Aging is a natural part of being human. With that said, just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s easy. One of the more difficult challenges of aging is the decline of our sensory organs such as eyesight and hearing. While medical advancements have provided effective treatments — such as prescription glasses and hearing aids — research is now finding that diet can play an important role in minimizing the impact of sensory impairment.

What Are Our Sensory Organs?

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Ever hear the term sensory organ? No? Well, me either. This term refers to a group of five organs — ears, eyes, nose, tongue, and skin — that provide the body with protective resources. These sense organs “contain receptors that relay information through sensory neurons to the appropriate places within the nervous system.”

How do our sensory organs actually sense danger? They use receptors. Two different types of receptors, in fact.

The first grouping of receptors is referred to as general receptors. These are “found throughout the body because they are present in skin, visceral organs (visceral meaning in the abdominal cavity), muscles, and joints.” The second group of receptors is referred to as special receptors. These are more location specific and include chemoreceptors (chemical receptors) found in the mouth and nose, photoreceptors (light receptors) found in the eyes, and mechanoreceptors found in the ears.” These receptors convert the sensed information into nerve signals, which are then sent to the brain to be decoded and understood.

Through this delicate network of receptors, the human body is able to navigate safely through the world, while also experiencing all the wonderful aspects that our environment has to offer!

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What is Sensory Impairment?

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Sensory impairment refers to the loss or abnormal change to one of your senses — “sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste and spatial awareness.” Sensory impairments can be slight and manageable, such as wearing prescription glasses or needing a hearing aid, or they can be more serious, such as complete loss of sight, hearing, or speech.

Some people may also suffer from a dual sensory impairment, which is the combination of two sensory impairments. In this case, “the combination of the two sensory impairments intensify the impact of each other, which usually means that a deafblind person will have difficulty, or find it impossible, to utilize and benefit fully from services for deaf people or services for blind people.”

Age-Related Sensory Impairment

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No matter how you slice the pie, having a sensory impairment is completely manageable, but, when occurring in old age, can pose a challenge and lifestyle adjustment.

While some may experience sensory impairment from birth or throughout their younger life, a majority of people begin to suffer from sensory impairment as they age. This is due to our sensory threshold rising. As mentioned above, environmental stimulants are experienced by our sensory organs and are transmitted via nerve signals to the brain. With that said, there is a “certain amount of stimulation [that] is required before you become aware of a sensation,” and, as we age, this threshold grows higher.

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The rise of this threshold leads to sensory impairments, which may negatively affect your lifestyle and quality of life including “problems communicating, enjoying activities, and staying involved with people,” and eventually may cause the individual to isolate themselves.

So, how do you avoid sensory impairments?

Practice eating a healthy, whole foods, plant-based diet filled with sensory organ-rich nutrient!

Plant-Based Foods to Boost Health of Each Sense

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Lucky for us, diet plays an important role in the health of sensory organs. Powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents, as well as nutrient-rich foods, are incredibly important for the health of our senses. Some of these foods include healthy fat-filled omega-3’s, — walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds — vitamin-E rich foods, — lentils, cashews, brazil nuts, hemps seeds, sweet potatoes — vitamin C-rich foods, — lemons, grapefruit, oranges, spinach, and kale — and vitamin A-rich foods — carrot, spinach, mangoes, and tomatoes.

Eyesight

Sweet Potato Granola/One Green Planet

Eating for eyesight may be one of the easiest challenges to topple. In 2001, a study entitled Age-Related Eye Disease Study, discovered five specific nutrients that “may reduce the risk of age-related decline in eye health by 25 percent.” These nutrients were zinc, copper, vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene. Foods rich in these nutrients include nuts, seeds, sweet potato, and legumes (zinc, omega-3, and vitamin E), citrus fruits and leafy green veggies (vitamin C), carrots (vitamin A and beta carotene), whole grains (zinc), and superfood spirulina, shiitake mushrooms, and dark chocolate (copper).

