Food & Fitness After 50: Avoiding “Refined” Grains? Think Again

I originally wrote this post for the Grain Foods Foundation and I thought the information was valuable for my readers. I hope you think so, too.

Whole grainsMost likely you’ve heard someone say, “I’ve cut all refined and processed foods, including white bread, from my diet.” Considering the definition of refined means “free from impurities, fastidious, or cultivated,” it’s curious that refined grains have taken on a negative connotation. What if removing refined grains was not necessary for good health and could contribute to having fewer healthful nutrients in your diet?

Dr. Glenn Gaesser, Professor of Exercise Science and Health Promotion and Director of the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center, Arizona State University, wanted to find out why refined grains are viewed as unhealthy by so many people, including recommendations from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee (DGAC). In a recent paper, Professor Gaesser uncovered several noteworthy facts and posed several questions:

  • Recommendations to increase whole grain intake to reduce risk of many chronic diseases, including obesity, is clear. “There is rock solid evidence for the benefits of eating whole grains,” says Dr. Gaesser, yet only 2% to 7% of Americans meet the recommendation to consume at least one-half of grains from whole grains.
  • While the DGAC recommends consuming half of grains from whole grains and reducing the intake of refined grains, the committee only reviewed evidence that looked at dietary patterns, not refined grains specifically.
  • An “unhealthy dietary pattern” as defined in the research studies evaluated by the DGAC included red and processed meat, sugar-laden foods and drinks, French fries, full-fat dairy foods, and refined grains. What if refined grains are guilty by association with the other foods in this unhealthful dietary pattern?
  • Refined grains include not only staple foods, like bread, rice, cereal, and pasta, but also cookies, cakes, doughnuts, brownies, muffins, sweet rolls, and even pizza! Are all refined grains created equal when it comes to health effects?

Untangling the evidence

Infographic-Dont-Refrain-Eat-Your-Refined-Grains-e1554487212408Looking at multiple studies, called meta-analyses, that included 32 publications with 24 distinct groups of people, refined grain intake was not linked to an increase risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, or obesity. In fact, one meta-analysis reported that higher consumption of refined grain was associated with a 5% lower risk of death from any cause. But you wouldn’t know that from the headlines blaming refined grains on all the world’s ills.

The “eat-only-whole-grains” message has become predominant in nutrition reporting. It is typical to pit foods against each other, to crown one food as good and healthful and another food as bad and unhealthy. However, the evidence to support that dichotomy for whole and refined grains doesn’t hold up upon further scrutiny. Dr. Gaesser’s investigation found that eating up to six or seven serving of refined grains does not increase the risk for many of the chronic disease affecting Americans.

An unintended consequence

While refined grains have been demonized, it is useful to remember that refined grains contribute more than just energy (calories) to our diets. Refined grains are enriched or fortified (see sidebar for definitions) with B-vitamins and iron. Eating refined grains can alleviate shortfalls of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and iron.  Folic acid, a B-vitamin needed for healthy nerve and spinal cord development for babies, is found in refined grains and these grains are the largest contributor of folic acid in the diet. Refined grains also contribute dietary fiber, a nutrient sorely lacking in the diets of most Americans. “Grain foods contribute about 55% of all fiber in the American diet and about 40% of fiber intake comes from refined grains,” says Professor Gaesser.

Putting it all together

What does this research mean for you? First, it is helpful to realize that you should know your stuff before you cut. There is no reason to cut refined grains from your diet.  Enjoying up to seven servings a day will contribute to nutrient intakes of several vitamins and minerals, and dietary fiber, and will not up your risk of disease.

It is also useful to think about refined grains in two distinct categories:

  • Staple grains, such as bread, rolls, rice, and pasta
  • Indulgent grains, such as cakes, cookies, pies, doughnuts, and other sweet desserts

6QMJWpKM.jpeg

Eat more grains from the staple category and less from the indulgent group. The sweet, indulgent group of grain foods contain higher levels of fat and sugar than the staple grains.

Continue to include whole grains in your diet, but there is no need to eliminate the refined, staple grains.

DEFINITIONS

Grain+anatomyWhole grains: A grain containing all three parts of the grain: the bran, germ, and the endosperm. Whole grains contain fiber, antioxidants, the mineral magnesium, B vitamins, and plant compounds called phytonutrients that have many healthful properties.

Enriched grains: Enrichment is the process of replacing nutrients that were removed when the whole grain was processed. Enriched grains have B-vitamins niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin, and the mineral iron added back to the grain at levels similar to the original whole grain. About 95% of white flour is enriched; therefore breads, pastas, cereals, rolls, tortillas, and pretzels made from white flour are enriched with nutrients.

