This week, Dr. Bob Murray asks the question, “should we walk and chew gum at the same time?” It may sound humorous, but he presents some research that may have you grabbing for some gum at the grocery store checkout line! Thanks for your insights, Dr. Bob!
From the often-quirky world of science comes a study from Japan that reported increased fat burning in research subjects who chewed gum while they walked. Evidently, there is somewhat of a minor fixation in Japan on chewing as reflected by a Japanese government program called Kamingu 30 that encourages people to chew each bite of food 30 times before swallowing in an attempt to slow eating speed and thereby help combat increasing obesity in Japan. It turns out that chewing gum stimulates our nervous system in ways that might increase the calories we burn during exercise. (The idea of chewing each bite of food a prescribed number of times hearkens back to Horace Fletcher, American health food enthusiast of the Victorian era. Horace, nicknamed “the great masticator,” believed that each bite of food should be chewed 100 times until it is liquefied before swallowing…even liquids were to be “chewed!”)
In fact, a study published in 2018 showed that chewing gum while walking increased heart rate, calories burned, and the distance walked, so the same group of scientists followed up with a study that added other measures to get a more complete understanding of how gum chewing while walking might benefit weight control. Fifteen healthy volunteers (10 male, 5 female), ages 27-58, completed two exercise sessions, both requiring them to walk at their own pace for 15 minutes on an indoor track. During one session, the subjects chewed two pieces of gum throughout their walk. During another session, they chewed and swallowed a tablet containing the same ingredients but without the gum portion.
In both sessions, the subjects wore heart rate monitors and other equipment that allowed the researchers to measure their energy (calorie) expenditure along with other measures such as step count, distance, and fat oxidation (fat burning).
The results were similar to that of the first study: when the subjects chewed gum while walking, they walked faster, took more steps, had higher heart rates, and burned more calories and more fat. The differences were small but statistically meaningful. The researchers speculated that the differences they found could positively affect weight control when the results were extrapolated over months of normal daily walking. Scientific speculation of this sort often doesn’t pan out as predicted, but in this case, chewing gum while walking is not likely to cause any harm and might possibly add up to a meaningful calorie-burn over time. Other studies have shown that chewing gum reduces the number of calorie consumed at meals and increases the number of calories burned when gum is chewed after meals.
It improves alertness (maybe that is why we’re seeing more pro golfers chew gum during tournaments?)
None of these results leads to the conclusion that we’d all be thin if we only chewed more gum. The moral to this story is that there are little things we can do each day to help us burn more calories. Sitting less, fidgeting when we do sit, moving more whenever possible, portion control at meals, staying hydrated, eating more fiber, and yes, chewing gum while walking can all add to managing our daily energy (calorie) input and output.
To learn more about eating well, moving well, and being well check out our book
Have you noticed the words, “uncured” “all natural,” and “no nitrates or nitrites added” on packages of bacon, hot dogs, sausage, or deli meats? The packaging usually conveys other messages, such as “made from pork raised without added hormones,” which is utterly meaningless as hormones are not allowed in raising hogs. (When you see a “no hormones added” claim on the label it is supposed to followed by this statement: “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.” But, it is often in small print and hard to read!)
Why process meat at all?
But, let’s get back to the “uncured” part of the story. “We all want and expect our food to be safe,” says Dr. Jeff Sindelar, Associate Professor in the Department of Animal Science at the University of Wisconsin. Modern meat processing “is done with purpose, is more refined and effective than it was in the past,” he adds. To ensure the safety of products like bacon or hot dogs, they are cured with a sodium-based compound. “Salt curing has been around since the Chinese preserved fish as far back as 3500 BC and salting is a simple, effective way to decrease water activity in meat to stop microbial growth,” according to Dr. Sindelar. But, if you’ve ever eaten salt-cured meat, like country ham, your mouth will pucker from the high salt content and you’ll be reaching for gallons of water to quench your thirst.
