As we get older, our bodies process food differently. We tend to have smaller appetites, chewing and swallowing can become more difficult, and meal preparation can become challenging and even unsafe for a variety of reasons.
One trendy, healthy way to add nutrients to a senior’s diet is through juicing. Whether you are a purist and press apples straight from the tree or you rely on store-bought juices to supplement meals, juicing can be a healthy addition to your loved one’s dietary routine.
Of course, eating whole fruits and vegetables is the best way to ingest nutrients as well as dietary fiber, but many older individuals are more likely to consume produce in inconspicuous liquid form. Best of all, vegetables like spinach, carrots and kale can be incorporated into juice recipes without the your loved one even tasting them. Adding fruit to a juice blend can typically overshadow the flavor of any veggies you include.
If you struggle to get your loved one to fit fresh produce into their diet, juicing is a healthy and palatable alternative. However, there are a few things to consider when choosing the healthiest way to start juicing.
Choose Ingredients Wisely
While there is no magical cure for all an aging body’s ailments, natural nutrients in fruits and vegetables can help ease pain, reduce inflammation and bolster immune system function. Certain varieties and combinations of produce can have both a targeted and overall beneficial effect on the body.
For instance, joint pain can be assuaged by juicing carrots, parsley, ginger and leeks. Leeks and ginger are high in antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals that can help to reduce inflammation throughout the body. For a boost in immune and cardiac health, try a combination of pomegranate, orange and garlic. Pomegranates lower cholesterol and blood pressure and increase the speed at which heart blockages (associated with atherosclerosis) dissolve. With a little bit of research, you can find a healthy juice recipe for almost every ailment you can imagine.
Choosing a Juicer
There are a number of ways to produce your own nutrient-rich juices. Traditional or centrifugal juicing machines use fast-spinning blades to pulverize produce. Heat and air are added during this process—two things that supposedly reduce the nutrients that actually make it into the glass.
Masticating or “cold-pressed” juicing appliances extract juice by pressing and grinding fruits and vegetables without adding heat. These machines tend to be on the more expensive side. If you are looking for a ready-to-drink cold-pressed option, many grocery and health food stores carry bottled varieties that allow you to reap the benefits without purchasing a machine and doing the work yourself.
Proponents of the raw food movement believe that cooking denatures important vitamins and minerals in food. It is true that some compounds like vitamin C are easily damaged by exposure to heat, air and water. But in some cases, cooking actually increases antioxidants and other beneficial components of certain fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, spinach and carrots. Depending on what you are trying to accomplish through juicing, it may not matter if your product is cold-pressed or made in a traditional machine.
Avoid Juicing Certain Parts of Fruits and Vegetables
Although most produce can be juiced, there are a few things to stay away from. This is especially important for seniors. There is some disagreement over whether to peel fruits and vegetables before juicing, but it isn’t a black and white issue. Apples, grapes, cucumbers and even bananas can be processed and consumed without peeling. We waste a great source of nutrition by removing and discarding the skins and rinds of the produce we eat. However, there are a few items that are best consumed “naked.” Citrus fruits feature tough rinds that are still nutrient dense, but they also contain oils that can cause indigestion and stomach issues if consumed in large quantities. Try not to throw away the healthy white pith just underneath the rind, though. As another example, mangos are best juiced without the skin as well, since this part can cause allergic reactions in some individuals.
Many people like to add leafy greens like kale and spinach to their fruit juices and smoothies, but there are a few varieties that must be avoided or approached with caution. Rhubarb greens can be harmful and release toxic substances, so keep these out of your juicer. Carrot greens have received a bad reputation, but they are not actually poisonous. Some people may simply have a sensitivity to this part of the vegetable, so if you aren’t sure whether you or a loved one might have a reaction, then it is best to steer clear of them.
Select Quality Produce for Juicing
When juicing or making nutritious smoothies, especially when using whole ingredients with skins and greens intact, it is wise to opt for organic produce. Although fruit and vegetable peels are great sources of concentrated nutrients, pesticides tend to accumulate in the peels of conventionally produced fruits and vegetables and even on the green tops of root vegetables.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has pioneered an annual “Dirty Dozen” list that ranks produce items according to the amount of pesticide residue they contain. If you plan to use conventional produce for juices and smoothies, be sure to thoroughly wash and peel certain items. Pesticides and insecticides can remain even if you take these precautions, so carefully consider purchasing at least some ingredients, like strawberries and spinach, in organic form.
As we age, it’s even harder to treat our bodies right and get the nutrients we need, but diet has a significant impact on our overall wellbeing. Juices can be used as a natural dietary supplement in lieu of processed vitamin capsules and tablets, or you can craft personalized produce combinations to help improve specific areas of an aging loved one’s health.
Achieving proper nutrition through real foods is better than opting for meal replacement shakes and pills. However, it is important to approach juicing with common sense and do your research. If you have any questions about improving a senior’s diet and nutrition, be sure to consult a physician or registered dietitian nutritionist.