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: A Healthy Mindset Can Provide Big Rewards

Bonne, now in her mid-70s, is a California gal at heart, even though she now lives in the southeastern U.S. Born and raised in California, Bonne embraced the west coast fitness movement in the 1960s and 1970s to keep her body and her health in the best possible shape. Californians were ahead of the curve on the fitness trends; she was fit even before Jane Fonda’s call to action with her workout video in the early 1980s. (We all remember Jane’s workout videos!) “Living in southern California was synonymous with looking good, and eating and exercise were a very important part of my life.” Bonne worked full-time as a market research consultant and raised a family, but always found time to be active and eat well. She eats a plant-centered diet, but eats small portions of meat. She enjoys a variety of different cultural cuisines: Indian, Mexican, Turkish, Middle Eastern, Chinese, and Italian are all favorites. She cites the diversity of bold flavors as a big reason to break out of the typical American diet rut. She is careful to reduce sugar intake and eats a variety of foods to reduce inflammation (Foods that fight inflammation). Bonne makes her own special beverage of ginger water. (Bonne’s recipe: Cut fresh ginger and simmer in water with stevia leaves, strain, and add to sparkling water for refreshing drink because “water is a great beverage, but it gets boring.”)

As she has aged, she realized that she had to change her activities from high impact sports, like skiing, tennis and running, to low impact workouts. Now she plays golf (quite well; being named the “most improved 9-hole golfer” at her golf club), is an avid gardener and practices yoga and tai chi. Over 500 clinical research trials and 100 systematic reviews have been published on the health benefits of tai chi. For aging adults, the benefits include improving balance, reducing falls, strengthening the lower body, reducing osteoarthritis pain, and improving cognitive function (Health benefits of Tai Chi.)

Bonne yoga
Bonne practicing yoga (photo courtesy of Al Olsen)

 

Bonne says her mindset about activity never changed, she occasionally “strayed” but in the back of her mind she knew she had to “eat properly and move.” She takes a holistic approach to her health and encourages her friends to do the same with a gentle nudge. Bonne maintains the same weight as her high school days by watching her portion sizes, being active, and having a positive mindset. She recommends that all women know their bone density, blood pressure, blood sugar, and healthy weight range. She also finds time to meditate every day to clear her mind and reduce stress. She is her own health advocate and encourages everyone do the same.

Bonne suggest that adults “visualize where you want to be and set goals to be healthy enough to do them.” Her goal? Traveling and being around to watch her 2 great grandchildren grow.

To learn more about Food & Fitness After 50, visit the Website and you can pre-order Chris Rosenbloom and Bob Murray’s book at Amazon pre-order.

Tomaotes…in winter?

 
I had the good fortune to be an invited guest at The Culinary Institute of America’s yearly conference, World of Healthy Flavors in January. World of Healthy Flavors is a collaboration between the CIA and Harvard School of Public Health. It brings chefs, food service operators, growers, and suppliers together to marry nutrition science with delicious food. From quick service restaurants to campus dining, innovations in food preparation and flavor is the outcome of this conference, now in it’s 10th year.
 
After the conference, there is a day added to celebrate “Produce First.” This is where the real fun begins. Teams are established that include chefs, nutritionists, and produce representatives to come up with several dishes showcasing one produce ingredient. I was on the “Tomato” team, sponsored by NatureSweet tomatoes. (Disclosure, I have no financial relationship to the company to promote the product.) We had three types of tomatoes from NatureSweet….”Glorys” (cherry tomatoes, )”Cherubs” (grape tomatoes), and “SunBursts” (yellow tomatoes). All of these fully vine-ripened tomatoes are produced in greenhouses under controlled environmental conditions; everything from the seeds to soil to water is controlled. The result is a delicious, juicy tomato that tastes good all year long. When I first discovered NatureSweet tomatoes at my local discount shopping club, I was excited because, (1) they taste great and I love them as a snack with only 27 calories per cup, (2) they are great roasted and used to top fish, chicken, or pasta. To roast, heat the oven to 450 degrees F. and drizzle olive oil on a baking sheet. Add a carton or two of tomatoes, swirl them around the pan to coat in olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 15 minutes and then turn them. Continue roasting for another 10 to 15 minutes until they begin to split open. I use them on pasta for a much tastier and nutrient-rich topping than jarred marinara sauce, or over grilled fish or chicken breast for a quick dinner.
 
Tomatoes, raw or cooked, are a tasty, healthy food. Tomatoes are anti-inflammatory foods and are loaded with anti-oxidants of the carotenoid family. One carotenoid that has gotten a lot of media attend for it’s role in prostate health is lycopene. This compound in tomatoes is associated with lower risk of prostate cancer and stroke. Cooking the tomatoes breaks down the cells, releasing the lycopene making it more readily absorbed. Lycopene is also fat-soluble so eating tomatoes with some fat will also help it be better absorbed. Eighty percent of lycopene in the U.S. diet comes from tomatoes, so start roasting tomatoes in a bit of olive oil to get even more health benefits.
 
Back to my “team.” The creative chefs came up with many dishes but the highlight was our “Tomato Cod with Smoked Roasted eggplant, Fried Citrus Rind, and Pickled Roasted Tomatoes.” A dish that begins and ends with tomatoes…what could be better?
 
 
For more recipes, check out www.naturesweet.com
 
 

362 Exhibitors and So Little Time!

Every year I attend the Food and Nutrition Conference & Expo of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and like a kid in a video game store, I love the exhibit hall. This year 362 exhibitors were doling out food and beverage samples in Houston and as I walked through the aisles of vendors I thought about what might appeal to the 50+ audience. So, here are some of my favorites that can help improve your health and taste great at the same time. (I have no financial interest nor have I done any consulting with these companies or products.)