Today, curing meat involves the use of solidum nitrate and sodium nitrite. Whereas in the past, salt concentrations of 4-5% were used to cure meats, today it has been reduced to about 1.5 to 1.75% with the use of sodium-based compounds. “Nitrate is chemically stable, so it must be converted to the active form, nitrite. Sodium nitrite can be found in both purified and natural forms, but the outcome is the same; to give cured meat its distinctive color, to impart flavor, to halt the growth of microbes, like Clostridium botulinum, and to act as an antioxidant,” says Dr. Sindelar. (Fun fact discovered in an article written by Dr. Sindelar and colleagues,nitrite is the chemical that inhibited the growth of Clostridium botulinum, a name given to the Latin word for sausage, “botulus,” because of the relationship between the microbe and poisoning from sausage.)
Fast forward to 2019 and consumers are fearful of chemicals and especially food additives with hard to pronounce names. You’ve probably heard people say things like, “in our grandmother’s day they didn’t eat food with additives, so we shouldn’t either.” First, that statement probably isn’t true and second, food additives make our food safer than in grandma’s time. And, there’s the where the disconnect comes in. “Consumers are equally fearful of food-borne illnesses and food additives, like nitrate and nitrite, yet the additives are key in helping keep us safe from food poisoning,” says Dr. Sindelar. Another part of the nitrate and nitrite story, as mentioned above, is that nitrate and nitrite can be found in both purified and naturally occurring forms. It’s like vitamin C; you can get a naturally-occurring form from an orange or a purified form in a vitamin pill, but it is chemically the same compound, ascorbic acid, and your body treats it the same. Today we drink beet root juice for its health benefits, chief among them, dietary nitrite! The nitrite is converted in the body to nitric oxide or NO, a signaling molecule that helps regulate muscle blood flow with cardiovascular health and blood pressure lowering as the most promising health benefits.
But what about an increased cancer risk with nitrate and nitrites, I’m often asked? “Sodium nitrate or nitrite by themselves are not cancer causing,” says Dr. Sindelar. The reason they have the reputation is that they can interact with other compounds in foods or during cooking, like certain amino acids (the building blocks of protein) when cooked over high heat (like frying bacon or sausage) to form compounds called nitrosamines. Nitrosamines were identified as carcinogenic before a better understanding of the role of nitrites in producing nitric oxide, which acts in a positive way in the body. And, Dr. Sindlear adds, “the carcinogenicity of nitrosamines is identified only in mice studies, not human studies.”
What is uncured meat?
So, let’s circle back to uncured, what does that mean? Celery and celery powder contain nitrites and are used in the same concentrations as purified nitrites to cure meats. But, because they come from a “natural” versus a purified form, they can be labelled as “uncured.” (A quirk in the food laws, according to Dr. Sindelar). All uncured really means is that it contains no purified sodium nitrate or nitrite, but the meats are still processed and still imparts the same qualities as to taste, appearance, and food safety. However, many see the “uncured” label and automatically see a halo of health hovering over the food.
To be clear, uncured bacon is still bacon. It is still about 40% saturated fat, and yes, it has a delicious flavor! Dietitians classify bacon as a fat, not a protein-rich food. If you enjoy the occasional slice of bacon or use a strip or two to flavor a dish, go for it. My concern is that people think bacon is “healthier” when it is uncured. Let’s get that clear…it is not.
It might be helpful to remember that all foods are made of chemicals. Instead of fearing our food, let’s embrace balance in what we eat and remember that our food is made safer, convenient, and affordable to with today’s food processing. Scaring us about chemicals in our food may make for good clickbate, but I for one could not get through the day without my morning dose of 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine or the chemical name for caffeine. And, as if that isn’t enough, I also enjoy a food made of 12% sugar, glutamic acid, aspartic acid, histidine, proline, palmitic acid, linoleic acid, myristic acid, phytosterols, oxalic acid, tocopherol and hexonate or simply put, a banana.
