Cooking For Alzheimer’s Patients

Stick to Basics and Serve Healthy Foods, Vegetables

By Val VanMeter
The Winchester Star

There are a lot of challenges in cooking for patients suffering from the form of dementia known as Alzheimer’s.

Participants at a recent workshop on caring for the victims of this progressive, debilitating disease received useful information at a day-long seminar.

Nutritionist Alyson Hendershot, a registered dietitian with Nutritionally Yours, had suggestions suitable for those employed in care facilities and those who are caring for a loved one at home.

Stick to the basics when it comes to food for Alzheimer’s sufferers, she said.

Eating healthy, she said, is the same for everyone.

“Stay away from processed food,” she said. “Shop the produce aisle.”

Go for variety, and you should get all the necessary nutrients, Hendershot said. Pick colorful vegetables: yellow squash, purple eggplant, bright green broccoli. “Eat your colors,” should be your motto.

Additives, preservatives, and salt are generally not good for Alzheimer’s victims, just as they are not the best diet for healthy people.

“Usually,” she said, “Alzheimer’s patients are not eating enough.”

So, she said, stick with nutrient-dense foods, where a little provides a lot of nutrition.

Pick whole grain breads, she said. A slice of whole grain bread can provide three grams of fiber per slice.

Add wheat germ to dishes. This can deliver substantial amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids, proven to help brain health. Almonds are another great source of Omega 3s, Hendershot added. A handful will do you.

Soy flour gives added protein, as does powdered milk, Hendershot said and both can be added to other foods. Plain, whole milk yogurt is great for creating dip for snacks. Add chives, scallions, pepper, and/or garlic to suit the taste of the snackers.

Currently, she said, carbohydrates are getting a bad rap.

“You need carbohydrates,” she said, especially for breakfast, to jump start your body. You don’t need white bread, cookies, and cakes, she added.

Fluids are also important. For patients who don’t drink enough liquids, vegetables and fruits can augment water in the diet.

“Eat your fluids,” Hendershot counseled. Think Jello, ice cream, or melons. A serving of cantaloupe can bring a quarter cup of fluid to a diet.

The list of things to avoid sounds familiar.

Take the sodium off the table, Hendershot said. Then, gradually back off of the amount you use while cooking. Flavor with vinegar, lemon juice, onion, or garlic.

Serving sweet snacks sets up the eater for a craving for more sweets. Those fresh vegetables, in a yogurt-based dip, are a great substitute.

The caffeine in coffee is another possible problem. Try substituting decaffinated or tea, Hendershot suggested.

Selecting the right food may be only half the battle.

Hendershot said the chef needs to consider the habits of the diners.

“How did this person used to eat meals,” Hendershot asked.

If the person is used to a fairly regimented schedule, sitting down to three meals at certain times each day, match that schedule.

“What if they worked odd hours, or swing shift, or were used to eating alone?” Match that too, she said, to make eating conform to lifetime habit.

Offering choices is a way to get patients to eat a variety of foods and also gives them some control, too, she said. Serving finger foods is another way to offer choice and control.

During her remarks, Hendershot fielded questions from the participants, while preparing a vegetable tray, with dip, to demonstrate her suggestions.

Using cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, asparagus, and green beans, Hendershot simmered the vegetables to soften them, making it easier for those with dental problems to enjoy the repast.

The dip was made with plain whole-milk yogurt, seasoned with chives, dill and parsley. (See recipes below).

“It’s very sensory,” said Linda Olson, as she stood beside the table watching the simmering veggies. Once aligned around the platter, Olson said “aesthetically, it’s very interesting.

“I can say something really stupid in the beginning,” Hendershot said as the class took vegetables and dip from the tray.

“But, by the time I feed you, you’ll have forgotten all about it.”

The dish passed the taste test. Several folks returned for seconds. The dip completely disappeared.

“I love to eat. I love talking about food,” Hendershot said after the demonstration. “Food is important to everyone’s life.”

Hendershot, who graduated from the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown, N.J., is a member of the American Dietetic Association.

She started her own business, Nutritionally Yours, in January, working with Mike Herbert, a chef and cooking instructor.

Nutritionally Yours, based in Fairfax, offers nutrition counseling and menu planning.

There is a basic cooking class for caregivers, covering the fundamentals of safe, sanitary, and effective food preparation. And the partners offer menu planning and cooking classes for those dealing with special diets.

The following recipes are shared by Hendershot:

Blanched Vegetable Platter
Pick some or all of the following:

Broccoli florets
Baby carrots
Green beans (ends snipped)

Cut vegetables to bite-sized portions.

Remove tough ends. Fill a small pot with cold water and place on stove. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once it starts to boil, add one of the vegetables. Return to boil and simmer for about 3 minutes, or until the water just starts to turn color. Drain and rinse with cold water until vegetables are cooled. Repeat with the other vegetables you choose.

Arrange on platter and serve with dip below.

(Fresh tomatoes, cut into wedges, can be added to the vegetable plate).

Summer Herb Salad Dressing

1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon lemon juice (fresh lemon tastes better)
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup fresh chives, minced
1/4 cup fresh dill, minced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
Fresh ground pepper and salt to taste.

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use.

(Recipes courtesy of Stoneyfield Farms).

This article appeared in the Wednesday, January 5, 2005 edition of the Wichester Star newspaper, based in Winchester, VA