Around the Island

Richard’s Almanac: You are what you eat

We all grew up learning that we would stay healthy if we ate the right foods and not just the foods that taste good. That’s why it was so important to be members of the “clean plate club.” Parents wanted us to grow up to be “big and strong.”

I can hear those expressions coming back as I remember pushing some vegetables I didn’t like  around my plate to make it appear that I had eaten some. Sometimes even dessert was held back until the plate was clean.

But that was many years ago. Now, in our senior years, good nutrition is still important for making our immune systems stronger. And in these COVID-19 times, it’s so important to have a super-strong immune system, because as we age, research shows our ability to fight infections weakens.

So, to keep this immune system line of defense in good shape experts agree we need to get plenty of those vitamins and minerals that support our immunity.

We can find these nutrients in fresh fruits and vegetables. That’s why it’s so important to take advantage of the produce available at the Historical Society’s Farmers Market every Saturday, and at Alfred Kilb’s farmstand. Many fresh fruits and vegetables are also available at the Sylvester Manor farmstand.

The July issue of Consumer Reports “On Health” says that “the best diet for your body’s defenses is one that is based on whole, minimally processed food that’s mostly cooked at home.”

The authors warn against eating too many foods high in saturated fats, sugars and salt. These can weaken our immunity.

Plant-based foods also provide fiber which is good for the healthy bacteria in our digestive tract, they say.

The healthy diet for the old folks should include all those fruits and vegetables. We are also told not to forget nuts and seeds which are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein and healthy fats.

Beans and whole grains are on the list because of their nutrients and fiber. We are also told that we should use healthy oils like olive, flaxseed and canola because of their ability to keep inflammation in check with their omega-3 fats.

Even though we don’t need meat and fish on our plates at every meal, the authors agree that a “few times a week is fine.”

“Lean meat and poultry have ample B vitamins (especially vitamin B12 which about 20% of older adults are deficient in), iron, selenium and zinc,” they said, adding that fatty fish like tuna, salmon and mackerel are important sources of omega 3 fats as well as B vitamins, selenium and vitamin D.

These may protect against upper respiratory tract infections, it was learned. Also, at our age, we should not forget about the need for dairy products. In addition to milk in my coffee, I’m going to try to add some yogurt to my daily diet.

Should we take supplements? There are differing views on this. Sometimes too much of one can block the absorption of another. Best to check with a professional.

I do take a spoonful of liquid vitamins per day. I always have and it seems to do its job. And I try to do my best with all the fresh food groups, but I must admit that I like my candy and cookies. I also love gravy on my mashed potatoes and roast beef.

But I do not have them all the time.

My 96-year-old mother, who was healthy right up to the end, always liked a trip to McDonald’s for a burger, french fries and coffee.