Try out a few of these eye-friendly recipes: Sweet Potato Granola, Lentil Stew, Carrot Cake Dip with Spice Chips, Coconut Spirulina Superfood Smoothie, or these Raw Dark Chocolate Brownies.

Hearing

Cannelloni With Quinoa Mushroom Stuffing/One Green Planet

When it comes to hearing, you’ll want to focus on incorporating potassium, folic acid, magnesium, and zinc. Luckily, most plant-based foods contain one or more of these natural compounds. When it comes to zinc, focus on whole grains, dark chocolate, legumes, seeds, and nuts. Potassium-rich food options include white beans, sweet potatoes, beets, spinach, oranges, and bananas. Folic acid, also called folate or vitamin B9, is found in asparagus, leafy greens, beets, citrus fruits, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Last, but not least, is magnesium. This mineral is found in whole wheat products, quinoa, almonds, cashew, and peanuts, avocado, black beans, and edamame. 

Give your ears some nutrition with these plant-based recipes: Cannelloni With Quinoa Mushroom Stuffing, Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto, Healthy Chickpea and Beetroots Burger, or this Banana Cherry Granola.

Taste

Cajun Tofu with Creamy Grits and Collard Greens/One Green Planet

When it comes to taste, you’ll want to focus on tongue health. How do you keep your tongue healthy? First off, when you brush your teeth you should also be brushing your tongue. Harmful bacteria can live on your tongue leading to bad breath, changes in color, and even loss of taste. Stay hydrated! Proper hydration leads to saliva production, which is a natural agent that helps remove harmful bacteria from the tongue. Finally, eat a healthy balanced diet rich in iron. The tongue is a muscle and “just like with your other muscles, a healthy diet is critical to keeping your tongue strong.” Focus on anti-microbial foods including “chopped onions, garlic, ginger, and coconuts.” Great plant-based iron-rich foods include peas, beet greens, broccoli, kale, collards, oats, dates and prunes, beans, and lentils.

Give your tongue some muscle strengthening, unhealthy bacteria fighting nutrients with these recipes: Cajun Tofu with Creamy Grits and Collard Greens, Garlic Miso and Onion Soup, Coconut Basil White Bean Bisque, or this Chocolate Date Steel Cut Oats recipe.

Smell

Avocado Jalapeno Poppers/One Green Planet

The health of your smell receptors depends on the health of your sinuses. The sinuses “are small air pockets in the skull around the eyes, nose, and forehead that are lined with mucus membranes.” These little pockets are responsible for filtering out dust, microbes, and allergens from the air we breathe. With that said, “this warm, moist environment is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, fungi, and mold.” Sinus infections occur when “our mucus membranes are damaged or the mucus becomes too thick to move freely,” such as when you have a cold or are suffering from allergies. In order to improve the health of your sinuses — and therefore boost the overall health of your smell receptors — integrate antioxidant-rich pineapple, capsaicin-rich peppers, inflammation reducing horseradish, allicin-rich garlic, and probiotic-rich fermented foods (sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, miso, and kombucha).

Kick up your daily diet with one or two of these spice-infused recipes to keep those sinuses clear and healthy: Pineapple Baked Ham, Avocado Jalapeno Poppers, Roasted Parsnip and Horseradish Dip, or this Homemade Kimchi.

Touch

Sunflower Seed Butter and Chocolate Chip Energy Bites/One Green Planet

This one is all about skin health. The epidermis — the outermost layer of your skin — “is composed of three layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and subcutaneous tissue” and they are “home to sweat glands, oil glands, hair follicles, blood vessel, and certain vital immune cells.” Our epidermis acts as a protective barrier, blocking out “ultraviolet (UV) radiation, harmful chemicals, and pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi.” Some of the best plant-based foods for youthful skin include avocado, walnuts, sunflower seeds, sweet potato, bell peppers, dark chocolate, soy products, and antioxidant-rich green tea.

Enrich your skin with these healthy plant-based recipes: Sunflower Seed Butter and Chocolate Chip Energy Bites, Edamame Seaweed Salad, Tempeh Bacon, or these Cheesy Avocado Chips.

We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!

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