The Mushroom Council, representing fresh mushroom producers or importers, was preparing samples of turkey-mushroom burgers. The smell drew me in but the taste made me a true believer. Paring mushrooms and meat to make healthier burgers, meatballs, tacos…or any recipe that calls for ground beef or turkey… can reduce the fat, sodium and calories of a dish while increasing vitamins, minerals and fiber. And, let’s not forget the cost. One study showed a 27% reduction in cost when using mushrooms for part of the ground meat. Recently, research sponsored by the Mushroom Council was highlighted on NPR at http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/11/05/243218136/make-room-for-mushrooms-fungi-compete-with-meat-in-burgers. So, next time you are using ground meat in a favorite dish, finely chop mushrooms and mix into the meat and be prepared to be surprised at the flavor punch.

The Almond Board of California was handing out a dietitian’s favorite snack…a tin filled with natural whole almonds. The tin holds the “perfect portion” of 1-ounce or 23 almonds. Almonds make a great a snack for those of us 50+ as a serving has 6 grams of protein, 3.5 grams of fiber, and 35% of the daily value for vitamin E. A 2013 study from Purdue University with 137 participants who were given 1.5 ounces of almonds (about 35 whole almonds) every day for a snack showed that hunger levels were decreased, vitamin E and “good” fats were increased without weight gain. So, when the mid-morning or afternoon hunger hits, grab a handful of nutrient-rich almonds.

The Cherry Marketing Institute was serving refreshing tart cherry juice. While I don’t like the term “super food,” cherries are making a pitch for that title. Some studies using tart cherry juice (about 10-ounces a day) have shown anti-inflammatory effects in those with arthritis and gout. Athletes are getting in the cherry juice cheering section, too, as a recovery drink. Some college and professional athletes are drinking cherry juice after a hard workout or during injury rehab to reduce inflammation and promote healing. Cherry juice is a nutritious beverage that might be worth a try for active older adults who experience muscle soreness after a tough workout.

The Canola Info/Canola of Canada booth caught my eye because in Georgia I’ve noticed the beautiful fields of canola plants in the early spring. Fields of yellow flowering canola plants are quite a sight to see. Canola oil has the least saturated fat of all the oils (even olive oil) and it also contains alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3-fat, associated with fatty fish or flaxseed. It is about 60% oleic acid (the kind of fat in olive oil) and 21% polyunsaturated fat. All of those numbers give canola oil a heart healthy profile for those who want the lowest saturated fat oil and don’t always like the taste of olive oil.

Last, I was happy to see Flatout at the expo. I’ve been using these flatbreads as a bread substitute for about a year because they are higher in protein and fiber with half the calories of sliced bread. This Chicago-based company was sampling a new product, a rosemary and olive oil “fold it” flatbread. Great taste for 100 calories and I bought a package when I got home (found in the deli/bakery section of most grocery stores) and it will be a staple in my house. The flatbreads are also great for quick pizzas on a busy night…top with mushrooms, of course!

Can’t wait for next year’s expo to see what else I can taste…and enjoy!

Will zinc help you get over your winter cold?

I’ve managed to avoid the dreaded winter common cold; when I was teaching I almost always got a cold at the beginning of the semester when students brought those nasty cold viruses into the classroom.

There about a billion colds in the U.S. each year, according to the CDC, but the good news for those of us in the 50+ age group is that we get less colds probably because our lifetime exposure to viruses gives us a leg up in the immunity department.

But, if you do get the scratchy throat and other cold symptoms, will zinc be the answer to preventing the cold or at least reducing the severity? Zinc is an essential nutrient that is found in every cell of our body, acting as an anti-oxidant and critical nutrient in a healthy immune system. Zinc has the potential to inhibit the rhinovirus (the virus that causes most colds) to sticking and replicating in the nose and throat. It can also stop inflammation that contributes the symptoms of a cold…runny nose and stuffy head.

While there are many zinc preparations in the cold and flu aisle of your local drug or grocery store, should you use them? The research results are mixed, of course, they often are, but the latest review from the Cochrane Collaboration (a group that reviews medical topics by reviewing many studies on a particular topic) found that when zinc is taken at the first sign of a cold the length of the illness is reduced by about one day. Underwhelming or is it worth reducing your cold by about 24 hours?

If you want to try it, here are some tips and some personal advice…more on that later. Some considerations if you decide to use zinc lozenges (most provide between 5-10 milligrams of zinc):

  • timing and dose is important, try one zinc lozenge at the first sign of a cold and take it every 4 hours
  • more isn’t better, in fact, in can make things worse; nausea and vomiting can occur and it can leave a metal taste in the mouth
  • avoid zinc nasal sprays…the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers that zinc sprays can lead to changes in the sense of smell and sometimes permanent changes
  • zinc can interfere with some prescription medications, like antibiotics and blood thinners, so always consider potential drug interactions

My personal advice comes from a bad (and stupid) reaction to zinc, even though I should have known better. Several years ago I was on my way to professional meeting in France when I started to get a sore throat..always my first cold symptom. During the flight a colleague’s spouse gave me a bag of zinc lozenges and I popped them like candy for the 9-hour flight. When I arrived at the hotel I was so sick to my stomach I couldn’t even make to the bathroom before vomiting. A great first impression to the conference hosts and hotel staff! And, to add insult to injury I still got sick.

So, my advice is to be careful when using zinc and I won’t touch the stuff after my experience. Instead, I ‘ll stick to chicken soup. In 2000 some physicians actually studied chicken soup and found that it does have anti-inflammatory properties that inhibit a white blood cell that produces mucus. Mom was right about so many things!