When we age, our bodies undergo changes that affect our dietary needs and abilities to absorb nutrients. Hence, not all foods are suitable for the elderly because, at this stage, their body system is weaker and more susceptible to diseases and infections.
In addition, elderly individuals are more vulnerable to health problems and chronic diseases that can be prevented or managed through a healthy diet.
Therefore, it is imperative for elderly persons to maintain a balanced and nutritious diet to support their physical and mental health. However, finding healthy Nigerian foods that are suitable for the elderly can be challenging.
Some may struggle with a loss of appetite, difficulty chewing or swallowing, or limited access to fresh and healthy foods.
Nonetheless, they need foods that can protect, improve and maintain their vitality and health. For this reason, I have carefully drafted out the ten healthy Nigerian foods for the elderly.
10 Healthy Nigerian Foods For the Elderly
Below are the top healthy Nigerian foods for the elderly. They contain essential nutrients needed by older individuals. They are as follows:
1. Leafy green vegetables
Nigeria has a wide range of highly nutritious vegetables suitable for older adults. Leafy greens such as ugwu (fluted pumpkin leaves), bitter leaf (onugbu), spinach, water leaf, and ewedu (jute leaves), and spinach are excellent choices. They are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fibre, which support overall health.
Research has shown that regular consumption of a diet rich in vegetables and fruits helps slow cognitive decline in older adults.
In addition, osteoporosis is a common health issue for elderly people in Nigeria, particularly women. This is where bone density reduces and so the risk of fractures increases.
Leafy green vegetables contain calcium and other essential minerals that help fight ossteoporosis.
Beans are one of the best healthy Nigerian foods for the elderly that should be found in every home.
Beans like black-eyed peas (cowpeas) and brown beans are a great sources of plant-based protein, dietary fibre, and essential minerals. They can be prepared as soups or in combination with other ingredients.
Also, research has proven beans help in healthy ageing and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
Nigerian coastal regions are rich and offer various fish options, including mackerel (commonly known as titus sardine), catfish, and tilapia. Fish is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which support heart health and cognitive function, which is essential for older adults. Stock fish, crayfish, and dried fish are also healthy options for elderly people.
It is recommended that elderly Nigerians take more fish than the widely consumed red meat, which is not very suitable for them at their age. To minimise added fates, go for grilled or steamed fish.
4. Whole Grains
One of the healthy Nigerian foods for the elderly is whole grains. Incorporating whole grains like brown rice, millet, fonio (acha) and maize into the diet can provide complex carbohydrates, dietary fibre, and B vitamins.
These grains can be eaten whole or used to prepare dishes like tuwo shinkafa (millet fufu) or pap (ogi/akamu). Whole grains like rice and paired with fresh fish or chicken stew.
Fruits are unarguably one of the best healthy Nigerian foods for the elderly. There are a lot of fruits in Nigeria, such as oranges, tomatoes, pineapples, garden eggs, watermelons, pear, soursop, breadfruit (Ukwa), and bananas, packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Most fruits contain vitamin A and C that boost the immune system of elderly people as well as improve their eyesight.
These fruits can be consumed as snacks, added to smoothies, or used to make natural juices.
Fresh fruits are better than processed ones, so go to the local market, get some, stock in the refrigerator and consume regularly.
6. Nuts and seeds
Walnuts, almonds, cashew nuts, groundnuts, pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds are nutrient-dense food that provides healthy fats, fibre, and essential vitamins and minerals—including them in meals or consuming them as snacks can be beneficial.
A study has shown that regularly consuming nuts and seeds improves cognitive functions.
Although it not considered a nut or seed, tiger nuts are also recommended to be eaten by older ones.
Plain, unsweetened yoghurt is a good source of probiotics, calcium, and protein that helps to maintain gut health and support digestion. It is recommended that elderly Nigerians should go for yoghurt and avoid soda and alcohol. You can consume yoghurt or add it to smoothies and salads.
8. Unripe plantains
Unripe plantains are a good source of dietary fibre, potassium, and vitamins A and C. Unripe plantains contain less sugar than ripe ones, making it great for older people who are trying to manage their sugar.
They also protect your body system against free radical damage from ageing, cancer or heart disease.
Also, you can get Plantain in any local Nigerian food market. You can get it boiled, baked, or mashed and incorporated into meals.
Eggs are a versatile and nutritious food option. They provide high-quality protein, vitamins, and minerals and are soft and easily prepared, making them suitable for older people.
10. Herbs and spices
Nigerian herbs and spices like ginger, garlic, turmeric, scent leaf, and basil not only enhance the flavour of dishes but also offer potential health benefits. They possess anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. So it is advised that the food for older people should be prepared with these spices.
Garlic, for instance, can be eaten raw as it helps to fight free radicals that reduce your risk of dementia, Alzheimer and cognitive disorders.
Elderly people need to make sure that their diet is healthy and satisfies their unique nutritional requirements. Also, there are a variety of healthy Nigerian foods available to elderly people.
Therefore, try to consume these foods and make them a large part of your diet. Also, you can talk to your physician or a licenced nutritionist to construct a diet that would be unique to your situation as an elderly person.
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