Summer’s Bounty: An Interview with Goodwin House Dietitian Alison Liggett, RD, CSG

Diet is one of the major factors for overall health, especially for older adults. Countless research and medical reports validate that healthy diets improve cognitive functioning, prevent disease and contribute to improved quality of life for older adults. With summer in full swing, fresh vegetables and fruits can make eating healthy a much easier option. We sat down with Goodwin House Dietitian Alison Liggett to learn more.

Q:  What are the most healthy fruits and vegetables for older adults in the summer?

Alison:  Taking advantage of the fruits and vegetables that are both local and in season is always a good idea for your health! In fact, the American Heart Association recommends eating eight or more fruit and vegetable servings every day. And given that variety matters, summer is an excellent time to try a wide range of tasty options.

It is also important to note that fruits and vegetables are a great way to stay hydrated during the dog days of summer. According to the Mayo Clinic, older adults are especially susceptible to dehydration, which is one of the main admitting diagnoses in the hospital during June, July and August. In addition to drinking lots of water, diet also can help with staying hydrated. Many fruits and vegetables, including leafy greens, cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, melons, grapes and berries have between 90% to 99% water.

Q:  Is there a “health difference” in raw versus cooked?

Alison:  It is always a good idea to balance your diet with a combination of both raw and cooked foods. Both have their health benefits. Fans of raw foods claim that cooking destroys important nutrients found in these foods. For instance, vegetables like broccoli are rich in vitamin C and tend to be most vulnerable to the cooking process. But in contrast, there are antioxidants like lycopene that are more easily absorbed in foods that are cooked.

Cooking food helps to kill bacteria that could lead to a foodborne illness. For this reason, foods such as dairy products, eggs, and meat should always go through the pasteurization process or be cooked to the recommended internal temperature prior to consumption.

The same goes for cooking foods on the outdoor grill, a common and fun summer staple. The FDA issued some tips for ensuring your foods are properly cooked and handled when cooking on the backyard barbeque. Click Here for more!

Q:  How about a difference in buying organic versus non-organic. Is it worth the extra cost in buying organic?

Alison:  Buying organic versus non-organic is a personal choice that usually has more to do with the environmental impact than the nutritional quality. If you have extra money in your budget and are able to afford organic, then the next step would be prioritizing which products you want to purchase organic. For instance, if you are concerned about animal welfare, purchasing organic eggs, dairy products and meat may be the best choice.

Another tip is to look at the Environmental Working Group’s annual “Dirty Dozen” food list to determine which fruits and vegetables have the highest levels of pesticides. This year, the report found that almost 70% of non-organic samples tested positive for at least one pesticide. Examples of non-organic foods containing pesticides included strawberries, grapes, cherries and tomatoes. Therefore, buying organic might be the way to go for the foods listed on the “Dirty Dozen” list in order to gain the greatest health benefit. 

Q:  Can you recommend the top regional farmers markets for shopping?

Alison:  I have visited many of the local farmers markets and can say that my favorite is the Falls Church Farmers Market, which is very close for our Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads residents. If you go there, you may run into me! It is open year round on Saturday mornings and has a variety of wonderful vendors that sell anything from fresh berries to cut flowers.

The Old Town Farmers Market in Alexandria is also open Saturday mornings and has a diverse selection of vendors. It’s also close to our Goodwin House Alexandria campus! 

The Annandale Farmers Market is smaller, but because it is open on Thursdays it’s a great option for weekday shopping and it is not quite as crowded. Overall, we are lucky to live in an area where we have so many great Farmers Markets close by!

Q:  What are your favorite recipes that are easy to prepare with summer fruits and vegetables and are recipes that work for one or two people?

Alison:  I find sheet pan dinners to be relatively simple and quick to prepare. I will place fish or chicken on a baking sheet and then add vegetables and potatoes. I toss everything in olive oil and herbs and bake it at 400˚F for about 45 minutes. If I don’t have potatoes, then I will prepare a whole grain like quinoa, brown rice or whole wheat couscous. If I prepare four servings, I’ll save some for another night!

I usually start each meal with a fresh salad made with local lettuce, radishes, tomatoes and cucumbers tossed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and lemon juice. For dessert, I will have fresh berries and occasionally a small piece of dark chocolate.

Alison Liggett is a Registered Dietitian and Board Certified as a Specialist in Gerontological Nutrition. She graduated from James Madison University with a degree in Dietetics and completed her Dietetic Internship with the Virginia Department of Health. Her passion in working with older adults began when her grandmother moved into her family home when she was a young teen. For the past 1.5 years, Alison’s responsibilities at Goodwin House have included performing nutrition assessments, menu planning and assisting residents with special dietary needs.