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Healthy Eating for Seniors: Organic Food

By , 12:41 am on

“Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible.” Those of us of a certain age will remember this tag line said by Euell Gibbons.  He ushered in the mainstream focus on healthy eating in a Grape Nuts cereal commercial. Prior to this message of natural, high fiber food for breakfast, most people started the day by eating eggs, bacon, and buttered toast. My parents and grandparents certainly did. I remember visiting after college and being stunned to see my dad eat cold muesli (oats, nuts, and berries soaked in unsweetened yogurt) for breakfast. Who was this imposter?

My cousins, some nearly a generation younger than I, are feeding their families in a completely different way than our Southern mothers fed us. Their kids eat organic meat, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, and whole grains instead of the traditional, deep-South diet of fried chicken, white rice and gravy, and overcooked, fatback flavored green beans we cousins were raised on.

The dinner table debate at a family reunion aired the merits of organic vs. vegetarian vs. low calorie vs. natural as 4 generations ate together.  “Natural” was quashed early in the debate, because no one really agreed what it meant.  Even our government hasn’t conveyed “natural” or “all natural” with legal meaning.  Organic was a clear winner.  My 88 year-old great aunt is a believer and puts her health down to family-farm raised everything from her childhood. My real-people, basic American family chose “organic” because they want variety and a chance to enjoy real food raised without chemical feeds or fertilizers.   They stridently proclaimed they don’t want chemicals migrating into their food from weed control or disease prevention efforts.

The USDA strictly defines organic in three ways:

  • 100% Organic: every ingredient is certified organic. Can use the USDA/Organic logo.
  • Organic: at least 95% of the ingredients are certified organic.  Can use the USDA/Organic logo.
  • Made with organic ingredients: at least 70% of the ingredients are certified organic.  Cannot use the USDA/Organic logo.

Now that our main “foodie” holidays are behind us, we can think seriously about what we’re putting into our bodies and decide for ourselves what makes sense. Here is a little food for thought: Food just might make the world go ‘round.

  • We bond around the dinner table
  • We feed our body’s basic and complex needs with it
  • We fight or invite disease with the choices we make
  • We can explore diverse cultures through it
  • We fight battles of daring do (jalapeno or pie-eating contests)
  • We compete for notoriety through it (county fair or international bake-off)
  • Some choose to eat dessert first
  • Poetry is written about it (Shell Silverstein’s Italian Food)
  • Movies are made about it(Babette’s Feast and Chocolat)
  • Lovers express love with it (chocolate for Valentine’s Day)
  • The broken hearted use it for comfort (chocolate for the other 364 days in the year)
  • It is just plain good (insert favorite food of choice)

The bottom line, as my dad was fond of saying, is this: We need food. We must make good choices about what we put into our bodies because food really matters to our health and well-being.  How do you define good food? Pine trees?

Sources for this article include the author’s real-life Southern family and childhood, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Organic Program,

Lee Nyberg serves seniors through her company, Home Care Assistance.  Home Care Assistance is North America’s premier provider of in-home senior care.  Our mission is to change the way the world ages. We provide older adults with exceptional care that enables them to live happier, healthier lives at home. Our services are distinguished by the caliber of our caregivers, the responsiveness of our staff and our expertise in live-In care. We embrace a positive, balanced approach to aging centered on the evolving needs of older adults. For more information visit our website: