Food & Fitness After 50: Research Roundup

Each day dozens of research studies appear in my inbox, peaking this old college professor’s interest. Last week, there were three studies that made me want to take a closer look: one published in an aging journal, one presented at an annual scientific conference, and one animal study in the journal Brain Structure and Function.  Let’s briefly talk about each one and how it might translates from the page to your plate.

Blueberries for Blood Pressure

1200-136890271-blueberriesThe blue color in blueberries is due to the presence of anthocyanins (pronounced ann-though-sigh-a-nins), a sub-group of plant chemicals knows as polyphenols. Fruits and veggies that are deeply colored red, blue, and purple are especially rich in anthocyanins. The study published in the Journals of Gerontology (gerontology is the study of aging) found that eating about a cup of blueberries twice a day lowered blood pressure similar to the lowering from taking common blood pressure meds. The effect on blood pressure was both acute (happened quickly) and chronic (over time). Researchers found that the anthocyanins relaxed blood vessels and reduced the stiffness that occurs in aging blood vessels. As we age, our blood vessels lose their elasticity making it harder to control blood pressure and increasing our risk for heart disease.

What does in mean for you?

Eat more blueberries! One cup of berries, whether fresh or frozen, has about 60 calories, making it a low-calorie addition to your diet. What it doesn’t mean is taking a blueberry concentrate supplement (yes, they do exist). Researchers note that blueberries are also rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber and the synergistic action between them and the anthocyanins might also be a reason for their health promoting powers. So, food beats supplements!

Pomegranate: Can it juice your memory?

pom wonderfulPomegranate juice is rich in polyphenols called ellagitannins (pronounced eee-laj-ah-tan-ins). These antioxidant compounds are in plants to protect the plant, but when we eat the plant, their protectors come along for the ride. The research, presented at the 2019 meeting of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, described how a daily serving of pomegranate juice improved visual learning and retention of learning in a year-long study with older adults, average age of 60. The study was a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study; a design that is considered the gold standard in nutrition research. What that means is that study participants were randomly assigned to either drink 8-ounces of pomegranate juice or 8-ounces of drink that looked and tasted like pomegranate juice but contained none of the active polyphenols. Double-blind means that neither the participant nor the researchers knew who was getting the real juice or the placebo. Dr. Gary Small, director of the University of California (UCLA) Longevity Center, presented the current research at the scientific conference, building upon similar work that his group published in 2013 in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. In the 2013 study, a similar design was used but the study was short-term, only lasting one month, but the results were similar. So, the researchers wanted to know if a longer-term study would show memory benefits, and it did.

Researchers are not sure exactly what it is in the pomegranate juice that showed the positive results. One interesting theory is that the pomegranate juice works though the gut microbiome. The healthy bacteria in our gut can breakdown the ellagitannins to a compound that crosses the blood brain barrier, exerting its beneficial effect through the gut-brain axis.

What does it mean for you?

An eight-ounce bottle of pomegranate juice contains 2 whole pomegranates, so drinking the unsweetened juice gives you 650 to 700 milligrams of polyphenols. That’s a lot of good stuff in a little bottle. Pomegranate juice is tart, not sweet, so it might appeal to those of you who don’t like sweet, sugar-added beverages. Considering that most of us don’t eat enough fruit, 8-ounces of pomegranate juice is a good way to get more fruit and healthy polyphenols in our diet.

Vitamin D: Good for the Brain?

Vit DThe third study is on vitamin D deficiency on processing new information and retaining it for future recall. It was conducted with mice and I always cautioned my students to count the legs on the research subjects before considering if it is relevant to those of us on two legs, but this study is interesting in understanding vitamin D deficiency and the brain. Vitamin D is most often thought of as a bone-building nutrient because without enough vitamin D only 10-15% of dietary calcium is absorbed. Yet, vitamin D has many roles in the body, including cognition.

Older adults are considered “at risk” for vitamin D deficiency because our skin doesn’t convert sunlight to vitamin D as readily as it did when we were younger and vitamin D isn’t found naturally in a lot of foods. Some foods, like milk, are fortified with vitamin D, but many yogurts are not. (The only way to know if your favorite yogurt is fortified with vitamin D is to read the nutrition facts panel and ingredient list on the container.)  The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin D is 600 IU for those 51 to 70 years and 800 IU for those over 70. The upper limit is 4000 IU and many older adults take a supplement of 1000 IU to make sure they are getting enough vitamin D. Check with your doctor and ask if a vitamin D blood test is needed to tailor your vitamin D intake to your blood level.

