Food & Fitness After 50: Plant-Based Eating

A recent article in the Washington Post noted that the number of new food and drink products that mentioned plant-based eating grew 268% between 2012 and 2018. There is no getting around it…plant-based eating, from oat milk to chickpea snacks, are filling the shelves of grocery stories.

Sharon head shotI sat down with the Plant-Powered Dietitian, Sharon Palmer, to ask her about plant-based eating for the 50+ crowd.

What drew you to be the plant-powered dietitian? Did you grow up in vegetarian household or was it something you discovered in your studies in nutrition and dietetics?

I grew up in a mostly vegetarian household. My parents tried to follow a vegetarian diet for religious reasons, so I grew up eating a lot of healthy, home-made foods and some of the funky vegetarian foods of the 60s and 70s. I then went to school to study nutrition at Loma Linda University, which is a meat-free campus, even back in the 80s. This is the original Blue Zone*in the US. After school, I was more of a flexitarian—I never really had acquired the taste for meat, I always preferred plants. After that I became a pescatarian (one who eats fish) for a while, then moved back to lacto ovo (milk and eggs) vegetarian. About 7 years ago I took a 30-day vegan challenge so that I could personally understand this diet to counsel others. I found that I felt good about my own health and the minimal impact on animals and the planet. So, I’ve been moving along on this diet pattern ever since.

What’s the difference between vegetarian, vegan, and plant-based eating?

Plant-based eating originally was defined as a diet that focuses mostly on plant foods. However, in recent years, more and more experts, groups, restaurants, authors, food companies, and people are using the term plant-based to mean 100% plant-based, as in vegan.  In nutrition research, the term is still used more broadly, however most people consider it to mean vegan. Vegetarian is a diet that excludes animal flesh but allows for dairy and eggs. Vegan excludes all animal foods in the diet, including dairy and eggs.

Many older adults, me included, grew up with meat at the center of the plate. How would you suggest we break away from that mindset?

I always suggest that making steps toward a more plant-based diet is a great start towards a healthful, sustainable eating pattern. One of the first things you can do is switch your thinking; not every meal has to have a piece of meat as the star. On a plant-based diet, the plants are the stars. I often start my meal planning with the plant food. For example, if I have a butternut squash in my kitchen, I start thinking about that as the star of my plate—perhaps I will stuff it with lentils and faro or use it in a thick stew with white beans and serve a side salad. The inspiration comes from the seasonal plants. Other things you can do: find plant-based swaps. If your favorite meal is spaghetti Bolognese, try a lentil Bolognese; turn your pepperoni pizza into a broccoli cashew pizza, and your meat lasagna into a kale lasagna. You can also turn to the wonderful variety of ethnic foods that are based on plants, such as falafel, hummus, tofu stir-fry, and Chana masala.

There is a lot of emphasis on quality protein for aging muscle; can older adults get high quality protein in a plant-powered diet and what are the best sources of protein to support muscle mass and strength?

There are many examples of high-quality plant protein foods—similar to the quality of animal protein. The star plant protein is soy—it is similar in quality to animal protein. In addition, pulses (beans, peas, and lentils) are high in quality, too. The important point is that if someone consumes a balanced plant-based diet, with adequate sources of a variety of plants—pulses, soy foods, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds—they can get the all of the amino acids needed by the body from those foods. It’s not necessary to “combine” or “complement” proteins at each meal. However, it is important to make sure you are selecting a variety of protein-rich foods at each meal to ensure adequate protein intake. One note: vegans may need slightly more protein daily to accommodate for digestibility—the high fiber nature of many plant foods means that the proteins are not quite as digestible. So, it’s a good idea to get servings of protein-rich foods at each meal and snack. And don’t forego soy needlessly—this is a really important plant protein source for vegans. (For more information, see Today’s Dietitian for an article on plant proteins, written by Sharon.)

What are the benefits of plant-powered diets on chronic disease that affect many older adults ?

There is a good body of evidence that suggests plant-based diets, including vegetarian and vegan, are linked with a lower risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some cancers. There is more research coming out on issues such as arthritis, but there is not as much in this area—we need more research. It makes perfect sense that plant-based diets would help those suffering from arthritis as whole plant foods contain powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. Plant-foods can also lower cholesterol, C-Reactive Protein (CRP, a measure of inflammation), and blood pressure levels.  A lot of the benefits of a plant-based diet are not as much about what you DON’T eat, it’s more about what you do eat.

