HIBBING — The smell of cooking sarmas wafted in from the kitchen of the Hibbing Tourist Center Senior Citizens, Inc. to the meeting area Tuesday afternoon as a clinical dietitian from Fairview Range Medical Center offered a presentation called “Nutrition for Seniors and Sickness Prevention.”
It was the second of a series of informational workshops that began last month and will continue through June. The free classes are the result of a partnership between the Tourist Center and Fairview Range and are designed to address the common challenges facing seniors today.
Senior eating 101: eat your fruits and vegetables
Liz Peterson, a registered and licensed dietitian, has been working in both in-patient and out-patient settings since moving two years ago to Hibbing from Eau Claire, Wis. Many of the people who come to her are seeking help for healthy weight management, diabetes or high cholesterol. She also works with people who struggle with binge eating or who have an eating disorder related to a mental health diagnosis.
“Ninety to 99 percent of people know what they should be eating, so a lot of it comes down to choices that they’re making,” Peterson said. She explained that the biggest challenge she encounters is motivating people to eat a balanced diet, as the culture of Iron Range eating tends to consist of large portions of meat, bread and potatoes with few vegetables or fruit. She said it’s vital for older adults, whose appetite naturally decreases with age, to choose nutrient-rich foods. That means learning the difference between healthy fats, like avocados, and unhealthy fats, like butter or fatty cuts of beef. As for the healthier choice for protein? Eggs, nuts, beans, fish and lean meats, like poultry.
Peterson also highlighted the need for whole grains, low fat dairy products, potassium and vitamins D and B12 for energy. Above all, she pushed the need for fiber from fruits and vegetables, which has been known to prevent certain diseases while helping to facilitate healthy bowel movements and weight management.
Bonuses for eating well
According to Peterson, sleep habits and diet plays a large role in brain health. In addition to fruits and vegetables, studies show that fatty fish, walnuts, oatmeal and flaxseed may help avoid degenerative brain diseases. But food can also act as an anti-inflammatory agent.
“A lot of people have aches and pains, and inflammation is connected with an increased risk for many chronic illnesses,” he said. “Inflammation is a normal body response to promote healing. Inflammation is a sign that the immune system is fighting infection, and the infection may be related to germs, wounds, allergens, toxins, or other causes.”
However, excess body fat can also cause inflammation, creating problems with the immune system. Some anti-inflammatory “superfoods” she suggested trying were dark chocolate, red wine, green tea, turmeric and ginger.
Peterson also spoke about portion control and how in order to help maintain healthy muscle mass, protein portions should be the size of a deck of cards, or about 5-6 ounces. It’s also important to choose leaner cuts of meat, like turkey or chicken, and limiting red meat to only twice a week.
“Most of the time it’s about behavior change, setting goals and changing habits,” she said. “It’s a lot about finding the motivation.”
Flu and Illness prevention
Peterson offered some basic tips for avoiding illnesses: getting a flu shot, thorough handwashing, drinking fluids and staying home when sick to prevent spreading germs. She also reviewed how practicing general food safety can help avoid health pitfalls.
“Food safety is a thing a lot of people don't really think about,” she said. “Handling food is much more than throwing away your expired food or rinsing vegetables.”
Common mistakes she mentioned were tasting or smelling food to see if it still good, placing cooked meat on the same plate that held raw meat, thawing food on the counter and washing meat or poultry in the sink, which can spread bacteria around the kitchen. Other common mistakes: letting food cool before placing it in the fridge, marinating meat or seafood on the counter, undercooking meat, not replacing dish rags or sponges regularly and not washing hands regularly when handling and cooking raw meat.
The following classes are free to attend will take place at noon at the Hibbing Tourist Center Senior Citizens, Inc. in partnership with Fairview Range Medical Center at 1202 E Howard Street.
Dec. 3 Common Senior Struggles
Jan. 7 Senior Living Options and Nursing Homes
Feb. 4 Physical Health and Chronic Disease
March 3 Mental Health, Depression, Anxiety and Fear
April 7 Health Care Costs and Medicare Coverage
May 5 Seniors and Medications
June 2 Retirement and Financial Struggles