Food & Fitness After 50: To Eat Meat or Not to Eat Meat?

high_protein_diet_s4_steakI grew up eating beef. Meat was always at the center of the dinner plate, except on Fridays when we usually got fish sticks. And, when I say beef, I’m not talking about the lean beef that I encourage meat eaters to eat. Juicy meatloaf, fatty burgers, pot roasts, and roast beef were staples. Add to that, prepared meats, like bologna, hot dogs, bacon, and sausage were also in heavy rotation.

A couple of weeks ago several research papers were published that rocked the nutrition world. OK, with everything else going on in the world, it may not have made it to your newsfeed, but for dietitians it was a big deal. Basically, the studies published in The Annals of Internal Medicine seemed to reverse decades old advice that eating red meat is bad for your health. The media headlines were fast and furious casting doubt on all nutrition science and warning us that once again, nutrition researchers are flip floppers.

We dislike flip flopping….be it from a politician or a health professional.

A lot of the discourse focused on the research methodology used to conduct nutrition studies. Here’s the bottom line: it is hard to study nutrition in people. It is easy to use cell cultures (in vitro research) or animals, like mice, because you can control cells or mice. With humans, it is not so easy. (I always used to tell my students to count the legs on the research subjects before accepting the study results to apply to humans.) If you think about it, it makes sense. Let’s say I asked you to complete a very long questionnaire asking you what you ate and how often you ate it over the past six months. Most of us can’t remember what we ate yesterday, let alone over an extended period. To add to the mix, how the food was prepared is hard to recall….was the fish broiled, fried, battered, blackened, or frozen? And, what about the portion size…do you know how to distinguish a 3-ounce from a 5-ounce hamburger patty?

Another confounding issue with nutrition research is when we change our eating habits there is usually substitution involved. Let’s say you substitute ground turkey for lean ground beef in your tacos. Unless the ground turkey is ground turkey breast (which is usually more costly), the lean ground beef may have a better nutrition profile.

But, today, I don’t want to get into all the arguments for or against eating beef. Many others have written on the topic with clarity and insight. For a detailed analysis, I like this piece from Cara Rosenbloom of Toronto in the Washington Post (no relation, but we joke we are distant cousins).

Another good read on nutrition controversies, including eating meat,  comes from ConscienHealth, one of my favorite daily reads.

And, check out this post from friend and colleague, Dr. Keith Ayoob that includes a discussion of the environmental impact of beef…hint, it might be lower than you think.

What I do want to share are tips for those who choose to eat meat. And, it is a choice. I consider myself a flexitarian; I don’t eat meat every day and when I do eat meat I choose lean cuts and small portions. Here are some tips that work for me.

Lean-BeefChoose lean cuts. By definition, a lean cut has 10 grams or less of total fat and less than 4.5 grams of saturated fat in 3.5-ounce serving. A quick way to know if a cut of meat is lean is to look for the word “round” or “loin” in the name. Pork loin, ground round, eye-of-round, or sirloin are all lean cuts. A 3-ounce (size of a deck of cards) lean cut of beef or pork provides about 20 grams of high-quality protein and 10 essential nutrients. A scoop of protein powder might also give you 20 grams of protein but is devoid of other nutrients.

Honey-Mustard-and-Herb-Oven-Roasted-Pork-Loin-3Lean pork is also a high-quality meat. Yes, there are fattier cuts of pork (ribs, bacon, sausage) but pork chops or pork loins are lean and contain quality proteins, packed with vitamins and minerals.

While there several plant-based burgers on the market today (Impossible Burger, Beyond Meat) they are not nutritionally superior to lean beef burgers. Enjoy them if you want to choose less meat but don’t think they are the most healthful options.

Consider a beef-plant mixture for a burger. One of my favorite way to make burgers is to mix about 2-ounces of lean ground beef with about ½ cup of finely chopped mushrooms and form patties for the grill. The mushrooms add volume and moistness as well as sneaking in a serving of veggies.

Grill flank steak and slice and serve over a salad brimming with veggies.

thLook for healthy substitutions at the deli counter. I like Boar’s Head Pastrami Seasoned Turkey Breast; not pastrami turkey, but turkey seasoned with pastrami seasoning, as a substitute for fattier pastrami. Use the turkey to make a healthier reuben by adding sauerkraut, a slice of Swiss cheese, tangy mustard on a rye bread. ((I have no connection to Boar’s Head meats!)

Whatever you choose, remember it is the total dietary pattern that makes for good health. So, for meat eaters, keep portions in check, pile on the veggies, healthy grains, and delicious fruit to balance your meals.

For more tips on healthy food choices, check out Food & Fitness After 50, available from Amazon and other book sellers.