I’ve published over 150 blog posts on this site but today I’m asking YOU to help me on what you most want to know on all things seafood. I want to know your questions about fish!
In less than one month I will be on 7-day immersion trip to Alaska to learn all about salmon and seafood. The trip is build on 4 pillars of education, fishing, Alaska, and fellowship.
I’m preparing my list of questions, but I want to know what is of most interest to you so I can write about any or all of the following:
Wild-caught vs. farm-raised salmon nutritional differences
Fresh, frozen, or canned salmon? Which is best?
How to choose a fish oil supplement
Which fish is the richest on omega-3 fatty acids?
Does the preparation method (frying vs. grilling) alter the good fats?
So, please hit me up with your questions and I promise to come back with great information, amazing photos, and some interesting tales of being on a trawler in Bristol Bay (think “Deadliest Catch,” on second thought, I hope not too dangerous), sport fishing, touring the world’s largest floating seafood plant, hiking in Katmai National Parkto watch bears catching salmon, and much more.
You can send questions by commenting at the bottom of this post, by email at email@example.com or on twitter @chrisrosenbloom
How many of you enjoyed a cookout over the Memorial Day weekend? With summer right around the corner, grilling becomes even more popular. But, how many of you know that much of what you do to protect yourself, family, and friends from food poisoning begins and ends with what you do in your own kitchen? Food poisoning is more prevalent in the summer because bacteria multiply fast when the weather is warm and cooking outdoors means many food safety rules are view as suggestions that are easily ignored.
Food recalls seem to be everyday news, with the latest being 62,000 pounds of ground beef recalled and when you hear about these recalls it means that our food safety system is working. But, no one is going to recall Uncle Bob’s famous BBQ chicken or yummy guacamole if he makes some common mistakes in the kitchen or at the grill. Let’s see how well you spot Uncle Bob’s food safety no-nos. (Hint: there are 8 food safety rules broken and possibly 4 more!)
Uncle Bob buys cut up chicken parts at the grocery store and being an environmentally conscious consumer, brings his own reusable cloth bags. To save space when packing his groceries at checkout he packs the heavy melons on the bottom of the bag and puts the chicken on top, placing lighter items, like avocados and tomatoes in the top of the bag.
After shopping, Uncle Bob passes his golf club and decides to make a last-minute stop at the driving range to hit a few balls. An hour later, he heads home and unpacks his groceries, placing the chicken on the top shelf of the fridge.
To prepare for the BBQ, he washes the chicken in the kitchen sink and puts the washed pieces in a large bowl and pours his special BBQ sauce over chicken. As the meat marinates, he slices the melon using the same knife he used to trim the chicken. He cuts the avocados (using the same cutting board and knife) to make guacamole.
As his guests arrive, he turns on the gas to preheat the grill and slaps the chicken on the grates. While cooking, he uses some of the BBQ marinade to baste the chicken. To check for doneness, he cuts into a piece to visually judge it. Satisfied the chicken is thoroughly cooked, he puts the pieces back in the bowl with the remaining marinade and dinner is served!
Uncle Bob may have served up more than BBQ chicken; from grocery store to the dinner table, this meal was a recipe for disaster.
Mistake #1: Raw chicken should never be placed on top of other foods, especially fruits and veggies. Juices can drip down contaminating any food that it touches.
Mistake #2: It’s a big no-no to leave raw chicken in a hot car. Bacteria thrive in warm environments and a hot car is the perfect incubator for growing nasty bugs. In the summer, remember the 2-hour rule…never keep food out on a counter (or a hot car!) for more than 2 hours, and when the temps soar, the 2-hour rule becomes the 1-hour rule.
Mistake #3: Don’t store raw poultry on the top shelf of the fridge unless you put it on a plate to catch the juices (same idea as in mistake #1).
Mistake #4: Stop washing raw chicken! Washing it in the sink or rinsing in a colander can spread the raw juices around sink, counter tops, and other foods that might be near by (like the melon or avocados that Uncle Bob is prepping for dinner). Cross contamination is never good!
