Friday, June 21, 2024

Nutrients to Fight Disease

Keeping our bodies running smoothly requires consumption of a variety of essential nutrients. These nutrients can be disease-fighting, bone-building, immunity-boosting, and more. Our bodies require a certain amount of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals to maintain healthy bones, muscles, and organs that are necessary for proper body function.

We know that certain foods are great for our health, especially fruits and vegetables. But there are some foods that are thought to be superfoods in that they have an extra nutritional punch with vitamins, minerals, and disease fighting nutrients.

While there is still no magic pill and none of this should be used in place of proper medical care, the following dietary suggestions have been known to help prevent the development of some of the most common and feared health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and memory loss.

For Heart Health

High Cholesterol, High Blood Pressure, Strokes, Heart Attacks, Clogged Arteries

  • Fruits and Vegetables: are the ideal food for heart health. They have few calories and are high in fiber, both of which have a positive impact on cardiovascular health. Eight or more servings a day are suggested to protect against stroke and other diseases. Typically, ½ cup represents a serving.
  • Quinoa: (keen-wah) One of the most recently discovered superfoods to help reduce cardiovascular diseases. It is cooked the same way as rice and can be used in a wide range of dishes. Often thought of as a grain, it is actually a seed; therefore, it is one of the most protein rich foods as well as one of the healthiest foods you can eat. It has several vitamins and minerals that help fight damage with their antioxidant effect. Its fiber levels have a direct effect on blood pressure and its magnesium helps relax blood vessels, having a positive effect on blood pressure. 
  • Pomegranate: Full of antioxidants – which are natural chemicals that absorb harmful free radicals.  It is the free radicals that destroy tissue and may contribute to some chronic conditions such as heart disease. Pomegranate juice will have some of the same benefits.
  • Sardines: With their source of omega-3 fats and vitamin D, some believe sardines are one of the best sources for a healthy heart.
  • Salmon: As another great source of omega-3 fats, salmon has been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease.
  • Walnuts:  Of all nuts, walnuts contain the most omega-3 fatty acids, which may help reduce cholesterol.
  • Almonds: Rich in monounsaturated fats, almonds help to keep cholesterol levels within a healthy range.
  • Kale: A top vegetable source of vitamin A and a good source of heart healthy fiber.
  • Avocado: One study found avocado to lower cholesterol by 22 percent.
  • Garlic: Garlic has a compound, Allicin, which works as an anti-inflammatory that lowers cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
  • Coconut: With its strong antioxidant properties coconut can be used to lower cholesterol.
  • Grapes:  The heart health benefits of grapes are numerous. Resveratrol, found in red or purple grapes, has the ability to improve the dilation of the blood vessels which then allows blood to flow easily, therefore, lowering blood pressure and improving the blood flow to all areas of the body. The fiber and potassium in grapes also support heart health.
  • Beans, Peas, and Lentils: Eaten multiple times through the week, these legumes have been known to lower the risk of heart disease by 22 percent. They contain soluble fiber (the fiber your body can digest) - a key nutrient that helps reduce cholesterol levels.
  • Dark Chocolate: Cocoa powder is the substance responsible for chocolate’s health benefits. It contains essential minerals that can reduce blood pressure.
  • Lemon: One lemon contains more than 100% of your daily intake of vitamin C. Vitamin C helps to increase the level of good cholesterol and strengthen bones.
  • Collard Greens: Related to broccoli and Brussel sprouts, this vegetable is effective at lowering cholesterol. With its volume of Vitamin A it is good for healthy vision, teeth and skin too.
  • Bananas: Known for its potassium, it is also an effective prebiotic. While protecting against cardiovascular disease bananas also fight against depression by increasing dopamine.
  • Cumin: This common kitchen spice is nothing but extraordinary when it comes to supporting heart health and fighting infection with its antioxidant properties.
  • Cinnamon: The health benefits of cinnamon are many. It has anti-clotting power along with the ability to reduce inflammation, improve insulin regulation, and boost brain and colon health.
  • Green Tea: Green tea contains polyphenols, which may reduce heart disease, cancer, and stroke.

