You may have missed it, but October 1st was World Vegetarian Day.
Established in 1977 by the North American Vegetarian Society, and later adopted by the International Vegetarian Society, World Vegetarian Day is intended "as an annual celebration to promote the joy, compassion and life-enhancing possibilities of vegetarianism."
With that in mind, let's talk about how eating your fruits and veggies keeps seniors living well.
Most US adults don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. That causes serious health problems.
According to a 2007 study by Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Heath, less than 2/3 of American adults eat the recommended number of daily servings of fruits and vegetables— at least 2 servings of fruit and at least 3 servings of vegetables.
This problem is especially prevalent among seniors for a variety of reasons— from lack of appetite to the inability to find fresh fruit and vegetables. Unfortunately, this means that many seniors suffer from preventable health problems.
Seniors who do not get the recommended serving of fruits and vegetables, for example, typically don’t take in enough dietary fiber—a deficiency which can contribute to gastroenterological problems like constipation and irritable bowel, both of which can lead to dangerous bowel obstructions and GI bleeds.
Seniors' bodies are also not as efficient as younger adults' bodies at processing and using essential vitamins and minerals, like Vitamin A, potassium and calcium, which many fruits and vegetables are rich in. Seniors should eat more fruits and vegetables than younger adults if for nothing else than to ensure they are able to get enough nutritional saturation.
Potassium in particular is important because it is needed for muscles— including the heart— to work correctly, and it can help to shield against high blood pressure cause by a high-sodium diet. Fruits like bananas and apricots, as well as mushrooms, potato skins, white beans and dark, leafy green vegetables are all rich in potassium.
For senior women, who are at increased risk of osteoporosis (brittle bones), adequate calcium is a critical nutritional need. Most diet experts recommend that seniors get at least 1,200-1,500 mg of calcium per day.
Leafy green vegetables, like raw spinach, kale, collard greens and mustard greens, as well as broccoli, turnips, okra and garlic, are all reasonably high in calcium. Senior women should also make sure that they are eating at least 3 daily servings of low-fat dairy products— like yogurt, kefir, a cup of skim milk, or calcium-fortified soy milk— to make sure they are getting enough of this nutrient to maintain bone density and strength.
So how can I easily add more fruits and veggies to my daily diet?
There are many ways you can sneak fruits and veggies into your diet! Here are several ideas:
1.) Use your freezer.
If you have difficulty using fruits and vegetables before they go bad, try freezing them in advance or buying prepackaged frozen items. Frozen veggies and fruits typically have no added sodium or added sugar, so they are healthier for you than canned or dried items.
2.) Get your healthy morning blend.
Break out your blender and try enjoying a fruit and veggie smoothie first thing in the morning. You can get in plenty of your fruit and veggie servings with just one vitamin-packed drink. Here's a recipe you could try that would be reasonably high in potassium, calcium and Vitamin C:
- 2 cups spinach, fresh
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups mixed berries, or 1 cup berries and 1 cup pitted, fresh cherries
- 1 banana
Blend spinach and water until smooth. Next add the remaining fruits and blend again. You can use at least one frozen fruit so that the smoothie will already be chilled when you make it, or you can refrigerate your smoothie after making it. Make sure to remove cherry pits before blending, if you use cherries.
3.) If veggies hurt your teeth, steam them.
Steaming or boiling your vegetables will soften them up and enable you to chew them without pain. Steaming or boiling is also better for you than frying veggies in butter or oil. Try making them more flavorful by dusting an herbal mix of marjoram, rosemary, parsley and thyme over top or use a little bit of minced garlic, basil and oregano for Italian-style vegetables. Avoid adding salt, as the sodium can cause your blood pressure to go up.
4.) Add veggies to your favorite comfort foods and soups.
Try shaving a little carrot over lasagna or spaghetti. Mincing a bell pepper and some onion and adding them to your mashed potatoes. Or, plunk a few florets of cauliflower and broccoli into your beef barley soup before you heat it up. You can get all the benefits of the vegetables, without that sometimes bitter taste.
Living well is your responsibility. So eat your vegetables!
One of the most important factors in maintaining senior health is getting goo nutrition. Stay away as much as possible from processed foods and try to incorporate at least 5-7 servings of fruit and vegetables into your daily diet. With the right foods in your belly, you'll be living well longer.