Mistake #5: Speaking of cross contamination, always wash the cutting board and knife in hot soapy water before using it to cut veggies or fruits. Better yet, have separate cutting boards for produce and raw meats.
Mistake #6: Reusing the marinade on the chicken could spread bacteria lingering in the sauce from the raw chicken. It is better to have some extra sauce in a separate dish that hasn’t been in contact with raw poultry.
Mistake # 7: Give Uncle Bob a food thermometer as a host gift! Chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of a 165 degrees F. as measured with a thermometer, not Uncle Bob’s eyes. Need another good reason to use a thermometer? There will be no danger of overcooking! Moist and tender chicken is the goal, not an overdone, tough bird.
Mistake #8: More cross contamination going on by putting the cooked chicken in the same unwashed bowl used to marinate the raw chicken. Once the chicken goes on the grill, take the used bowl or plate back to the kitchen sink for a thorough washing before reusing.
How many mistakes did you spot? And, what about the 4 possible infractions?
#1: Using cloth reusable bags is becoming more popular as we consider the environmental impact of plastic grocery bags, but did you know they can harbor bacteria if not washed? Toss bags in the laundry to keep them clean. In other words, “keep them clean while going green.”
#2: Did Uncle Bob wash his hands before starting the food preparation? Let’s hope so because the dirtiest piece of equipment in your kitchen is your hands.
#3: Always wash melons or avocados under running water and use a scrub brush to wash the rind or peel. Why you ask, since you only eat what is on the inside? Dirt can harbor bacteria and when you slice through the rind, bacteria can be transferred to the flesh. So, wash first, cut second, then eat and enjoy.
#4: How clean is the grill? Keeping the grill clean makes the food taste better by removing grease (which can hold on to bacteria) and carbon deposits which can cause uneven heating. For tips on how to keep your grill in top shape, click here.
So, now you are prepared for a summer time full of great cookouts with good food and no bad bugs! For more information on home food safety click here and here.
“Just Do It may be Nike’s slogan, but it rules Kathy’s life.”
Too many people hit their sixties and say “it’s too late for me to:”
change my eating habits
But, not Kathy, at age 65 she is stronger, fitter, and healthier than she has ever been. And, after she discovered Pickleball about 3 years ago, she has ramped up her fitness and dropped even more weight. She has the bling to prove her love of Pickleball; this woman has more hardware than a Home Depot!
A Slow and Steady Journey
Kathy’s journey to health and fitness wasn’t an easy one. She grew up on a dairy farm in rural Georgia and maintained a healthy weight throughout high school. Many young women gain some weight when they go off to college, referred to as the “Freshman Fifteen.” Kathy says, “I didn’t stop at fifteen pounds, not with late night pizza and beer, I kept on going.” She left college about 25 pounds heavier than when she started.
Right out of college she took a job with parks and recreation for a Georgia county that included St. Simon’s Island. “We worked hard and worked odd hours, so we were always eating on the run and mostly unhealthy foods.” Today, seafood is often prepared grilled but back in the day, it was all fried. “Fried oysters, fried shrimp, fried fish, and of course it came with fries” says Kathy. By the time she was approaching her 50th birthday her weight had ballooned to 255 pounds.
A turning point came when Weight Watcher’s at Work was initiated in the county. “All my buddies, like the police and fire chiefs said they would participate so I thought, why not join them?” For two years, every Friday, they weighed in and Kathy was determined that she would not see the number on the scale go up, so she stuck to the plan and lost 50 pounds. The county dropped the program, but Kathy joined a weekly Weight Watcher’s group and never missed a meeting. “I needed the accountability of weekly meetings and I eventually reached my goal of losing a total of 75 pounds.”