Fortified grains: Fortification is the addition of nutrients to a food where they are not naturally occurring. Milk is fortified with vitamin D to help the naturally occurring calcium be better absorbed. Grains are fortified with the B-vitamin folic acid at two to three times the levels found in the whole grain to help reduce birth defects.

Refined grains: Grains that have been processed to remove the bran. In the U.S. the terms refined, enriched, and fortified grains are used interchangeably.

The Grain Foods Foundation has website devoted to Healthy Aging, so check it out!

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

Food & Fitness After 50: Pickleball and Pickle Juice? What you need to know to stay hydrated

“The human body is basically a leaky bag of water with legs.”

 

Dr. Bob Murray

 

helene-b
My friend, Helene, playing pickleball at our local YMCA

April is National Pickleball Month! Did you know it is one of the fastest growing sports in America? Pickleball has been described as mashup of ping pong, tennis, and racquetball. If you’ve never seen pickleball in action, here is a clip to introduce you to the sport.

Because so many older adults have taken up the sport (it is so popular at my YMCA the parking lot is often overflowing!) we’ve been asked about hydration strategies. To answer your questions, I turned to hydration expert, friend, and co-author of Food & Fitness After 50, Dr. Bob Murray. Dr. Bob was the director of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute for over 20 years, so he knows a thing or two (or maybe a hundred) about hydration.

I’m a recreational pickleball player who plays for 1-2 hours with plenty of breaks, but my husband is a competitive player and may play 3-4 hours a day, several times a week. How do our hydration needs differ? 

The volume of fluid we need to drink each day varies widely due to several factors. Body size, the environment in which we live, our natural predisposition to sweating, and how much physical activity we do help determine how much fluid we need to stay well hydrated. For example, a large person who works up a sweat in a warm environment might need to drink two gallons of fluid (256 oz) over the course of a day to stay hydrated whereas a small individual who stays indoors and just putters around during the day might require only two quarts of fluid (64 oz).  As a rule of thumb, we all need to consume at least 2 to 4 quarts of fluid each day and for those who sweat a lot, that volume can sometimes exceed 10 quarts each day.  Another rule of thumb is that about 20% of our daily fluid needs comes from the foods we eat (most fruits and vegetables have especially high water content), while the remaining 80% comes from the various beverages we drink. In that regard, all beverages count toward our hydration. Colas, coffees, teas, and yes, even beers and wines, can contribute to keeping us hydrated (although beer or wine might affect the hand-eye coordination needed for pickleball, so save that beverage for post-play.) The only exception is shots of alcohol because the high alcohol content promotes the loss of urine. During physical activity, the loss of sweat can range from as little as 8 ounces each hour to over 60 ounces per hour in those who sweat heavily. That’s a lot of fluid and it is best replaced during physical activity by drinking at regular intervals.

pickleball-clipart2play both indoors and outdoors, any difference in hydration advice? 

The best advice is to drink enough during physical activity to minimize dehydration because from both a health and a performance standpoint, it is always better to be well hydrated than even slightly dehydrated.  Depending on conditions, we can lose a lot of sweat during indoor or outdoor exercise, so it’s wise to keep fluid nearby anytime we work up a sweat.

I play outdoors and just drink water and then when I got home I drink diluted fruit juice. Is that a good hydration strategy? 

The best hydration strategy is to drink enough to minimize weight loss during physical activity, without over-drinking. If the combination of water and diluted fruit juice accomplishes that, then that’s a good hydration strategy. How do we know how much to drink during exercise?  On days when you know you are going to be sweating, weigh yourself just before exercise and then again soon after. If you’ve lost more than a pound or two, that’s a pretty good sign that you need to drink more to prevent performance-sapping dehydration.  If you’ve gained weight, that’s a clear indication that you drank too much and can do with less.

pickleball (1)When I play in pickleball tournaments, and I win, I continue to play. My first match is at 8 AM and it may last 45 minutes or so. If I keep winning, I may play 5-6 matches. Often, I will sit out for extended periods of time waiting for a court or for a match to end, so may not end up playing my last match until late afternoon. Any advice for staying hydrated during the long tournament days? 

This is a great example of conditions where daily fluid needs will be very high.  Drinking during the games to minimize dehydration will be vital to staying hydrated, as will drinking enough between games to ensure that you begin the next game well hydrated.  Under these kinds of circumstances, it is best to rely on a variety of fluids including water, sports drinks, and juices to help you stay hydrated.

Can I over-consume electrolyte drinks? How do I how much is too much?

