A Tasty -- and Healthy -- Gift for Aging Parents

Dorian Martin Health Guide

  • Sometimes I get stumped about what to get my 88-year-old father on holidays and other special days. He has almost everything he needs. And because he continues facing serious health issues, some of the usual choices – such as gift cards for restaurants – won’t work because almost every restaurant has a sodium-laden menu (and he’s on a low-salt diet).

    So on Valentine’s Day, I went a different route.  I picked up his favorite vegetables at the farmer’s market. He was really pleased when I told him about his “presents.” The three types I selected – sweet potatoes, beets and cauliflower -- are vegetables he grew up eating, so they are a form of comfort food that remind him of earlier times. And even better, these all are excellent foods to add to an elderly person’s diet since their nutrients offer important protection for conditions that tend to emerge in people as they age.

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    Sweet Potatoes

    Sweet potatoes are an excellent addition to the diet of an aging person. These tubers are a great source of beta-carotene (which turns into vitamin A in the body). When eating these vegetables, it’s especially important to try to consume it with 3-5 grams of fat (such as 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil), which increases the amount of beta-carotene that the body absorbs. An antioxidant, beta-carotene protects the body from free radicals, which damage cells through oxidation. This damage can lead to chronic illnesses as we age. Some studies suggest that eating four or more daily servings of beta-carotene-rich produce can lower the chance of heart disease and cancer. Beta-carotene also can help slow age-related macular degeneration. Furthermore beta-carotene may help lower the risk of metabolic syndrome, which is a group of symptoms and risk factors that cause the risk of heart disease and diabetes to jump. Sweet potatoes also are an excellent source of vitamin C and manganese.


    Beets have been around for a long time. They initially were eaten in the Mediterranean region of the world and were enjoyed by the Romans. The original form of this vegetable was the table beet. In the 18th century, the sugar beet was developed as an alternate source of sugar. Overall, beet leaves can be eaten, as well as the beet bulb. Beets have excellent antioxidant, anti-inflammation and detoxification properties, thanks to the beet’s betalains, which are in the pigments in the peel and flesh of the beets. However, betalains can be lost in the cooking process so try to keep the time you cook them down to 15 minutes for steaming and 60 minutes or less for roasting. Beets also are high in folate and manganese. Research suggests that beets offer protection against heart disease and certain types of cancer, such as colon cancer.


    This cruciferous vegetable supports three of the body’s major systems – detoxification, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory. That’s important because cauliflower can be a critical part of a diet designed to prevent bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer and ovarian cancer. Cauliflower also provides important digestive support since it has over nine grams of fiber in every 100 calories.  Additionally, cauliflower contains a compound that helps prevent the growth of some types of bad bacteria in the stomach and intestinal tract. Cauliflower also is being studied to determine whether it can help with health problems that are caused by inflammation, such as insulin resistance, irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis and metabolic syndrome. Finally, cauliflower is a great source of vitamin C as well as a good source of vitamin K and folate.


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    So if you have an aging parent and you don't know what to get them for a birthday or holiday, try buying some fresh produce that they loved in their younger years. They may tell you that you've given them one of the best presents yet!

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Parker-Pope, T. (2008). For beets, a little more respect, please. New York Times.

    The George Mateljan Foundation. (ND). Beets.

    The George Mateljan Foundation. (ND). Cauliflower.

    The George Mateljan Foundation. (ND). What’s new and beneficial about sweet potatoes.

    University of Maryland Medical Center. (2013). Beta-carotene.

Published On: February 17, 2014