By Lise Stern / JNS.org
We all have our traditional kosher favorites—and for many this means Ashkenazic fare, like slow-roasted brisket, matzo ball soup, lockshen kugel, and perhaps cholent and blintzes. Unfortunately, such kosher classics aren’t the best choices for us as we get older. “Age 50 appears to be the time when some of our nutritional needs change,” says Toby Smithson, RD, CDE, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and founder of DiabetesEveryDay.com. Our metabolisms begin to slow down, so we need fewer calories — yet at the same time, we still need food that is high in nutrients.
The challenge, then, is to get all the nutrients we need without overeating. If you are physically active, great — though most people are not scaling the same number of mountains at 60 or 70 that they were at 30. There are also specific vitamins and minerals we need more after we hit 50, Smithson says, notably potassium, calcium, and vitamins B12 and D. We also need fiber, but slightly less than we do when we’re younger.
Sodium is a concern in the opposite direction — too much can contribute to high blood pressure, and we need to significantly reduce consumption as we get older, to about 3/4 teaspoon per day (1500 milligrams) — that includes both what we add to our plate and what occurs in foods naturally. Unless specifically made for seniors, prepared kosher foods can be high in sodium.
Too much sodium is a concern regarding blood pressure, and potassium helps blunt sodium’s affect, Smithson says. Calcium, coupled with vitamin D, helps with bone strength, and vitamin B12 protects against anemia. Fiber serves multiple purposes — it helps with digestion and heart health, and can help prevent certain kinds of cancer. Good sources include fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains like oatmeal and brown rice. And keeping it fresh is key.
“We at Morrison Senior Living [of Hebrew Health Care in West Hartford] embrace the philosophy of fresh whole foods that are regional, local, fresh and sustainable for our residents,” says Guy Gannon, director of Hebrew Health Care’s dining services. “ We purchase foods that are easily accessible and that are whole foods. This removes the salt and the kosher feel of the food but maintains kosher law for our community. We prepare many items from scratch, recipes that are time-tested and we look for local vendors. Grains legumes and natural foods help us create a better and healthier menu for our residents.”
For many in their 50s and above, choosing meals and preparing their own food may not be an issue. But as the Jewish population ages, more and more people are living on their own, with family far away. Jewish organizations in Connecticut and in several cities around the country offer service to this group.
For example, the Jewish Home of Fairfield County is working to adapt its in-house dining services – which addresses both kosher and health-related food needs – to its Senior Choice at Home program.
“All of our staff has training in kashrut, and our care management focuses on the individual and his or her needs, starting with cuisine and health practices,” says the Home’s program director Miri Citron. “We’re considering many options now, including additional training for our home aides to create high nutrition for members who keep kosher.”
As part of its Home Companion Program, Stamford-based Jewish Family Service trains aides in nutrition and introduces them to kashrut, says Isrella Knopf, MSW, director of geriatric services. For clients with health-related special dietary needs or food sensitivities, aides can modify grocery lists and recipes to create healthier meals.
Several cities – such as Skokie, Ill. and Providence, R.I. — offer Kosher Meals on Wheels, a federally subsidized program that supplies a daily meal to those 60 and older who cannot easily get out of the house. However, Kosher Meals on Wheels was offered in the Hartford and New Haven regions until this year, when both programs were terminated for financial and logistical reasons.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation indicates that our vitamin D needs can almost double once we hit 50—those under a half century need 400 to 800 IU daily, while those over need 800 to 1000 IU.
“Vitamin D is needed to help keep bones strong along with calcium,” Smithson says. The primary natural source of vitamin D is sunlight, but how our skin absorbs it can depend on where we live, if we use sunblock, and how much time we spend inside, an issue for shut-ins.
If you don’t spend much time in the sun, you may need vitamin D supplements; check with a health care provider for the best balance. Kashrut can be an issue for some vitamin D supplements. Smithson notes that there are two kinds, D2 and D3, and “D3 is derived from ultraviolet irradiation of a substance derived from sheep’s wool.”
In general, the most efficient sources for the nutrients we need as we get older is food, rather than supplements; supplements should do just that—help with what we’re getting from food already. Food has the added advantage of being good for multiple nutrients. Dairy products, for example, contain both calcium and potassium.
Other good sources for potassium include beans (think cholent) and fruit, including dried apricots, prunes, and raisins (tzimmes, anyone?). Dates are also a good source, along with pistachios and other nuts. (Nuts can be high in fat, so moderation is key.)
Fortunately, it’s easy to fit a healthy diet into a kosher diet — for the most part. Brisket isn’t the leanest cut of meat, but it can be reserved for special occasions “Unfortunately the leanest cuts of beef are not kosher, so we need to have a stronger focus on cutting back on our sources of fats, especially saturated fat,” Smithson says.
“Many traditional dishes can be modified,” she advises. “Dishes like lockshen kugel can be made with a heat-resistant sugar substitute and egg whites to make it more heart-healthy and diabetes friendly.”
“The best advice is to modify recipes, watch portion size, and add more vegetables to your meals,” she adds.
Good advice as we head into our 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. And if we make it to our 90s, that may be the time when we no longer have to worry about moderation, and we can have a second helping of brisket.