Excess Weight Takes a Toll on Joint Health
The years of carrying excess weight took a toll on her knees. It is well known that carrying extra body weight increases the impact of normal wear and tear of joints associated with aging. Added to that, extra body weight is associated with chronic inflammation that can also damage joints. When Kathy retired she couldn’t walk around the block without pain and the weight started to creep up. Her doctor recommended knee replacement and suggested dropping the weight she had regained to ease her recovery. So, she started back on the healthy eating pattern she learned at WW and in early in 2014 she had the first knee replaced. Her friends gave her a unique recovery present: a six-month membership at the local YMCA.
If it Doesn’t’ Kill You…..
Kathy loves to dance so she took her first Zumba class and after 10 minutes she thought she was going to die. “I looked around the exercise room to scout out exit doors to know how the paramedics would get in to resuscitate me when I had a heart attack! I said a prayer and asked God to not let me die and if I lived, I promised not to ever come back to Zumba!” But, of course, she survived and lived to dance another day, returning to Zumba three days a week. She worked with a trainer to rehab her knee and prepped for the other knee to be replaced. “The Y helped me so much and I don’t know if I would be where I am today without it.”
In the fall of 2016 the retired high school athletic director and football coach wanted to introduce a few people to Pickleball. He thought many of his friends would love the sport, especially those who had been avid tennis players. Kathy never played tennis so she decided to just go watch and thought, “I can do this, knee replacement doesn’t’ stop you for doing anything. You might have to make some modifications, but it should give you back your life, not stop it.”
Three years later, she plays five days a week for 2 to 3 hours a day. On Saturday she practices and in March of 2018 she participated in her first competition. Pickleball has rekindled that competitive spirit she showed when losing weight, “I don’t play for fun, I want to make the podium!” There are other reasons she loves the sport, “pickleball is very active, both physically and mentally. There is no time to think about anything else when playing unless you want to be smacked with the ball by person on the other side of the net.” She also enjoys the social aspect, saying “my circle of friends has greatly increased in my hometown and I enjoy getting to know peeps from other cities and states from playing in tournaments. I have met some great people playing in tournaments as partners and as opponents and that really adds to the enjoyment of tournament season. I have played with unknown partners from Georgia, Florida and South Carolina and now we all try to meet up when playing around the south.”
Tips for Optimal Aging
Today, Kathy and her partner own an art gallery where they can pursue their love of painting, acrylics work, and other creative ventures. “Before we left St. Simon’s Island we did a lot of craft shows and while we enjoyed it, it gets old hauling your work, setting up and tearing down for every show. We always joked we wish we could hang it up and so when we bought our gallery we named it “Hang It Up Gallery.”
Kathy’s tips for optimal aging? Just do it! “Watch what you eat, monitor your weight….(I’m a ‘scaleaholic’), stay active, and have friends. From where I was at age 55 to where I am at age 65 is just amazing; I’m in the best shape of my life and I plan to keep getting better.”
For more information on eating well, moving well, and being well, check out Food & Fitness After 50, available on Amazon and other booksellers.
Strategies for losing weight and maintaining weight are not the same!
Weight loss is a national obsession and even older women are seeking the perfect weight loss plan (one that usually promises quick weight loss without cutting calories or being active!) We are bombarded with social media images (thanks, Instagram) of flawless women of all ages and magazine covers of swimsuit clad celebrities who never age (thanks, Botox, professional make up artists, and Photoshop). So, it is no surprise that the number one question I’m asked is about weight loss.
As women age, biology works against us to lose or even maintain our weight. As estrogen levels decline body fat stores increase and more fat is stored in the abdomen (the dreaded “belly fat”) and we have less fat in the periphery (arms and legs) as it migrates to the middle. And, if we do manage to lose weight, biology gives us another punch by slowing metabolism and ramping up hunger hormones (for a great overview of the biology of weight loss check out this link.)
So, what’s a woman to do? Let’s give three tips for losing weight and three more for keeping it off.
#1: Move the focus off weight and onto health. A quick weight loss plan might make a visible change on the number on the scale but could have lasting negative consequences for your muscle and bone. A focus on body composition management (as we talked about in this post ) instead of weight loss is the better goal. Make changes that you can live with for the rest of your life. You may think, “I can give up carbs forever,” but, trust me, you can’t, and you don’t have to.