Nutrition Tips for Seniors Who Don't Want to Eat

Senior Recipes

For Cancer

Colon, Breast, Lung, and Ovarian

  • Studies regrading nutrition and cancer all point to eating plant-based foods for their phytonutrients (compounds found in plants) and other special vitamins and minerals. A recent study found that people with higher levels of vitamin D who are diagnosed with cancer tend to have a better survival rate. 
  • Broccoli: Full of components that protect you from cancer, they help protect your DNA cells from attack by boosting the body’s protective enzymes. The Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower) are all helpful in protecting you from cancer, but broccoli has the most sulforaphane, a particularly potent compound that flushes out cancer causing chemicals. A medium stalk of broccoli contains more than 100 percent of you daily vitamin K and vitamin C requirement which helps fight off numerous cancers.
  • Quinoa: Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients in quinoa make it another important candidate for getting rid of dangerous cancer and disease-causing substances. 
  • Pomegranate: This vibrant fruit is full of antioxidants that absorb compounds that damage tissue, protecting against cancer.
  • Tomatoes: A nutritional powerhouse. They’re rich in lycopene, a potent weapon against cancer. As one of the carotenoid phytochemicals (related to beta-carotene), lycopene appears to protect our cells’ DNA with its strong antioxidant power.
  • Mushrooms: Rich in ergothioneine, an antioxidant that may help fight cancer. They are also a source of riboflavin, a vitamin that supports the body’s natural detoxification processes.
  • Grapes: In various studies, resveratrol shows a positive effect on cancer. It also protects the skin from damaging UVB rays, therefore protecting against skin cancer.  
  • Kale: Nutrients in kale have shown to lower the risk of cancer as well as support bone health; and it is a natural detoxification food. 
  • Garlic: May contain chemicals capable of destroying cancer cells.
  • Green Tea: Green tea contains polyphenols, which may reduce heart disease, cancer, and stroke.
  • Beans, Peas, and Lentils: High in protein, complex carbohydrates and both soluble and insoluble fiber – all good for health; the phytochemicals and protease in beans may help prevent cancer.
  • Turmeric: Some research has shown that this spice is a potent anti-viral and anti-inflammatory agent while being helpful in preventing Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.
  • Cauliflower: Found in various varieties, rich in phytonutrients that reduce oxidative stress in our cells and greatly supports the body’s natural detoxification process. Has been found that combined with turmeric it has potential in preventing and treating prostate cancer.
  • Collard Greens: More popular in the South, the larger leaf collard greens have a flavor that’s a bit stronger than spinach while the smaller leaves are more tender and sweet. Compounds found in collard greens can stop carcinogens (chemicals that cause cancer) by inhibiting their ability to activate. Lung, bladder, prostate, breast, colon, and ovarian cancers are diseases most closely associated with eating collard greens for prevention.
  • Kale: Rich in organosulfur compounds, kale has been shown to reduce the risk of many cancers, especially one of the most serious forms: colon cancer.
  • Salmon: The omega-3 fats in fish oil reduce inflammation. Some recommend to consume about 8 ounces of oily fish (salmon, sardines, tuna) a week.  Inflammation is particularly related to breast cancer.
  • Walnuts: Eating walnuts on a regular basis can slow the growth of breast cancer. Due to the combination of omega 3 fatty acids and other powerful plant chemicals walnuts are a potent cancer fighting food.
  • Sweet Potato: Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene. It is a very good source of vitamin C, potassium, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), iron, manganese, lutein, zeaxanthin and copper. One sweet potato has almost eight times the amount of cancer-fighting and immune boosting vitamin A you need daily.
  • Raspberries: With Ellagic Acid (a nutrient found in many potent anti-cancer fruits and nuts), raspberries prevent the binding of carcinogens to DNA and strengthen connective tissue, which may keep cancer cells from spreading.
  • Spinach: Research has found that spinach is one of the most effective cancer fighting vegetables.
  • Cinnamon: A very common household spice. Cinnamon has been showing a lot of promise in preventing and treating cancer. It also inhibits multiple pro-inflammatory pathways in cancer cells.