What does it mean for you?

Choose vitamin D-rich foods, either naturally occurring or fortified (for an extensive list of vitamin D in foods click here.)

Bottom Line

Eat more deeply colored fruits and veggies, including blueberries and pomegranate juice, to get healthy plant compounds in your diet. And, choose vitamin D rich foods, like salmon or tuna, and fortified milk, yogurt, and cereals. Here is my breakfast plan:

  • 1 cup of Greek yogurt (choose a brand fortified with Vitamin D)
  • 1 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries and ½ cup of high fiber breakfast cereal mixed into yogurt
  • 8-ounces of pomegranate juice

While the research is promising, this breakfast may or may not improve my brain health, but it gives me a great start to the morning with three servings of fruit and a good dose of fiber in a calcium and vitamin D-rich breakfast bowl. And, did I mention it tastes great?

For more information on how foods and fitness affect brain health check out Food & Fitness After 50.

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

Disclosure, I am on a clinical nutrition advisory board for POM Wonderful, but I was not asked to write about pomegranate juice or compensated to write this post. 

Food & Fitness After 50: Meet the Self-Proclaimed Bionic Old Guy

A blog showed up in my email written by “Bionic Old Guy.” That peaked my curiosity, so I reached out to the author. Turns out that “Bionic Old Guy” is really Dr. Bionic Old Guy, a 66-year old mechanical engineer with a doctorate from Stanford University. His blog tag line is “Aging Gracefully by Staying Active,” and that is a one of the pillars of Food & Fitness After 50 ,so I had to talk to him.

Bionic guy in slingWhen I asked him how he became the “bionic old guy” he laughed and said, “it was forced upon me by nature!” In 2012 he had both hips replaced with artificial joints and in 2017, a congenital heart problem resulted in a new heart valve. When I spoke with him he was recovering from a broken collarbone from a bike accident.

Old, But Still Moving

Not only did any of those setbacks stop him from being active, but they awakened a thirst to learn more about physiology, biomechanics, and how activity and nutrition support healthy aging. He wrote a book, Old But Still Moving, to help share what he has learned and he started a blog to continue to help others sort through all of the research on various topics on optimal aging.Bionic guy book cover

Rich (his real name!) has always been active, describing his various activities as his “hobby.” Biking, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, and other aerobic exercises are “fun.” “I never had to make myself be active when it came to endurance exercise; I always found those activities to be fun and not a chore.” But, he admitted he can’t say the same thing about strength training. “I know how important it is to maintain muscle mass as I age, so I do some upper body strength training two or three times a week in my garage gym.” He motivates himself to strength training by realizing that upper body strength helps him paddle his kayak and canoe, the activities he really loves!

Lileth yogaHe also cobbled together his own yoga program after watching “Lilas, Yoga and You,” a PBS program that ran from 1972-1992. “Balance and coordination help me hiking and biking, so working on that as I age is one of my key pillars for successful aging.”

An Inspiring Mentor

Bionic guy bikingRich is inspired by Clarence Bass and we enjoyed talking about the motivation that 82-year-old Mr. Bass inspires in both of us. After we talked, I shared my interview with Mr. Bass found here. From reading Mr. Bass’s advice, Rich has changed his exercise strategy from intense, competitive exercise, like a century bike ride (100 miles) to long, enjoyable hikes with family and friends that make the hike more social than competitive. “I still challenge myself, but my challenges are more likely to be short challenges, like how fast can I walk up the big hill in my neighborhood. If I walked it in over 4 minutes, I challenge myself do it in 4 minutes or less.” That helps him from overtraining and the injuries that it can bring.

The Food Part of Fitness

He finds the biggest challenge to his fitness routine is the food part. “It is hard to navigate through all of the media headlines and hype on the “best” diet or weight loss strategy or superfoods.” He eats lots of fruits and vegetables and living in northern California makes for an abundance of healthy produce all year long. But, he admits to having cravings and trigger foods and the best strategy is to keep those foods out of the house. “My wife can be satisfied with a 100-calorie pack of snacks, but I’m likely to eat 3 or 4 of those 100-calorie snacks, which obviously defeats the purpose.” But, he doesn’t deny himself any of his favorite foods, but considers them treats that can be managed.

Advice for Eating Well, Moving Well, and Being Well

Bionic guy at coyote open space

Rich likes the tag line for Food & Fitness After 50 of eating well, moving well, and being well. His words of wisdom play right into those tenets of healthy aging.