#2: Stop thinking you can out exercise a poor diet. Exercise during a weight loss plan is important to preserve muscle mass and bone, but by itself it won’t do much for weight loss unless you are an ultra-marathoner. Every year, the Kiwanis Club in my town sponsors a 2-day bike ride, Challenge of the Centuries, comprised of rides of 30, 60, and 100 miles. Following the ride, most visit the street festival to celebrate. So, if a 170-pound man cycles 14-15 miles per hour for 2 hours (about a 30-mile bike ride) he will burn about 1500 calories; sounds great but if after the end of the ride he eats BBQ pork sandwich with a side of coleslaw, fries and sweet tea he has consumed about 1500 calories and I’ll bet it won’t him 2 hours to eat the meal.
#3: If you need structure instead of a short-term fix, take the long view and consider a plan like The State of Slim. The program was developed by weight loss researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center. It’s called State of Slim because Colorado has the fittest and leanest population in the U.S. This 16-week program can help you lose weight and provides the tools you need to keep the weight off. One of the program developers and currently Chairman of Nutrition Sciences and Director of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama, Birmingham , Dr. James O. Hill, says that program provides what people are looking for in a program. “In the short term, it provides satiety to keep hunger down, in the long-term it provides not only satiety but weight maintenance, and the lasting legacy is that improves overall health, specifically cardiometabolic health.”
When it comes to weight maintenance, a new set of tactics are needed.
#1: “Diet drives the bus in weight loss, but in weight maintenance diet goes in the back seat and physical activity drives the bus,” is how Dr. Hill and his colleague, Dr. Holly Wyatt sum it up. A recent study published in the journal Obesityshowed that high levels of physical activity are found in individuals who maintain their weight after a substantial weight loss. To avoid regaining weight, exercise is paramount.
#2: Eat high quality protein foods to help suppress hunger and preserve muscle mass. With higher levels of physical activity, protein can help repair muscle damage after exercise and provide the building blocks for muscle protein synthesis. High quality protein choices include lean beef or pork, poultry, fish and seafood, and for the vegetarians, soy protein.
#3: Take a page from those who have lost weight and maintained the weight loss. They self-monitor, practice dietary restraint, eat breakfast, and as stated in #1, have high levels of physical activity. Dietary restraint isn’t the same as dieting; but it helps to be mindful of your food choices and when you overindulge don’t wait until Monday or January 2 to start back on eating healthfully.
For more insights into weight loss for those over 50 years, see our chapter on weight maintenance inFood & Fitness After 50. And, if you want to take a quick assessment on learning more about your weight, click here.
In Food & Fitness After 50 we discuss food and fitness, of course! But, we also have a section on being well and the importance of managing stress, getting sufficient sleep, and enjoying social connections. Another aspect of being well is our attitude or mindset toward aging. As May is Older American’s Month it is a good time to consider an attitude adjustment. In this post, Dr. Bob Murraypresents the case for “not letting the old man (or woman) in!”
This post was written by Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50.
During a golf outing in 2018, when country singer Toby Keith asked film legend Clint Eastwood what keeps him going strong at age 88, Clint responded, “I get up every day and I don’t let the old man in.” Toby soon turned that response into a song.
The opening lyrics are these:
I want to live me some more
Can’t leave it up to him
He’s knocking on my door
And I knew all of my life
That someday it would end
Get up and go outside
Don’t let the old man in
Many moons I have lived
My body’s weathered and worn
Ask yourself how old you would be
If you didn’t know the day you were born
(Toby Keith, ShowDog-Universal Music, 2018)
Is slowing down the aging process simply a matter of keeping a young mind-set, not letting the old person in? Happily, there is evidence that this might just be the case.