For Diabetes:

It is believed that nearly 30 million Americans have diabetes and another 86 million have pre-diabetes, a precursor to the full blown disease. Many are not even aware that they have this chronic condition.  In recent years these rates have been on the rise worldwide.  Diabetes is linked to other complications, such as heart disease, kidney damage, and eye and hearing impairments. Diabetes is in the top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. High nutrient, low glycemic foods are important for diabetics and to prevent diabetes.  The best choices for fruit are fresh or frozen. If using canned fruit, be sure to purchase those without added sugars.

Dementia and Malnutrition

Weight Management for Seniors

Fresh fruit:

Fruits are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals and are a nutritional choice for satisfying sweet cravings. Eating three to four servings of fresh fruit daily is associated with a significant decrease in the risk of diabetes and should be part of a diabetes friendly diet.

  • Berries: Blueberries, strawberries or any other type of berry is a good superfood for diabetes since it is full of fiber and antioxidants that help lower blood sugar by boosting insulin production.
  • Cherries: Tart cherries are packed with antioxidants that help fight cancer.
  • Peaches: Containing Vitamins A and C, potassium and fiber the peach should be included in your diabetes prevention diet.
  • Apricots: Loaded with Vitamin A, apricots are a good source of fiber.
  • Apple: This fruit, good for the “on-the-go” diabetic, is loaded with fiber and a good source of vitamin C. Apples help keep blood sugar variations under control. The skin is the most nutritious part.
  • Oranges: High in enough Vitamin C for one day’s supply, oranges may also help to lower blood pressure.
  • Pears: With their excellent source of fiber and Vitamin K, pears are a wise addition to your diabetes meal plan.
  • Kiwi: A delicious source of potassium, fiber, and Vitamin C.
  • Avocado: This nutrient packed fruit has more potassium than a banana and is a good quality of protein. While often referred to as a superfood it contains multiply vitamins and minerals. It slows digestion and helps keep blood sugar from spiking after eating. 
  • Banana: The magnesium and potassium in bananas will slowly absorb sugars and prevent radical swings in blood sugar.


The best choices are fresh or frozen, and if using canned (higher in sodium) be sure to drain and rinse with water. At a minimum, try to eat at least 3-5 servings a day. According to the American Heart Association, a serving of cooked vegetables or vegetable juice is 1/2 cup and 1 cup for raw vegetables. Nutrient rich green vegetables are an important food for diabetes prevention and reversal. Those with a higher consumption of green vegetables have lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

  • Spinach: Loaded with folate, beta carotenes, and vitamin K spinach is a wise addition to the diabetes friendly diet. Because of the high concentrations of polyphenols and vitamin C spinach and other green leafy vegetables may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. The magnesium may further reduce the risks.
  • Tomatoes: Also known as a superfood, tomatoes are packed with vitamin C and offer an excellent source of vitamin A and potassium. Lycopene, the nutrient that gives the red color, is a powerful antioxidant.
  • Broccoli: A “must-have,” broccoli is low in carbohydrates and loaded with vitamins A, K, and the best source of vitamin C. Also it’s a source of fiber and iron. Broccoli is rich in chromium, which plays a role in keeping long-term blood sugar under control.
  • Cucumber: Excellent source of vitamin K, with some potassium and vitamin C this low carb choice is good for diabetes.
  • Cabbage: This inexpensive vegetable will add vitamins K and C, antioxidants, manganese, fiber, and vitamin B6 to you diet.
  • Brussel Sprouts: Full of vitamins A and C, folate and fiber, Brussel Sprouts deserve a place on your dinner plate.
  • Cauliflower: A boost to your diabetes meal plan; cauliflower is high in vitamin C and contains fiber, potassium, and folate.
  • Asparagus: Packed with vitamins K and A, asparagus helps blood sugar levels stay under control while boosting output of insulin. Also a great source for folic acid, potassium, fiber, vitamin B6 and C, and thiamine. 
  • Beans: The soluble fiber in all types of beans greatly reduces high blood sugar as well as being an ideal carbohydrate source with their protein.
  • Nuts and Seeds: With their anti-inflammatory effect, nuts and seeds may prevent the development of insulin resistance. One study found that there was a 27% reduced risk of diabetes in those who ate five or more servings of nuts per week. Flaxseed, rich in fiber, protein and good fats are also a source of magnesium, a key to blood sugar control.
  • Brown Rice: A compound found in rice reduces nerve and blood vessel damage caused by diabetes. Best when soaked in water overnight, which awakens the compound.
  • Barley: Even better than brown rice, consuming this grain can reduce the rise in blood sugar after a meal by almost 70% and keep your blood sugar steady for hours. The soluble fiber and other compounds slow the digestion and absorption of the carbohydrate.
  • Sweet Potato: Choosing a sweet potato, packed with nutrients and disease fighting fiber, instead of a white potato will decrease your blood sugar by 30 percent.