  • Be mindful. “I don’t listen to music when I hike or bike, so I can be in the moment and enjoy everything around me.” He also practices meditation for about 20 minutes each day.
  • Attitude is everything. “I see too many people who reach 65 and give up. They think they deserve to sit back and be inactive and overeat. But, never give up. You don’t have to run a marathon but just move more and eat a bit healthier at each meal.”
  • Don’t sit so much. “When I get involved in a new project, I really get into it and could sit for hours in front of my computer researching my latest interest.” Rich sets a pop-up timer to remind him to get up and take those activity breaks.
  • Live each day and stay in the moment. “The point isn’t to add years to your life, but add life to your years.”

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

Food & Fitness After 50: Weight Management….for your pets!

Sasmon food bowl
Samson, sleeping in his food bowl, after starting his “diet.”

Samson, my German Shepherd, never met a meal he didn’t like (that goes for socks, too, but that’s another story). When he tipped the scales at 105 pounds, our vet, Dr. Matthew Keifer, gently reminded us that German Shepherd dogs are prone to hip problems, so it would be best keep Samson under 100 pounds. We heeded his advice, despite Samson’s obvious desire for more food, today he is a svelte 93 pounds.

 

2017+U.S.+Pet+Obesity+InfographicWe are all aware of high obesity rates in humans. The most recent figures from the CDC report the prevalence of obesity in adults is 39.8%. But, another report caught my eye from ConscienHealth showing the rising rates of obesity in our dogs and cats. A report from a pet insurance company showed that they paid out $69 million for obesity-related veterinary care last year. Since less than 2% of pet owners have insurance for their furry friends, the dollar amount for obesity-related care is bound to be much higher.

The Association for Pet Obesity (#sad that we need such an organization) reports 2017 data showing that 56% of dogs and 60% of cats are clinically overweight. And, that takes a toll on their health.

I reached out to Dr. Leah Dorman, who, along with her colleague, helped me understand what we can do to keep our pets at a healthy weight. Here are their top 10 tips for controlling weight (these are for dogs and cats, but some of these work well for humans, too!)

  1. Many of us don’t realize our pets are overweight, so Dr. Dorman likes to show this chart to help clients identify if their pet is at a healthy weight. Body condition scoring helps the vet determine obesity and is another tool besides just scale weight. “An extra 30 pounds on a 65-pound Labrador is equivalent to an extra 75 pounds on a 154-pound woman,” making us appreciate how weight can affect a dog’s health.
  2. In addition to the medical conditions shown in the chart, dogs can show issues with CONSEQUENCES+OF+EXCESS+FAT+IN+DOGS+&+CATS+(1)their knee ligaments as the excess weight puts a burden on joints (just like it does in humans.) Losing even a small amount of weight can make a big difference in the mobility of an arthritic pet. Obese cats have a higher incidence of diabetes and dogs who are fed lots of people food can experience pancreatitis.

3. Assess your pet’s eating routine and the family’s feeding habits. Dr. Dorman recommend feeding the amount that keeps the pet in tip-top shape, based on body condition scoring.  Portion control is important. “A little poodle is only about 5% of an owner’s body weight, so adjust any people food they are given accordingly,” says Dr. Dorman. This link can help you identify treats for pets compared to human foods.

4. For pets who are not very active, consider feeding “less active” pet foods for a less calorie dense diet that allows the pet to still feel full.

5. Treats are OK, just limit the amounts of treats. Or, find low-cal treats like carrots or green beans if your pet will eat them. Be careful about table scraps; “calories can add up quickly and it’s often done on the sly by family members…it’s so hard to resist those begging puppy or kitty eyes watching every bite you take.  Be strong!  Your pet’s health depends on it!”

6. In households where there are multiple people feeding the pet, put all the treats and food for the pet into a Ziplock bag labeled Sunday through Saturday. When the bag is empty, they are done for the day.

7. Limit or eliminate canned food. “Try green beans; cut a pet’s food back by 20% and replace that volume with green beans.”

8. “Dogs are feast or famine eaters… their ancestors would go out, catch something then gorge themselves then not eat for a few days. It is normal for pets to eat well one day and not the next.” So, avoid the temptation to doctor up their food to tempt them to eat.

9. “Stop feeding them when they beg!!! You are rewarding a bad behavior.  It’s like giving your kid a candy bar in the checkout line when they are wailing at the top of their lungs even though you said no six times already.  You cave to the begging behavior and you bet they will be back to beg.”

10. Be aware of the calories in the pet treats. “A large busy bone has over 700 calories and an average size dog treat has about 110 calories- about the number of calories in a chocolate chip cookie. It’s OK to have one, but not 10 each day!”