In a 2014 article in the New York Times, writer Bruce Grierson addressed the question, What if aging is nothing but a mindset? Grierson highlighted the work of Harvard psychologist Dr. Ellen Langer who devoted much of her career to studying how our minds affect our bodies. In one unique study, eight men in their 70s spent five days living in an environment that evoked 1959, a year when the men were in their 40s and 50s. Their housing had no mirrors and the furnishings, television shows, movies, magazines, and clothing were all vintage 1959. Measures taken before and after the men’s five-day stay showed improved flexibility, manual dexterity, and better eyesight compared to a control group of men in their 70s who led their normal lives. Dr. Langer observed that the men had “put their mind in an earlier time and their bodies went along for the ride.”
It turns out that our mind-sets about aging develop far before we become older adults. When we are young, we all develop perceptions of aging that we carry with us throughout life, refining those perceptions as time goes by. Once we reach whatever we consider “old age”, we accept those stereotypical mind-sets without ever questioning their accuracy. To make matters worse, we and others can be guilty of reinforcing and perpetuating those long-held perceptions through seemingly innocent comments such as:
“Oh, I must be having a senior moment,”
“You look much younger than that,”
“Hey, I’m still sharp.”
A 2002 study on 660 people ages 50 to 94 reported how negative perceptions of aging affect longevity. The researchers reported that older people who had positive mind-sets about aging lived an average of 7.5 years longerthan those who harbored negative perceptions of aging. If positive mind-sets about aging can truly prolong life expectancy by over 7 years, that is an incredible incentive for all of us to reevaluate how we have allowed ourselves to think about our own aging.
Dr. Manfred Diehl from Colorado State University is an expert on how perceptions of aging affect the aging process and his notion of successful aging is one that combines a low risk of illness and disability with high mental and physical functions and an active, positive social life. (For a PDF of Dr. Diehl’s slide presentation on Optimimizing Successful Aging, click here.)
Dr. Diehl also notes that successful aging involves not only maintaining a positive mind-set but also being physically active every day, learning new things, eating healthfully, avoiding or at least minimizing bad health habits (e.g., smoking, inadequate sleep, over-eating, etc.), and staying connected with friends and family.
A positive mind-set might not mean everything when it comes to successful aging, but it surely means a lot. And successful aging is not simply a matter of feeling invincible because that mind-set can lead some—young and old—to avoid a visit to the doctor when one is absolutely necessary.
Perhaps the best news in all of this is that a positive mind-set about aging costs us nothing more than changing whatever negative perceptions we might have been harboring. When scientists, a movie star, and a country music singer all agree that it helps not to let the old man in, that advice seems good enough for all of us.
Alice, in her early 60s, talks the talk and walks the walk when it comes to understanding the connection between diet and cancer. I interviewed her about her personal journey to optimal aging and what we should all know about diet and cancer. She is the Senior Director for Nutrition Programs for the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and for the past 10 years, she has developed and coordinated nutrition programming and communicators for the Institute.
Tell me about your path to your current work with AICR.
For many years I worked in college health, first at Stanford and then for 16 years at the University of Georgia. In my role as the Health Center nutrition provider, I was a staff of one, so I learned to do everything, from student counseling to communications to working with a team of health professionals to keep the students as healthy possible. When my husband took a job in the Washington DC area I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go. I knew about AICR and when a position came available for nutrition communications, it turned out to be the right job at the right time for me. An important part of my job is keeping health professionals up to date on the evidence surrounding diet and cancer and that really appealed to me. Doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and other health professionals spend a lot of time with patients, but they don’t have adequate nutrition training. By helping them understand evidenced-based information we hope they pass along sound nutrition information when they talk to people.
Has working with AICR changed the eating habits of your family?
We’ve always eaten healthfully but we made some changes when I learned more about the diet-cancer connection. We were always a brown-bag lunch family, but I stopped making sandwiches with processed deli meats as our guidelines suggest eating less red and processed meat to reduce cancer risk. We adopted AICR’s simple rule: the 2/3 and 1/3 plate rule, that is to make 2/3 or more of your plate whole grains, beans, fruits, and veggies and 1/3 or less animal protein. That is a simple rule that is easily followed. My daughters are now in the thirties with their own families and they are proud of their nutrition savvy as they plan meals for their families.