Other Foods for Preventing Diabetes:

  • Chicken and Turkey: The breast meat in poultry is always lower in fat than the dark meat and depending on how it is prepared will provide low-calorie protein while keeping blood sugar levels as steady as possible throughout the day.
  • Fish: Eating fish regularly can reduce your risk of heart disease, which is the deadliest complication of diabetes. This fatty acid not only reduces the inflammation that is a major contributor to coronary disease but can also reduce insulin resistance and diabetes.
  • Quinoa: Having a large amount of nutrition, Quinoa helps maintain a healthy blood sugar.
  • Spices and Herbs: Researchers tested 24 common spices and herbs and discovered that the antioxidants they contain could prevent inflammation associated with diabetes. Cloves and cinnamon got the highest marks.

For Brain Health:

Not only is eating healthy good for your physical health but it is very good for your mental health as well. Our brain is the most complex organ we have and it is one of the most important. Research is increasingly showing that you can increase your chances of maintaining a healthy brain even into old age if you add these brain-enhancing foods to you dietary regimen.

  • Berries and Cherries: Especially the dark versions these are a rich source of anthocyanins, and other flavonoids that boost memory function. The super berry, blueberries, may be particularly healthy for your brain as they may reduce the effect of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
  • Pomegranate: Full of antioxidants - which function as a protector of brain cells and they protect you heart. Elderly who have good cardiovascular health tend to have slower memory loss.
  • Quinoa: The iron found in quinoa helps keep red blood cells healthy by carrying oxygen from one cell to another. This also increases brain function. 
  • Salmon: A serving of salmon contains almost 50% of the recommend dose of niacin and it has been found that niacin may protect against Alzheimer’s disease and other memory loss.
  • Bananas: Containing vitamins, minerals and amino acids bananas will enhance brain function. They also increase brain chemicals that counter depression.
  • Tomatoes: Lycopene, a powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes, helps protect against the damage to cells that has been linked with the development of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s. 
  • Almonds: Like all nuts, almonds are a great source of the vitamin E, which has been shown to play a role in slowing cognitive decline with age.
  • Grapes: Resveratrol, found in grapes, has a brain-protecting ability. Other key antioxidant components of grapes have been linked to improved brain health.
  • Turmeric: With its anti-viral and anti-inflammatory agents, research has shown it to be helpful in preventing Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Cinnamon:  Including cinnamon in your diet significantly elevates the level of sodium benzoate in your brain which has important positive effects in boosting brain health.

For tips on what a healthy eating plan should look like go to MyPlate where you will see a visual of what a healthy dinner plate would look like. It helps you to focus on the right variety of foods.  Healthy eating may be a lifestyle change for many but think of it as a new journey - one that will help you get and stay healthy.

To recap, why is a nutritious diet important? A poor diet is a major factor in contributing to causes of chronic disease and death in the United States.  Healthy eating prevents obesity which is the number one nutritional factor for disease. You have the power to help reduce your risk for some of these diseases by making positive food choices and lifestyle changes. You can also help prevent the onset of chronic disease by getting enough exercise, refraining from the use of tobacco and excessive use of alcohol.

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