Samson 2015
A sleek Samson at 93 pounds

Dr. Leah Dorman is Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine and is the Director, Food Integrity & Consumer Engagement with Phibro Animal Health Corporation. Follow her on twitter @askDrDorman and terrific blog, found by clicking here.

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

Food & Fitness After 50: Clearing the Confusion on Probiotic Supplements

intestinal-gut-bacteria-balancing-microbiomeA friend asked a simple question, “should I take a probiotic supplement?” I wish there was a simple “yes” or “no” answer, as I’m sure that is what she wanted. But, as with many questions in nutrition, the answer is it depends. It depends on:

  • What is the reason for taking a probiotic supplement?
  • Is there a specific health problem that you are trying to alleviate by taking a probiotic supplement?
  • What dietary sources of probiotics are you consuming? And, is your diet rich in not only probiotics, but prebiotics and dietary fiber? Diets high in fat, sugar, and excess alcohol do not promote the good bacteria in our guts, while a diet rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, pro-and prebiotics contribute to a healthy balance of bacteria in our guts. (For more information on dietary sources of pre-and probiotics, click here and here.)

I had the chance to ask Dr. Anthony Thomas, Director of Scientific Affairs for Jarrow Formulas* to help us  navigate the landscape on probiotic supplements. First, let’s understand that probiotics won’t completely alter your gut microbiome because “probiotics do not sustainably colonize the adult gut, but should be thought of as temporary, transient residents that interact with the body and its microbial ecosystem to influence function and health,” according to Dr. Thomas.

Let’s start with the definition of probiotics:

  • “Live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host” (WHO/FAO definition).

The key words in that sentence, according to Dr. Thomas are live when administered, adequate amounts, and health benefit.

He explained that the probiotic has to be live when you take it. How do you know? “Choose products that include the “Best Used Before Date” date and avoid products that declare potency “at time of manufacture,” as this measurement does not reflect the amount still alive when purchased and consumed. A transparent, quality manufacturer lists the guaranteed minimum number of live cells, measured in CFUs, per serving when stored as recommended and used prior to the “best used before date.” Dr. Thomas goes on to explain that while probiotics don’t really expire, but the number of live cells may not meet label claims if not stored as stated on the label and used beyond that date. The “time at manufacture” almost certainly over represents the quantity of live cells because the normal manufacturing process results in some die-off of live probiotics.

probiotic_identification_graph
Identification chart courtesy of Jarrow Formulas

Adequate amounts mean not only quantity of probiotics in a supplement, but quality. “Probiotics are strain, dose, and condition specific.” Strains should be designated on a supplement label, so you know what you are getting. Dr. Thomas explains, “not all strains perform equally, and more strains are not better, better strains are better.” For example, if looking for a supplement to help with bowel issues, Lactobacillus (genus) plantarum (species) 229v (strain) is clinically proven to reduce bowel discomfort at dosing of 10 to 20 billion live cells daily.” The probiotic identification chart illustrates the difference between genus, species, and strain in a way that is understandable to those of us who might have forgotten what we learned in biology!

And, that leads us to the last part of the definition, health benefits. A probiotic must be studied to know if it conveys a health benefit. If a label simply says something like 40 billion CFU with 16 probiotic strains, it may or may not be clinically relevant. “Don’t be swayed by a large number of colony forming units (CFUs is how probiotics are measured). What you really want is the right strain in the right amounts,” says Dr. Thomas.

There are a lot of resources to help consumers know if a probiotic meets the definition from the International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP). It takes some homework to take the guess work out, but if you are going to pay good money for a supplement, isn’t it worth knowing that it has evidence to support it will do what you want it to do?

I think this statement from the ISAPP sums up what we know, “probiotics are not a “cure all” and it is not necessary to take them to be healthy. But they may help you even if you are generally healthy. Probiotics will have different benefits – look for a product with studies that support the benefit you want.”

Dr. Thomas cautions us to be aware of “disingenuous marketing masquerading as education” for some probiotic supplements. A product claiming to be “ancient” might sound impressive, but if the product doesn’t list the strains, 100 billion CFUs per serving is meaningless.

Resources:

To learn more about a specific supplement check out the Clinical Guide to Probiotic Produces Available in the USA to help you understand the evidence supporting a probiotic supplement.

And, here is a link to helpful infographics on probiotics from ISAPP.

*I heard Dr. Thomas speak at a sponsored food and nutrition conference, but I was neither asked nor compensated to write this post.