Spring and Summer Foods with Surprising Health Benefits
The days are getting warmer and longer, inspiring people to engage in backyard barbecues and midday picnics.
Even if your elderly loved one isn't able to take part in traditions like cookouts, or holiday parties, you can introduce seasonal celebrations into their lives through food. Many popular warm-weather foods even offer the added bonus of helping a senior get the nutrients they need to remain healthy.
Here are some popular spring and summer treats that may offer some unexpected health benefits for you and your elderly loved one. Ruth Frechman, M.A., a registered dietician and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, offers her perspective on how these foods can be both tasty and nutritious for seniors.
- Watermelon: Synonymous with summer, this juicy fruit is not only low-fat, it also contains a staggering amount of nutrients seniors need. Pound for pound, watermelon has more lycopene than any other fresh fruit or veggie. Also found in tomatoes, lycopene is an antioxidant that has been shown to combat certain forms of cancer and heart disease. Watermelon is also packed with potassium, which can be a boon for seniors suffering from potassium deficiency, or hypokalemia. According to the National Institutes for Health, hypokalemia in seniors can sometimes be brought on by certain heart failure and blood pressure meds, and can cause problems with heart and muscle function. Watermelon also contains significant amounts of vitamins A, C, and B6.
- Iceberg lettuce: Don't forgo a spring salad just because it has romaine lettuce in it. Oft-maligned as the less-healthy relative of spinach and romaine lettuce, iceberg lettuce actually has more of the antioxidant alpha-carotene than either of them. Alpha-carotene (and its companion, beta-carotene) can be transformed by the body into vitamin A, which can help maintain good eye health. Research has shown that alpha-carotene, on its own, may also play a role in lowering a person's risk of dying from ailments such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Iceberg lettuce also has a good deal of vitamin K, which can help combat osteoporosis and regulate blood clotting. Frechman says that, because the amount of alpha-carotene in iceberg lettuce is relatively low compared to other veggies, so you may want to add some carrots, tomatoes, and spinach to a salad to boost its overall carotene content.
- Spices: Seasoned sauces and rubs are the cornerstones of a delicious warm weather cook-out. Spices can serve the dual purpose of making food more flavorful to seniors whose ability to taste has been diminished, as well as helping them fight off disease. From turmeric, whose primary compound, curcumin has been shown to be beneficial in fighting off diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and cancer; to cinnamon, which can help people with type 2 diabetes by lowering their blood sugar, total cholesterol, and triglycerides, spices have numerous potential health benefits.
Scrumptious Snack Foods
- Popcorn: Going the movies to see a popular summer flick can be a simple, fun way for caregivers and their elderly loved ones to get out of the house. Popcorn has been a cinema staple for years, and often gets a bad rap for being unhealthy. But, if you forgo the extra salt and butter, recent research indicates that popcorn may actually have health benefits. Researchers found polyphenols—a group of beneficial antioxidants—to be more plentiful in popcorn than certain fruits and veggies. Popcorn is also a pure source of whole grain, an important dietary element for seniors.
- Party dip: Perennial components of popular party dips, tomatoes and avocados can offer seniors an array of healthy nutrients. Salsa comprised of tomatoes and other vegetables can provide an elderly person with part of their daily recommended vegetable intake, as well as antioxidants such as lycopene. Though they are high in ("good") fat, avocados, the main component of guacamole, are full of vitamins and minerals that can deliver a host of health benefits to seniors.
- Eggs: Decorating hard-boiled eggs can be a fun way to celebrate the holiday with an elderly loved one. It may even serve to bring back fond memories of past egg hunts and holiday get-togethers. Sometimes shunned as a member of the protein portion of MyPlate, eggs are actually a good source of protein and contain many essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamins: A, D, E, B6 and B12. And, it's not just egg whites that contain health benefits. According to Frechman, egg yolks contain choline, lutein, and zeaxanthin—several nutrients that are essential for good eye health.
- Chocolate: Easter baskets, piled high with chocolate and candy, may be the purview of young boys and girls in pastel party outfits, but getting older doesn't mean you have to give up the tradition. In moderation, certain types of chocolate are actually good for you. Dark chocolate is chock-full of antioxidants and has been shown to have numerous health benefits, including reducing blood pressure and increasing insulin sensitivity.