Stay Healthy

By Chandra Orr

May 21, 2010 6 min read

Probiotics. Omega-3. Antioxidants. It's no secret that certain foods have just what the body needs to live a long and healthy life, but for seniors, some foods shine above the rest.

"As you age, you cannot entertain yourself with voracious eating habits anymore. As seniors, it's especially important to regulate your diet more than ever. You need to control your food habits and focus on foodstuffs rich in nutritional value," says Dr. Naheed Ali, author of "Are You Fit To Live?: 4 Steps to Improving Your Health."

If the thought of a major diet overhaul makes you cringe, start small. Add probiotic yogurt or heart-healthy oatmeal to breakfast. Snack on fiber-rich fruits. Serve up salmon for dinner. These four "superfoods" do an aging body good.

IMMUNITY-BOOSTING YOGURT

Chock-full of low-fat protein, vitamin B-12, calcium and potassium, yogurt is a virtual powerhouse of nutrients. Many yogurts also contain live and active cultures -- aka probiotics -- which aid in digestion and offer an immunity boost.

These beneficial bacteria help build a strong digestive system by suppressing harmful bacteria in the digestive tract. They also keep LDL cholesterol in check.

"Probiotics improve intestinal health, lower blood cholesterol levels and have anti-cancer and immune-enhancing properties," says organic chemist Dee McCaffrey, a certified nutrition and diet counselor and author of "Plan-D: The Amazing Anti-Diet That Will Change Your Life Forever."

Check the label before you buy. Look for the National Yogurt Association's "Live & Active Cultures" seal, which ensures the product contains a significant number of living bacteria. Food and Drug Administration regulations require that all yogurts be made with active cultures, but the process of heat-treating yogurt kills the beneficial bacteria.

HEART-HEALTHY OATMEAL

Nutritionists make a big fuss over high-fiber whole grains, and for seniors, nothing beats an old-fashioned bowl of oatmeal for breakfast.

"Oatmeal has soluble fiber, which is much healthier than foods having insoluble fiber," Ali explains. "Almost any gastroenterologist will advise low-fat, high-soluble-fiber diets to older patients because it helps protect the linings of the digestive tract."

Oatmeal's high fiber content also keeps you regular -- which is good news for aging digestive systems.

"The muscles of the digestive tract that promote motility become weaker as people age, and thus seniors need the extra boost when it comes to digestion," Ali says.

Add to that oatmeal's cholesterol-zapping properties and you have a pretty super breakfast.

"The soluble fiber in oat bran binds to cholesterol and effectively flushes it from the body," McCaffrey says.

FIBER-RICH FRUITS

For a midday snack, try dried fruits, such as prunes and raisins. Jampacked with vitamin A, iron and beta carotene, these low-fat, low-sodium treats fill you up, satisfy your sweet tooth with natural sugars and pack a lot of dietary fiber.

"Fiber-rich fruits, such as prunes and raisins, are considered to be highly beneficial for seniors," Ali says.

An essential component in healthy digestion, fiber helps create a feeling of fullness, helps food move through the digestive system and helps relieve constipation.

"The fiber in these fruits lowers blood sugar levels and provides satiety, making them great between-meal snacks," McCaffrey says. "Fiber-rich fruits also help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of stroke."

Fresh blueberries and apples are also high in fiber, with cancer-fighting antioxidants to boot.

"Blueberries and apples are two of the lowest-sugar fruits but have the highest amounts of antioxidants and fiber," McCaffrey says. "Apples are the richest source of potassium, an important mineral for keeping arteries soft, flexible and resilient."

WILD-CAUGHT SALMON

For dinner, forget the red meat, and serve up some salmon instead. Fish -- specifically salmon -- is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for a healthy heart, healthy eyes and a healthy brain.

By protecting cell membranes, omega-3 fatty acids help the body develop neural networks and prevent inflammation. Simply put, they build brainpower and ward off autoimmune disorders, such as arthritis.

"Omega-3 foods are especially crucial for seniors for their role in protecting memory, visual acuity and brain function," McCaffrey explains. "They have a profound role to play in preventing Alzheimer's, dementia and memory loss."

Because the body cannot produce its own omega-3 fatty acids, these vital fats must be ingested. Supplements, such as fish oil and flaxseed oil, provide ample amounts, but there's nothing like going straight to the source.

However, not all fish are created equal. Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in oily fish, such as salmon, and wild-caught salmon boasts the most.

"It's important to eat wild-caught rather than farm-raised salmon, as farm-raised salmon contain lower levels of omega-3s, and the source of the pink color in wild-caught salmon is astaxanthin, a powerful cancer-fighting antioxidant," McCaffrey says.

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