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

 

 

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Owning a Dog Might be Good for Your Fitness

Thanks to Dr. Bob Murray for writing this post. As a dog-lover and dog-owner (well, I think Samson and Buddy own me!) I can related to the benefits of having a dog. Even when I don’t feel like walking, those pleading doggie eyes get me every time!

woman-walking-dogThat sure is a wishy-washy title.  Why not something more definitive such as “Owning a Dog Makes You More Fit”?  After all, most dog owners can vouch for the increase in their daily physical activity just to care for their pet, including regular walks around the neighborhood.  About half of U.S. households own at least one dog and some studies do suggest that dog owners walk more than non-dog owners and are much more likely to meet the current physical activity recommendations (150 minutes of physical activity each week).  I use the word “suggest” because it is not yet fully clear if dog owners walk more just because they already lead more active lifestyles or if the dog owners studied overestimated the amount of time they actually spend walking their pets.  On a more positive note, other studies report that dog owners are less sedentary because they do move more and sit less during the day.

a-person-walking-a-dogIn theory, dog ownership might help reduce the epidemic of sedentary behavior that increases the risk of all sorts of diseases such as heart diseases, stroke, obesity, and diabetes.  It is clear that increased daily physical activity combats all those nasty outcomes, yet most adult Americans do not come close to getting the recommended amount of physical activity (150 minutes each week).

isolated jack russell terrier holding leather leach over white backgroundWe often think of physical activity as something to be scheduled into our days rather than as the total of all the movement we’re able to accomplish during a day.  It’s actually the sum of that movement—day after day—that provides lifelong benefits to health and well-being.  For example, if a person goes to a one-hour daily exercise class, works up a sweat, but is then sedentary the remaining 23 hours, the benefits of that hour of exercise are greatly diminished.  In contrast, there are great benefits for those who are active all day long in one way or another, be it housework, gardening, walking, labor, and so on.  Add to that list taking care of pets, especially dogs.

Motivating people to swap a sedentary lifestyle for an active lifestyle is no easy task.  It’s relatively simple for us to change our habits in the short-term (e.g., joining a gym), but sustained long-term behavior change (e.g., going to the gym regularly) is much more difficult for most people.  And that’s where dog ownership comes in.

You may or may not be surprised to learn that some scientists have put a lot of thought into what motivates us to exercise.  Here’s one recent scientific explanation: “… the multi-action control (M-PAC) framework is a [physical activity] PA-specific model that recognizes reflective processes (e.g., perceived capability) as antecedents of PA intention formation, regulatory processes as key to the translation of intention to behavior (also known as action control), and reflexive processes (e.g., habit) as potential hallmarks of PA maintenance.” (Click here to see the study cited.)

Responsible dog owners recognize their pet’s need for physical activity and that involves daily walks, among other dog-related activities (feeding, petting, grooming, etc.)  Good dog parents develop sustainable, repeatable daily physical activity habits that can last for many years, motivated by the love they feel for their pet and their desire to provide the best care possible to ensure their dog has a long healthspan.

funny-5-miles-dog-walkingOwning a dog is obviously not a sure solution for reducing sedentary time and increasing physical activity time, but being a responsible dog owner does mean that you’ll be taking more walks (and bending over more often) than you did before you owned a dog.  And if those activities add to your daily activity total, you’ll be better off both physically and emotionally.

If your spouse or partner is reluctant to take on the responsibilities of a pet parent, perhaps a convincing argument might be “But honey, owning a puppy will help us both live longer, happier lives and there’s nothing I’d like more than to spend more time with you.”

For more tips on moving well as we age, check out Food & Fitness After 50, available at Amazon and other book sellers.

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

 

 

Food & Fitness After 50: How to Add Nutritional Balance to Frozen Meals

chris-hs-1969
Senior HS Photo

Fifty years ago, I graduated from high school in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. Nutrition was my chosen college major and under my high school yearbook photo it reads “future dietitian” (and, I was the scorer for the baseball team which may have led to my love of sports nutrition!) I was delighted to receive a scholarship from Stouffer’s, yes, the Stouffer’s of frozen food fame. I didn’t know it at the time, but there was a Mrs. Stouffer and she ran a restaurant in Cleveland in the 1920s. Her meals were uber-popular so much so that customers asked for take-out meals. In the front of the restaurant stood a freezer chest so customers could take home a frozen lasagna or meatloaf to feed their families.

stouffersSo, I was delighted when Nestle (who purchased Stouffer’s in 1973) invited me to Solon, Ohio to learn more about frozen meals, from conception to freezer case, and join with their team of chefs to experience the creative process. In addition to working with the chefs to create spice blends used for developing global flavors and reducing sodium (like the one below), we toured the innovation center to see how recipes are developed and tested for scalability (i.e., taking a homemade lasagna recipe and scaling it to make thousands of them). The recipes created in the kitchen used the same ingredients you would use at home, they just use a whole lot more of them!