How many daily servings of fruits and vegetables do you recommend? Many older adults are concerned about the sugar in fruit; how do you respond to that comment?

I recommend about 3 servings of unsweetened fruit and 6 servings of vegetables per day. I tell people that the natural sugars in fruits are not a problem—fruit should be your dessert at each meal!

Many older adults are weight conscious; how can a plant-based diet help them control calories?

Studies have consistently found that plant-based diets are linked with lower weights. In particular, vegan diets have been linked with a whole category of lowered body mass index (BMI) than non-vegetarian diets. However, diets that include a mostly whole plant foods, such as beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, are very high in fiber and volume, so they can fill you up and satisfy you with fewer calories.

What would you say to encourage an older adult to shift to a plant-based diet?

You can reduce your risk of disease—and even effectively manage diseases, such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and hyperlipidemia. It can also help to reduce your carbon footprint.  And, it can reduce your levels of chronic inflammation.

Give us 3 tips for those who want to adopt plant-based eating?

  • Try Meatless Monday—just one day a week go plant-based for the whole day, once you’ve got this covered you can add a few more days.
  • Turn your favorite meals into plant-based versions by swapping out some foods, such as meat for beans, chicken for tofu, and cheese for nuts.
  • Try the power bowl formula: whole grains base + plant protein (tempeh, tofu, beans) + veggies + flavorful sauce.

plant-powered-diet-hardcoverThanks, Sharon, for helping us understand plant-based PlantPoweredFor Life covereating; I would like to add another tip….check out Sharon’s terrific books, The Plant-Powered Diet and Plant-Powered for Life. Both books are on my shelf!

 

*For those of you who don’t know, Blue Zones are areas in the world with the longest-lived populations; I’ll write more about Blue Zones in a future post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food & Fitness After 50: The Strong Live Long

This post was written by Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50.

Maintaining muscle strength is a critical factor in ensuring a long healthspan—being as healthy as possible for as long as possible—and in ensuring that we can do so independently.  Fending for oneself is an important psychological component of successful aging.  That’s not to say that we don’t all need to be looked after periodically throughout our lives—illness, injuries, and surgeries being obvious examples of when it is both nice and often essential to temporarily relinquish our independence and allow others to care for us.  But to be dependent on others to help us accomplish the daily demands of living—opening jars, carrying groceries, rising from a chair, climbing stairs—is a scenario most people would like to avoid.

1253414  Muscle weakness with age is often, but not always, accompanied by sarcopenia—a severe loss of muscle mass and muscle function—often referred to in older adults as frailty.  The perils of sarcopenia are not surprising: higher risk of falls, faster functional decline, more bone fractures of all types, greater chance of hospitalization, longer hospital stays, and higher death rate.  It is estimated that about one-quarter to one-third of those over age 70 are sarcopenic and it is likely that even more are dynapenic—muscular weakness with or without sarcopenia.

We will all gradually lose muscle mass and strength as we age, but we can control the rate at which we lose it.  In simple terms, inactivity and a poor diet accelerate the aging of muscle while regular exercise and a good diet remain the best ways to keep our muscles young.  To that end, any kind of physical activity is better than no physical activity, but the best results come from a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training.  The current recommendations are to engage in at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity (walking, biking, swimming, etc.) each week, along with two sessions of strength-training exercise.

Regular physical activity preserves strength and function by stimulating not only the muscles involved in exercise, but also the nerves responsible for muscle contractions.  In addition, active muscles release compounds called myokines that travel in the bloodstream and positively affect cells throughout the body.  Also, fit muscle cells recover more quickly from injury and surgery, additional benefits to staying active.

Bob2   Added good news is that we do not have to devote hours each week to strength training.  Preserving and even increasing muscle strength can be accomplished with short bouts of exercises that are continued to fatigue.  For example, doing a combination of push-ups, tricep extensions with weights, and chair dips will quickly exhaust the shoulder, chest, and arm muscles involved in elbow extension, adding strength and protecting muscle mass.  Doing similar combinations of movements with other muscle groups will reap the same results.  As with all exercise, the best results come from getting our muscles out of their comfort zone on a regular basis.

When it comes to diet, studies show that older adults who increase their daily protein intake can better support improvements in strength and muscle mass.  The simplest way to accomplish increased protein intake is to consume more protein at breakfast, the meal that often has the least amount of protein.  Consuming 30 to 40 grams of protein at each meal will give most of us the recommended amount of protein. (For ideas on how to eat about 30 grams of protein per meal, check this out.)

