September 11th, 2012 at 10:00 am
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Vegetables could be protective cuisine for elders

by Dorian Martin

Dad recently came home from an appointment with his primary care doctor. He was really proud because he’d lost weight and his blood pressure had dropped. Interestingly, though, he hadn’t changed medications or dosages, and his daily routine has stayed the same.

So what caused these changes in Dad? Although I’m not a 100-percent sure, I believe the credit goes to his altered eating habits. When he was living alone, he often ate based on convenience. That could be a bowl of cereal several times a day or a ham and cheese sandwich and a can of soup. He usually would eat an apple, banana, grapes or a tomato if he had them on hand. Otherwise, his consumption of fruits and vegetables was very low.

Since he has moved into my house, I find that I do almost all of the shopping and cooking. I can tell you that we’re eating fewer processed foods. And one of the biggest changes is that we’re eating a lot more vegetables primarily due to our participation in a community supported agriculture (CSA) program that we joined last year.

Fresh idea: community supported agriculture

A CSA, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is a group of individuals who agree to support a farm operation. Members typically pledge in advance to pay the anticipated costs of the farm operation and the farmer’s salary. In return, the farmer provides a specific number of shares of the farm’s produce during the growing season. By going this route, growers can receive better prices for their crops, get some financial security and spend less time on marketing.

In our case, Dad and I split a share with two friends. The CSA season lasts 10 weeks and our portion costs $162.50, or $16.25 per week for produce for both of us. We get quite a quantity of fresh produce, which has changed the way I cook and we eat. Whereas most of our meals previously had revolved around the protein (often chicken breasts, pork chops, salmon or hamburgers), participation in the CSA makes me base the menu on what comes in our weekly share. Therefore, vegetables take priority.

I’ve found the CSA’s vegetables — especially the tomatoes and the green beans — taste so much better than the ones we get at the grocery store. We’ve also had the opportunity to try new foods, including kale, pea shoots and mizuna (an Asian lettuce). One downside is that we only receive what’s in season in our weekly CSA shares, so we don’t see tomatoes or bell peppers in the winter or romaine lettuce in the summer. However, we are doing a better job of eating seasonally.

The bennies from veggies

Research supports the idea that a healthy diet may help reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes and promote blood circulation to the brain. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends increasing your intake of protective foods, which may lower the risk of heart ailments and stroke, and potentially protect brain cells. This list includes dark-skinned fruits and vegetables such as kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, broccoli, beets and so on.

One note on cuisine for caregivers: It’s important to think about the medications elders are taking. For example, the U.S. government MedlinePlus service reports that Vitamin K is a vital nutrient found in green vegetables, but it may also counteract blood thinning medications.

At the start of this blog, I mentioned how this change in our eating habits seems to have had a positive effect on Dad. I also have noticed an improvement in myself, health-wise. Since I started eating more vegetables, I find I have much more energy — which is important in a life that includes caregiving, a career and graduate school. I also experience much less stiffness. I consider the price of the CSA to be an investment in good health for both myself and my father.

Posted in Caregiving, Diet | 3 Comments »
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3 Comments to “Vegetables could be protective cuisine for elders”

  1. Sarah Foster

    I completely agree that incorporating more fruits and veggies into the diet of elders is a good thing and can help improve their health. There are so many good nutrients in fruits and veggies that people who eat just processed foods do not get. They have all the restorative and protective capabilities that people from toddlers to elders need. It is wise to consult a doctor to see if there is any foods that could interact badly with some of the medication you or the loved one you are caring for are taking.

  2. editors

    Thanks for writing in with your feedback; we’re glad you liked the blog post. And we totally agree with you about the importance of good diet for elders (and everybody).

  3. Kara

    Great article. September is “National Fruit and Veggies Month” and it is also “National Healthy Aging Month.” I think eating fruits and veggies are a key part to aging healthily. I see my grandfather eat frozen meals almost every night now that my grandma has passed. He is all about convenience, and when he sees pictures of fruits and veggies on the box, he automatically thinks it is healthy. People don’t realize how easy it is to incorporate fruits and vegetables to their diet and how cheap it can be to buy produce. If our parents or grandparents want to stay at home longer, they need to eat healthy now.

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