Are You Eating Foods Seniors Should Avoid?

Dangerous Foods for Seniors

We know that the food we eat is paramount to our health and well being. But as we age, it becomes more difficult for our bodies to fight certain bacteria found in many foods we used to eat without a problem.

There are also many foods that can have a toxic effect when combined with some of the most common medications taken by older adults.

What some of the most recent research has shown is that older adults aren't necessarily more likely to get a food born infection. Rather, seniors are more likely to have a severe infection, if they do get infected in the first place. How significant are these risks? Well in the case of Listeria, the mortality rate from infection is about 10% for those aged 0-9 years old and climbs to 45% for those over 80 year old.

So whether it's Lysteria, Salmonella or E. Coli, it seems that as we age, we become susceptible to a more severe infection, whether ti be due to age or a weakened immune system. As the FDA writes "Should older adults contract a food borne illness, you are more likely to have a lengthier illness, undergo hospitalization, or even die." A little stark, but it gets the message across!

Here's a helpful list of foods put together by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration seniors should avoid:

Foods That Cause Lysteria Poisoning

  • Under cooked hot dogs
  • Deli meats / cold cuts
  • Smoked sea foods (smoked salmon, white fish, carp, etc...)
  • Dry (non-cooked) sausages (chorizo, prosciutto, salami, pepperoni)
  • Raw unpasteurized milk
  • Soft cheeses made with raw unpasteurized milk
  • Made in store chicken, ham or seafood salads (without added preservatives)
  • Unwashed raw fruits and vegetables
  • Uncooked sprouts

Avoid deli meats unless you're willing to re-heat them prior to eating. Lysteria can grow in the fridge even at 40F, hence the importance of re-heating at high temp to kill off the bacteria. Make sure to cook through your hot dogs. Avoid all raw milk products. That said, soft cheeses (brie, camembert, feta) made with pasteurized milk are fine, check the packaging.

Foods That Cause Salmonella Poisoning

  • Raw or under cooked eggs
  • Under cooked chicken or meat
  • Raw unpasteurized milk
  • Unwashed raw fruits and vegetables
  • Uncooked sprouts

Make sure you cook your eggs well done, they should not be runny and the whites should be cooked through. Scrambled is better than sunny side up. All chicken should be cooked through. There's a trend towards medium done chicken, it's not safe, regardless of the beautiful pic on Instagram.

Foods That Cause E.Coli Poisoning

  • Under cooked beef, especially hamburger meat
  • Raw unpasteurized milk
  • Unpasteurized juices (some apple ciders)
  • Unwashed raw fruits and vegetables
  • Uncooked sprouts

Hamburger meats should be cooked through and well done. All raw sprouts should be avoided, regardless of whether you wash them or not. Cooked sprouts are fine.

Toxic Interactions with Medications

  • Milk, Cheese & Yogurt
    Calcium rich foods and antibiotics don't go together. The medications could bind to the calcium, forming a substance the body can't absorb. In some cases as with cipro (often used to treat urinary tract infections), the combination can decrease the drugs effect by 40%. Other common antibitotics that don't go well with calcium include tetracycline and doxycycline.
  • Grapefruit Juice
    Taking grapefruit juice with statins is a bog no-no. Statins are a very common family of drugs (Lipitor, Crestor, Zocor, etc...) for those with high cholesterol. However, the furanocoumarin compounds found in grapefruit can heighten the potency of the statins to a point where they make other medications ineffective!

  • Black Licorice
    Aside from black licorice having potentially negative effects on your heart health on it's own, if it's combined with aspirin, anti-inflammatories, cyclosporine (used for organ transplants), it can cause negative interactions.

  • Alcohol
    There are a host of medications the National Institute of Health warns not to combine with alcohol, including allergy and cold, anti-anxiety, epilepsy, arthritis, blood clots, ADHD, anti-depressants, heart burn, enlarged prostate, high blood pressure, sleeping pills, Tylenol and other medications. The side effects are different, depending on the mix, but can include dizziness, drowsiness, ulcers, change in blood pressure, depression, fainting, rapid heart beat, liver damage and more.

  • Pickles, processed meats, cured meats and some aged cheeses
    For those taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), avoid foods high in tyramine. The combination can elevate tyramine levels in your body causing a severe spike in blood pressure.

Do not rely on the list above, it is not comprehensive. If you're taking any medications, whether they be prescriptions or over the counter drugs, ask your doctor or pharmacist if there are any foods you should be avoiding while taking the medication.

There's a lot you can to reduce the likelihood of getting a food born illness from an unfriendly bacteria, virus or parasite. These include:

  • Separate your food when shopping and preparing. For example, put your hamburger and chicken meats in separate bags from your vegetables and fruit, so the juices from the meat don't contaminate your fresh vegetables.
  • Clean your food. Even if your lettuce says it's been triple washed, wash it yourself.
  • Cook your food. Make sure to cook your chicken and hamburger meat well done, no matter what the latest Instagram photo may be showing.
  • Chill your food. Keep meets (including deli, cured and processed meats), fish, sauces, dips and spreads refrigerated. Avoid leaving them on counter tops or dining room tables for extended periods of time. When grocery shopping, put them in your cart last and don't leave them un-refrigerated for longer than 2 hours from time of purchase.