Use it or lose it is the operative explanation for age-related changes in muscle strength and mass, as well as for most every other body function that we’d like to preserve as we grow older.  For older adults just getting started with strength exercises, the U.S. National Institute on Aging has examples of activities that can easily be accomplished at home (click here for a link to strength exercises.) YMCAs, fitness centers, and various internet sites (click here for one internet site with many at-home workout videos.)

Chapter 6 of Food & Fitness After 50 is devoted to gaining and maintaining muscle and strength, and chapter 2 has all sorts of tips for how to eat for optimal aging.  Aging is inevitable, but we can exercise control over the rate at which we age.  We just have to do it.

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Note to Grandparents; No Need to Freak Out Over the Way Your Grandchildren are Fed

I’m sure that many of you who have grandchildren have rolled your eyes at the new infant feeding practices foisted upon your precious grandbabies! I can hear it now, “what was wrong with the old way of feeding babies, my kids turned out just fine?” Well, time marches on and so do advances in infant feeding. Today, I hope to assuage your fears about those newfangled infant feeding practices and the introduction of solid foods to babies. So, let’s talk about best practices and introduce you to something called baby led weaning.

BLD twins
Great nieces getting into baby led weaning

I got the chance to hear about all of this from an expert, registered dietitian, Keli Hawthorne, Director of Clinical Research in the Department of Pediatrics at the Dell Medical School, University of Texas at Austin. And, I was excited to pass along the information to my niece and her twin baby girls who are starting to eat solid foods and practicing baby led weaning.

Importance of the First 1000 Days

Keli emphasized that “the first 1000 days, from pregnancy to age 2, are a unique period to lay the foundation for optimum health, growth, and brain development.” However, both parents and grandparents are confused on what and when to feed infants, “in fact UNICEF reports that 54% of parents receive mixed messages about what to feed their babies,” said Keli. As a grandparent are you contributing to the confusion???

Here are the infant feeding guidelines from the American Association of Pediatrics

  • Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6th months
  • At 6 months, complementary foods can be introduced with continuation of breastfeeding for at least a year.

Introducing Solid Foods

The introduction of complementary foods is where things get interesting. Kelli explained that introducing solid foods doesn’t follow rules of old. “Introduce solid foods around 6 months of age and expose the baby to a wide variety of healthy foods and textures. There is no reason or medical evidence that introducing solid foods in any particular order has any advantage. And, meats can be offered as an early complementary food.” In fact, infants and toddlers can benefit from the iron found in meats. “While iron-fortified cereals are often a first food, the iron isn’t as available to the baby’s system as meat. Bioavailability of iron from fortified cereals is ~3% compared to that of animal sources which is ~12-15% and iron is a key nutrient for brain development.”

Parents who choose vegetarian diets for babies should be aware that nutrient supplements or fortified foods must be added to ensure nutrient needs are met. Allergenic foods can be introduced between 4 and 6 months, so no need to avoid foods like peanut butter. In fact, early introduction of peanuts can reduce peanut allergies later in a child’s life . (For more on the early introduction of peanuts click here .)

Baby Led Weaning

 A popular feeding method with young parents is something called “baby led weaning.” Keli explained that baby led weaning  Keli explained that baby led weaning began in Britain, where “weaning” means adding complementary foods to breast milk or formula when the baby is ready to eat solid foods. “I think if it was called infant self-feeding it would be easier for people to understand,” said Keli.  The basic idea is to ditch the pureed foods and give babies the same foods that the rest of the family eats. “Once a baby can sit up unsupported, she or he can pick up their own food and put it into the mouth unassisted — generally sometime between 6-8 months old. This method of feeding can help with development of oral motor control while maintaining eating as a positive, interactive experience.”

Baby led weaning foods
Keli’s slide showing food samples

“Food should be cut in shapes that make it easy to grasp, as babies don’t have the pincher grasp until about 9 months of age.” And, some of the concerns or fears of baby led weaning can be put to rest. “Parents should recognize the difference between the gag reflex and choking, but there is no increased incidence of choking with baby led weaning.” However, if more food ends up on the floor or in the dog’s mouth, parents may have to help baby eat.

Mixing Solids and Purees?

Keli said parents don’t have to opt for one feeding style. “There is nothing wrong with offering both finger foods and purees, but don’t do it on the same spoon. It can be confusing if finger foods and purees are offered at the same time, so try it at different courses of the same meal.”

Keli ended her presentation by showing how a family meal, ground beef and pasta skillet (for the recipe click here.) could be served to baby by breaking meat in ½ inch crumbles or making little meatballs, dicing or cutting squash into strips, and extending cooking time of pasta to ensure it is soft.