Typical sports drinks do not contain enough electrolytes (minerals) to pose a risk of over consumption.  Some athletes have overdone electrolyte supplements such as salt tablets or electrolyte powders and, in those cases, upset stomachs and nausea can result and those symptoms are usually enough to make people stop taking them before serious medical problems can occur.  One of the benefits of relying on sports drinks rather than just plain water is that the electrolytes in sports drink aid hydration by helping us drink more and lose less (as urine). The electrolytes in sports drinks promote the drive to drink and we retain the fluid more than when we drink plain water.

pickleballSeems like pickle juice was made for pickleball….is it a hydrating beverage? I heard the acid in the pickle juice can stop cramps. True?

Pickle juice definitely contains electrolytes, but most people can’t drink enough pickle juice to stay well hydrated. It is true that pickle juice has been shown to reduce the duration of muscle cramps, so if you are prone to cramping, you might give a shot of straight pickle juice a try the next time you feel a cramp coming on.

I open a mustard packet and squirt it my mouth when I start to get cramps…I’ve heard the turmeric in the mustard stops cramps. Is that true?

There are lots of “cures’ for muscle cramps that include everything from eating a packet of mustard to pinching your top lip.  The latest research shows that cramps can be stopped or reduced by stimulating receptors in the mouth, throat, and stomach that in turn reduce the excess nerve activity that causes cramping. Pickle juice and mustard both fit that description, although stronger spices such as capsaicin, ginger, and cinnamon might be more effective. Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory that gives mustard the yellow color, but it is not known to halt exercise-induced muscle cramps.

mini-siteFor more on hydration strategies, see our chapter on staying well hydrated in Food & Fitness After 50, sold at Amazon and other booksellers.

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

Food & Fitness After 50: Physical Activity is a Polypill – Say What?

Poly means many and polypharmacy refers to taking many drugs, prescription as well as over the counter, that can bring unwanted problems for older adults. Some people have shoe boxes full of prescription medicines, vitamin supplements, pain relievers, and other dietary supplements claiming to cure all ills. But, what if there was a polypill; one pill that could help us all improve our healthspan? In today’s post, Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50, lets us in on the secret of a polypill.

This post was written by Dr. Bob Murray

There is little doubt that regular physical activity lengthens our healthspan—the number of years when we are in good health.  Lots of research has made it clear that no medication is more effective than physical activity in helping us stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.  For that reason, exercise has been referred to as a pollypill —a medication with multiple benefits.

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that all the physical activity we encounter during the course of a normal day has a role in preventing heart disease.  The researchers looked at the daily physical activity habits of 5,861 older women (average age was 78) over a 5-year period and found that even light activity reduced the chances of death from heart disease.

Only about 25% of adults in the U.S. achieve the current recommendations for physical activity of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (or 75 minutes of high-intensity activity) each week.  For anyone who is intimidated by the prospect of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, the notion that all movement counts may well promote more light physical activity during the day.  Let’s hope that’s the case.

Walking, dusting, vacuuming, climbing stairs at home, gardening and lawn work, playing with children and pets, and similar low-intensity activities are part of everyday life for most Americans.  In the JAMA study, the older women engaged in a total of 3 to over 6 hours of light physical activity each day.  Not surprisingly, more physical activity was associated with lower risk of heart disease, a finding that is likely also true for older men, although that likelihood awaits confirmation.

exerciseAny time we get our heart, lungs, and muscles out of their comfort zones—even for a little bit—our bodies benefit.  A quick look at the list of health benefits of physical activity should be enough to convince even the most sedentary person to move more.

  • Lower deaths from all causes
  • Lower risk of heart disease
  • Lower risk of hypertension
  • Lower risk of stroke
  • Lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes
  • Lower risk of breast, colon, and prostate cancers
  • Lower risk of serious falls
  • Lower risk of complications after surgery
  • Lower risk of metabolic syndrome (includes obesity)
  • Lower risk of depression (and reduces the severity of depression)
  • Better memory and cognitive function
  • Better bone health
  • Improved quality of life
  • Greater life expectancy

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if even light physical activity conferred all those same benefits, even if to a lesser extent than more vigorous physical activity?  There is a strong possibility that is the case, although much more research is needed to confirm that educated guess.  What is known is that moving more during the day is a goal we all should embrace.

In general, Americans sit too often for too long.  Research has shown that prolonged sitting increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 Diabetes, and cancer.  Even if we exercise during the day, sitting for hours on end increases our risk of those disorders.  Happily, interrupting prolonged sitting with periodic 5-minute physical activity “snacks” counters the negative aspects of sitting.  Climbing a few flights of stairs, taking a brisk walk, or doing simple calisthenics can be easily accomplished during a 5-minute break.

