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Adding more vegetables, fruits to diet is easy to do

September 22, 2004|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Eating food high in antioxidants helps protect the immune system, the brain's ability to think, and even skin from wrinkling. Antioxidants help prevent heart disease and some cancers. Researchers recommend increasing daily fruit and vegetable consumption to five to nine servings or more. Fruits such as blueberries and vegetables such as broccoli offer antioxidants and phytochemicals that reduce the oxidative damage associated with aging, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Researchers also are studying the relationship between oxidative damage and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption need not be difficult. Consider replacing one or more daily snacks with naturally sweet fruits or crisp, crunchy vegetables. Drinking small amounts of 100-percent fruit and vegetable juices can add variety and also take the edge off your appetite. Eating whole fruits and vegetables provides additional fiber.

Choosing dark green and yellow fruits and vegetables that have lutein and zeaxanthin can help prevent hearing loss and vision problems, such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration - the leading cause of blindness in older adults. Whole grains typically offer 1.5 to five times the antioxidant value of common fruits and vegetables. Giving up whole grains can rob those who do of health-promoting vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants.

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Researchers now know that nuts and high-protein, high-fiber foods offer heart-healthful fats, vitamin E, magnesium and copper. Including nuts in your diet five times a week might reduce the risk of heart disease by as much as 53 percent. Substitute one-quarter cup of nuts for other snacks so as not to add calories.

Foods with healthy fats - for example, the omega 3's contained in foods such as salmon, walnuts and flaxseed - can lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Metabolism typically slows with aging, and the need for calories declines with each decade. The need for health-promoting nutrients might, however, increase. Read food labels carefully and plan meals and snacks to include a variety of foods. It is important to remember all foods should be eaten in moderation.

Look for health-promoting ingredients. Try to avoid processed foods that are high in calories, saturated fats, trans fats, hydrogenated fats and oils, sweeteners or sodium.

Additional tips for healthful eating include:

· Eat recommended, rather than oversized, portions.

· Choose whole-grain breads and cereals. As complex carbohydrates, they are digested slowly and provide lasting energy, as well as protein, fiber, essential B vitamins, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, copper, magnesium, phytochemicals and antioxidants.

· Choose low-fat dairy products and calcium-fortified foods to meet the recommended daily allowances for calcium.

· Osteoporosis is a debilitating disease that can compromise an older adult's lifestyle and independence. Older adults are encouraged to include 1,200 to 1,400 milligrams of calcium and 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D a day. The combination is recommended because limited exposure to sunlight and use of sunscreen reduces formation of vitamin D, which is produced naturally when skin is exposed to the sun.

· Replace fluids needed for such bodily functions as digestion; cooling (perspiration); and cushioning bones, joints and organs. Drinking eight cups of fluid is recommended, but some fluids can come from other sources, such as fruits and vegetables that have high water content.

· Caffeine and alcohol are, however, naturally dehydrating and should be used in moderation. Red wine might offer some health benefits to people about age 50 and older, but, like other alcoholic beverages, it also can be dehydrating. Nutrition and health professionals recommend limiting alcoholic beverages to one serving per day for women and one or two for men.

· Take a vitamin and mineral supplement. A balanced multivitamin supplement taken once a day can help meet nutritional needs. Obtaining vitamins and minerals from foods that also provide disease-preventing phytochemicals and antioxidants is more vital to good health, though.

· Add 30 or more minutes of weight-bearing exercise (such as walking) five or more days a week to improve body functions, lower blood pressure and strengthen bones. Regular moderate exercise also can help with weight management and reduce stress.

The foods you choose can make a difference in how you look and feel.




Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension.

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