Editor's note: With summer here, the Transcript takes a look at the area's offerings allowing senior residents the opportunity for active, healthy lifestyles.
The following "Active Senior" article is the second in this three-part weekly series.
NORTH ADAMS -- Proper nutrition and healthy eating isn't just for kids -- it's essential at every age and especially important for seniors.
"A good part of the malnutrition and poor nutrition we see occurs in that age set," Kristin Irace, a registered dietitian at North Adams Regional Hospital said recently. "It's often blamed on other factors such as medications and chronic illnesses, physical limitations, limited budgets or transportation issues. There are a lot of possible causes for poor nutrition in our senior population."
Poor eating habits can be attributed to lifestyle changes -- the death of a spouse or not knowing how to cook for one.
"Sometimes, a person is so used to cooking for a huge family and preparing large meals, that they can't cook for one. They don't want to be bothered with learning how," she said. "As we age, we can also have factors that decrease our appetites. A decrease in the senses of smell and taste can affect the ability to enjoy food. Different medications can make foods taste different. People with dementia and Alzheimer's disease often loose most of their sense of taste -- the sense of sweetness is one they seem to hold on to. It causes those individuals to eat foods like candy and ice cream more often than healthy foods."
Seniors living on fixed incomes tend to choose to pay bills over buying nutritious foods.
"When you have a big financial burden and are worrying about your heating bill, fresh fruits and vegetables are not on the top of your list," Irace said. "I've presented workshops at St. Joseph's Court and the Harper Center, where I offer tips on how to eat healthy on a budget. I tell seniors to buy fruits and vegetables that are in season because they cost less. I also encourage them to go to the local farmers' markets, which are often in walking distance and help support local business."
Those who receive SNAP (food stamp) benefits can take advantage of the "SNAP x2 PROGRAM" at the North Adams Farmers Market.
"It's a program that doubles the value of SNAP benefits," she said. "If you use you $5 from SNAP EBT card, you'll receive $10 worth of tokens to spend at the market. You can get 50 percent more produce."
However, Irace noted that many seniors will forego using federal benefits because of the associated social stigma and embarrassment.
"A lot of times seniors on fixed or limited incomes buy cheaper and less nutritious foods," she said. "I encourage seniors to take advantage of sales -- buy one, get two free -- and share that cost with friends. The food is less expensive that way."
Irace said adult children can help their parents eat healthy in a variety of ways:
* Cook or bake extra servings that can be dropped off -- the food can be reheated or frozen for later.
* Encourage quality over quantity -- healthy fats, whole grains and protein rich beans.
* Enhance flavors with herbs and marinades.
* Combine textures -- smooth yogurts mixed with granola can perk up the appetite of a senior with a limited sense of taste.
* Make sure seniors have healthy food on hand, which is easy to prepare.
* Microwavable bags of steamed vegetables cut down on prep time and are healthier than frozen veggies.
* Avoid canned soups and frozen foods, which are high in sodium.
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email