Physical activity is indeed a polypill that can help us lead longer, happier, healthier lives and the fact that all movement counts helps make it easier for all of us to keep moving toward a longer healthspan.

Dr. Bob Murray is an exercise physiologist and managing principal of a sports science consulting company. His passion for exercise and health began as a physical education teacher and coach, and continues today in his late 60s as an avid swimmer, cyclist, and fitness fan.

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

Food & Fitness After 50: Is 70 the New 40?

“The strong live long!”

ChicagoI recently returned from Chicago from the annual American College of Sports Medicine Health & Fitness Summit. My friend and co-author of Food & Fitness After 50 , Dr. Bob Murray, and I gave a talk titled “Is 70 the New 40?” Since Bob and I are closer to 70 than 65, we say YES to that question!

For those of you who have not yet reached 70, what does it take to feel like you are still 40? And, for those you who have reached your 70th birthday, what does it take to stay on the path to optimal aging?

Here are some key takeaways from our talk as well as some other experts who spoke at the conference, emphasizing what we’ve been saying along….eat well, move well, and be well!

 

#1.  Lift weights. Whether you call it strength or resistance training, maintaining muscle mass is critical to healthy aging. Our muscle mass peaks around age 25 and holds steady until about 40, but then declines about 1% per year until age 65. The loss of strength is even greater…. about 2 to 4% per year. The good news is that we can easily preserve our muscle mass and strength with a couple of bouts of resistance weight training each week.

We all know the exercise guidelines call for 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and “also” strength train two days a week. The word “also” was troubling to key note speaker Dr. Eric Rawson. Adding strength training is almost an afterthought; it would be “nice” to do it, but it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves in preserving health. “There are under-recognized benefits to strength training,” says Dr. Rawson. Strength underpins skill and if you increase strength it helps with overall physical activity.  Think about the ability to climb stairs as an example. It takes leg strength to climb stairs which may be why so many people use escalators or elevators instead of stairs. Dr. Rawson says it’s not that aerobic or endurance exercise isn’t good, it’s just that both aerobic and strength are needed for optimal aging. “If exercise is medicine, then resistance exercise is a gateway drug,” claims Dr. Rawson.Take-the-Stairs-Instead

#2. Weight training has more benefits than building or maintaining muscle. Dr. Stu Phillips elaborated on the health benefits of strength training in his presentation.  He reviewed the most recent evidence showing that resistance training “has health-related benefits that are not dissimilar to those imbued by aerobic exercise.” Strength training reduces the risk for falls and is an effective treatment for type 2 diabetes, some cancers, anxiety and depression. Dr. Bob Murray lists many benefits from strength training in our chapter on getting and maintaining muscle and strength:

  • Stabilizing arthritic joints
  • Improving balance
  • Increasing resting metabolism
  • Increasing social interaction
  • Lowering risk of all-cause mortality
  • Lowering risk of osteoporosis
  • Lowering risk of lower back pain
  • Lowering risk of obesity
  • Accelerated recovery from illness or injury
  • Improved sleep
  • Improved self confidence
  • Enhanced self-esteem

As Dr. Bob likes to say, “The strong live long!”

#3.  Maintain your body weight and if you want to lose weight, stay away from quick weight loss schemes.

I’m a big believer in monitoring your body weight so “weight creep” doesn’t happen. No one gains 30 pounds overnight, but they do gain 1 or 2 pounds a year without realizing it and as the years go by, the pounds add up. When you find yourself wanting to lose weight, the quick weight loss plan du jour seems tempting. But, as we age, weight loss should not be the goal. Instead, “body composition management is more important than weight management to enhance successful aging,” says Dr. Ellen Evans, in her special lecture, “Helping Baby Boomers Stay Functional.”

What Dr. Evans means by managing body composition is that older adults who want to lose weight really want to lose body fat while preserving lean muscle and bone. According to Dr. Evans, “regular physical activity, especially resistance training exercise, in addition to caloric restriction attenuates the loss of muscle and bone mass loss and increasing dietary protein intake enhances this effect.” The idea that we lose lean muscle during weight loss wasn’t new to me, but I never thought about the negative impact of weight loss on bone health. There is no cure for osteoporosis, so we need to do everything we can to preserve bone mass and bone strength as we age.

So, is 70 the new 40? It can be if you manage your body composition, strength train twice a week, and also keep up your aerobic exercise.

Learn more about eating well, moving well, and being well in Food & Fitness After 50, available at Amazon and other book sellers.

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