By Anna Hazard
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Summer is a particularly good time to begin focusing on maintaining a more balanced diet, especially as previous studies indicate that fewer than 15% of older adults consume the recommended amount of daily fruits & vegetables within the USA. This is a time of year where many produce can be found fresh, in-season, and available from a bevy of different local sources, many of which may not be available during colder months. Some examples include farmer's markets, corner fruit stands, open farms & orchards, as well picking produce from your own gardens & fruits trees. Local in-season produce also tends to be less expensive, without the additional costs of having to transport & store produce from faraway locations, while also being more flavorful & nutritious due its freshness.
Food based outings can also be a fun form of entertainment for the elderly or for the whole family. Such outings can include field trips to local markets & farms, picnics in the outdoors, as well as garden parties. However, keep in mind that seniors are at a higher risk for heat related illnesses that can be triggered through overexposure to hot temperatures & direct sunlight. Extra care should be taken above those necessary for those spring & fall months that have more moderate temperatures.
When going on an outing with your senior loved one, remember to bring always bring plenty of liquids for hydration as well as hats, sunscreen, and sunglasses as protection from the sun's harmful rays. Portable mini-fans or sports cooling towels can be included in case of overheating. If you're heading out to a place where shade may be scarce, be prepared to bring your own source of shade such as a sun parasol. For those seniors with ambulatory or other mobility issues, a walking stroller that can convert into a chair can be brought along, especially when going to places where elevated seating may be scarce.
When it comes to sun protection, in-season produce can give a little boost. Studies indicate that foods such as tomatoes and watermelon that have high levels of lycopene which is a caretenoid that gives fruit & veggies their red color. This phytonutrient may help with the skin's sensitivity to the sun and thus provide a bit of sunburn protection.
Foods with other antioxidants such as lutein and zeaxanthin (which can be found in sweet corn, garden peas, and dark leafy greens such as spinach) can help with the formation of the macular pigment in the eyes that filters out the sun's rays and protects against light-induced retinal damage. However, keep in mind that that these dietary supplements should not take the place of sunscreen & sunglasses.
During the summer months, when it comes to in-season produce, it's recommended to concentrate on naturally colorful food. Their saturated palettes contain more anti-oxidents and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that are especially good for those with arthritis, heart disease, stroke, and many other chronic diseases that tend to be more common with age. This includes choosing deep leafy greens (and their lutein and isoflavones anti-oxidents) over paler colored produce.
In particular one can focus on yellow/orange produce such as mangoes, peaches, and summer squash which are good sources for alpha-carotene and beta-carotene for maintaining healthy skin, bones, vision, and immune system. The deep red produce such as beets, strawberries, and radishes have quercetin and anthocyanidins which are helpful in lowering inflammation, maintaining heart health, and preventing cancer. Dark purple produce such as plums, blueberries, and blackberries have resveratrol, anthocyanidins, and other flavonoids useful for lowering inflammation, protecting arteries, and preventing premature aging of cells.
In Season Sea Food
For optimal nutritional value without adding in extra calories or fats through frying, it's best to broil, grill, or steam these types of sea food. Raw sea food has the chance of containing food borne bacteria that would otherwise be sterilized in the cooking process which should be avoided for seniors as the elderly tend to be more vulnerable to infections and food poisoning.
In Season Produce
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