating family-friendly recipes at her personal nutrition site healthy-kid-recipes.com.