So, next time you see your son or daughter feeding your grandbabies, you can share what you know about the latest feeding techniques.

For more information on feeding infants and toddlers, check out these resources:

Feeding Tips for Healthy Infant Growth

Eating Tips for Healthy Toddler Growth

The presentation on infant feeding was sponsored by The Beef Checkoff. I was not asked or compensated to write this post. I wrote it to help my great nieces and nephews get off to a healthy start in life!

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Meet the Zippendales

February is the month where we turn attention to affairs of the heart. Of course, there is Valentine’s Day on the 14th, but it is also American Heart Month, designed to raise awareness about heart disease and how you can prevent it.

Today s post,  is written by Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50, and he shares his personal story of open-heart surgery and coming back strong.

zippendales
Bob, Ed, and John all have the telltale scars from open-heart surgery,

Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans, accounting for over 600,000 deaths each year.  Heart disease is an umbrella term for a number of heart ailments that include coronary artery disease (the most common heart disease), problems with heart rhythm (arrhythmias due to electrical problems), congenital heart defects (heart problems that we’re born with), aortic aneurysm (enlarged, weakened aorta which is the main artery in the body), heart failure (due to fluid accumulation in other parts of the body), and cardiomyopathy (enlarged, stiff heart muscle).

coronary-heart-disease  When heart disease is identified, there are many interventions, some of them surgical, that can address the problem, saving countless lives each year.  For example, coronary artery disease is caused by the buildup of plaque (cholesterol and other substances) in the coronary arteries that feed the heart cells.  Too much plaque narrows the arteries (atherosclerosis) and restricts blood flow, causing angina and eventually a heart attack, often with permanent damage and weakening of the heart in those who survive. Healthy diet and lifestyle habits (no smoking), regular exercise, and medications are the go-to steps for treating coronary artery disease.  When the arteries are too clogged, bypass surgery or the placement of stents to widen the arteries are common surgical procedures.

Open-heart surgery is a common procedure and not just for coronary artery disease.  For example, Bob had an electrical problem (persistent atrial fibrillation), Ed had a plumbing problem (coronary artery disease), and John had a mechanical problem (congenital valve defect).  All three needed open-heart surgery to fix their problems.

There are many ways our hearts can malfunction, and when open-heart surgery is needed, this life-saving procedure takes a short-term toll on mental, physical, and emotional health, not to mention a reduction in physical activity that can quickly erode fitness.  Many people who have had open-heart surgery say that it takes at least six months to feel normal again.  Six months can feel like an eternity for active people who are anxious to return to their normal activities as soon as possible.  That desire can help people adhere to healthy diet and activity guidelines following open-heart surgery, but as Bob, Ed, and John can each attest, doing too much too soon can prolong the recovery process.

Our bodies are capable of overcoming the trauma of horrific accidents and major surgeries—if given enough time and the right approach to recovery.  Damaged tissues and a traumatized nervous system require time to heal, a gradual process that can be spurred along with good nutrition, ample rest, and the right amount of physical activity: not too much, not too little.  Pushing too hard, too soon stresses cells that are still healing, slowing the repair process and possibly causing even more damage.  The same is true with the nervous system.  The soreness and exhaustion we feel after surgeries and illnesses are important signals for the need to rest and allow healing to occur unimpeded.

Whether it’s major surgery, a sprained ankle, the flu, or chemotherapy, periodic setbacks to health are a fact of life.  As we age, such setbacks become more challenging, especially for those with existing health problems.  Bob, Ed, and John returned to their active lifestyles, although each complained that their recovery took longer than they had hoped.  And each admitted that trying to do too much, too soon likely made their recovery more difficult.  Bob relied on a combination of swimming, bicycling, and strength training to return to a new normal, a stop-and-start-again process that took at least two years.  Ed was the quickest to get back to normal function; Ed gradually increased his walking, chores, and weight lifting over six months and that approach did the trick.  John bicycled and strength trained, gradually increasing the duration and intensity of his efforts, paying the price of daily exhaustion whenever he overdid it.  A year or so post-surgery, John was able to exercise normally, and his aches and pains disappeared.

Recovering from a major illness or surgery not only takes time, it also takes patience.  We can help our bodies recover through proper diet, light activity, and especially rest, but we must remain patient enough to allow our bodies to recover at their own pace.

For more information on optimal nutrition and exercise check out our new Food & Fitness After 50 web page.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.