It turns out your mother was right - you should eat fruits and vegetables every day. The need for healthful eating is something you never outgrow. Good nutrition is important at every stage of life, but nutritional needs change as you grow older.
Research indicates that the foods we consume play a significant role in our overall health and well-being, and may affect our ability to ward off some diseases. The risk for certain diseases associated with aging such as heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes can be reduced with a lifestyle that includes healthy eating. Good nutrition also may help in the treatment and recovery from illness. However, getting the right kinds of nutrition can be difficult. Older adults tend to need fewer calories as they age because they are not as physically active as they once were and their metabolic rates slow down.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food pyramid recommends adults eat at least five servings daily from the fruits and vegetables group - the more servings, the better. Yet only one in four Americans comes close to consuming this amount.
Because older people generally eat less, the researchers recommend a higher concentration of nutrients with each serving, which translates to choosing darker, more nutrient-rich produce. In addition to bringing flavor and variety to meals, fresh fruits and vegetables are good sources of fiber, low in sugar, fat and sodium and low in calories. Any fruit or vegetable counts as a serving; they can be raw or cooked; fresh, frozen, canned or dehydrated. One hundred percent juices are good, but you miss out on some of the benefits of whole, fresh fruits and vegetables.
You can add produce to your diet without making drastic changes. Add spinach to your favorite pasta dish. Take a fresh fruit or vegetable platter with a low fat dip to the next potluck. You can replace up to 1/2 cup of the butter with applesauce in many baked good recipes. Add shredded carrots, zucchini, potatoes, cooked dried beans or other vegetables to soups, stews, sauces, stir-fries or casseroles. Add lettuce, tomato and onion or other fresh veggies to sandwiches or wraps. Try pineapple in your coleslaw or mandarin oranges or grapes in your tossed salad. Give omelets a boost by adding a handful of chopped veggies like peppers, onions, mushrooms or cooked potato. Serve cut up fresh fruit over angel food cake or frozen yogurt. Use low sodium tomato juice for some of the liquid in your vegetable soup.
An excellent source of locally-grown fruits and vegetables are Ohio's farmers markets and family-run produce stands, in addition to groceries. Many fruits and vegetables are at their peak ripeness in September and are still readily available.
While healthy eating can't turn back the clock, it can help you feel good longer. You really are what you eat and no matter what your age, it is never too late to start living a healthier life.