I hear many older adults say, “it’s too late for me to prevent cancer, the damage is done, so why bother?” What would you say to that idea?
It is simply not true….it is never too late, or too early, to lower your risk for cancer. It is our choices over time that matter most. When you start choosing healthier foods, like a black bean, tuna or salmon burger instead of a bacon cheeseburger, you will reap health benefits. Lowering blood pressure, reducing blood sugar and insulin levels, losing a few pounds, and decreasing inflammation changes your body’s environment and that can reduce cancer risk. You will put yourself in a better position to remain healthy through the foods you choose.
The AICR has so much helpful information on the website, but is there one site that you think everyone should know about?
Complement your current healthy weight/ lifestyle program
When you sign up you’ll receive a weekly challenge for 12 weeks, with support emails for motivation, along with tips, tools, and recipes to help you meet the challenge. There is also support from a private Facebook community. We’ve reached thousands of people with the challenge. Instead of celebrity challenges to give up carbs for a month, why not challenge yourself with something that will benefit you for a lifetime?
We’ve been talking about cancer prevention, but there is also a wealth of information for cancer survivors on your website. As a 13-year breast cancer survivor, I appreciate the science-based information on your website as compared to the science fiction that is circulating on the Internet.
We are learning so much about nutrition for cancer survivors. We encourage survivors to follow the same cancer prevention guidelines for everyone. Emerging research shows that mortality rates are lower for cancer survivors when they follow our guidelines. We have a program, AICR iTHRIVE for cancer survivors that provides helpful information and specific, doable steps to take related to all dimensions of wellness.
What are your keys for wellness as you age?
Besides eating healthfully, I’m physically active and my activity has evolved over the years. When I was on a college campus it was easy to exercise by taking advantage of the student and staff fitness facilities and I played a lot of tennis on UGA’s courts. When I moved to DC a big part of my daily physical activity came from using public transportation on my commute. Walking to bus or train stations adds activity every day. And, DC is such a great walking city.
My husband is a bird watcher, so we love to hike. And, we discovered Park Run USA, free, weekly timed 5K (3.1 miles) walk/run events. We love spending Saturdays with this great community and I just completed by 50th park run. It is more than exercise…it is fun, and we’ve bonded with many others who show up each week to participate.
The community aspect of the weekly run is another important part of aging well. Finding your tribe, be it community, church, political, or otherwise, contributes to the social support that we all need as we age.
And, lastly, I maintain an intellectual curiosity to learn new things. In the field of nutrition there is always something new to learn and I’m also intrigued by technology and how to use the many tools to communicate health, nutrition, and fitness information in as many ways as I can.
What challenges have you faced as you’ve aged?
Probably the biggest personal challenge is time to do everything I want to do! I work full-time and have a 45 minute to an hour commute to and from work, am inclined to want to be involved in many things, but find I tire a bit more easily. That could be related to over-committing. I certainly don’t stay up as late as I used to!
A professional challenge is the amount of information, and much of it is misinformation, about nutrition. At AICR I hear so many myths that just won’t die! We have a section on our website Healthy or Harmful to help dispel the most common myths, such as soy is harmful for cancer survivors.
Any words of wisdom for others?
I encourage people to get out of their echo chambers and spend time with people of all ages. I love seeing how my daughters navigate the world for their children; it is so different than when I was their age. Many of my co-workers are younger and I do enjoy both learning from them. I feel younger when I can work effectively with people of different generations.
I also think that although many people know what healthy food choices are, we, as dietitians, need to understand the behavioral issues at play that influence people to make the choices they make. I want to better understand how we can tap into behavioral strategies to keep us all healthy for as long as possible.
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.
Most 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
Looking 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
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.
Whole 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!