 

For many, “processed” foods are to be avoided, but let’s face it, we are not going back to the days when every meal was home cooked from scratch, nor should we. There has been a lot of talk of reducing what has been termed “ultra-processed” foods. A recent study found that when people ate a diet of ultra-processed foods (the foods that are calorie-dense, taste good, and gobbled up by many of us) an extra 500 calories a day was consumed. This was a small study, but well controlled, and it gives us some insight into one of the contributors to obesity (note, I said contributing, not causing).

Tamar Haspel, writing in the Washington Post , details the problem of ultra-processed foods and notes that maybe the answer from the food industry is “better processed food.” Innovations to reduce sodium, saturated fat, and increase veggies and whole grains are a good start but the catch is….we have got to buy the products. It made me think of Trix cereal; parents demanded natural colors instead of the neon-colored cereal nuggets, but when the change was made using natural fruit dyes, the colors were not as bright and guess what? Cereal sales dropped and parents wanted the original cereal back in the aisles!

Nestle-My-Plate-e1366123280768So, bringing this back to my visit at Nestle, we talked a lot about their program to Balance Your Plate. The website and program shows how a busy family (or a single who doesn’t want to cook) can enjoy a frozen meal or a frozen pizza, but the entrée can be balanced with sides and salads to round out the meal. The portion size can be modest when other things on the plate…. a fresh fruit salad, a green salad, or grilled or steamed veggies, balance the meal, contributing to nutrient intakes and keeping you feeling full.

I also came away with a new respect for frozen foods; we tasted a few Lean Cuisine entrees, California Pizza Kitchen, Sweet Earth, and Wildscape products that were delicious and healthy. Pairing some of these products with a side of brown rice, a serving of chickpeas, or roasted broccoli or cauliflower makes an easy family meal.

So, next time it’s 5 pm and you have no dinner plans and are tempted to drive through a quick service or fast food restaurant, rethink your meal and try the frozen food aisle instead. Some data show that frozen meal eaters have better diet quality than those who rely on quick service meals.

Me with box
Me, 50 years later

During our visit, we were asked to bring the box of a favorite frozen meal and explain why we chose the item. I had to pay homage to Mrs. Stouffer and show a frozen lasagna box. I make a great spinach lasagna, but sometimes when I have a big family gathering, I get tired of cooking and on the last day of their visit I pop a frozen lasagna in the oven…. but I always balance the plate with huge salad and a slice of crusty bread!

 

Disclosure: My travel for the one-day trip to Solon, Ohio was paid for by Nestle, but I was not asked to or compensated to write this post.

 

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

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Alaska Adventure, Part 1

I just returned from a week-long adventure in Alaska, thanks to Trident Seafoods “Women of Seafood” program. The goal of the sponsored travel is education, fishing, and fellowship and all three objectives were met with resounding success.

Prior to my trip, I asked you what you wanted to know about seafood and you responded with thoughtful, probing questions. I sorted the questions into three buckets: nutritional benefits of seafood, issues surrounding sustainability of fishing, and clarification on fish oil supplements. I will be following up with all three of these categories in future posts, but today I want to give you a flavor of the trip.

When I tell people I just returned from Alaska, the first thing they ask is “were you on a cruise?” Well, if you count being on trawler in the Bering Sea a cruise, then yes! But, this “cruise” took me to parts of Alaska that the average cruise ship doesn’t go, and most people don’t see.

IMG_5254We started the trip in Seattle, where we did a tour of the famous Pike Place Market, where I was challenged to catch a fish at the Pike Place Fish Market, the only fish I caught that week! We were introduced to two local restaurants, known for their delicious seafood, Staple & Fancy for dinner and Serious Biscuit for breakfast the following morning before heading off to King Salmon airport in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

Upon landing, we toured the Naknek production facility to watch sockeye salmon processing…from fresh fish off the boat to frozen fish, fish meal, and fish oil, all within hours of the catch. Many of us don’t know how our food gets from sea to table and seeing the operation gave me a new appreciation of fisherman and processors. This plant runs 24/7 during salmon season to give us the highest quality fish. After the tour we headed to a lodge on the Naknek River for a wonderful dinner of, you guessed it, salmon.

 

handOne of the questions you asked was about the different types of salmon. An easy way to remember it is to look at your hand.

  • Thumb, rhymes with Chum (also called Keta)
  • The space between your thumb and index finger looks like a sock, so think of Sockeye (also called Red)
  • The middle finger is the largest, so that is for King Salmon (also called Chinook)
  • We wear rings on the ring finger (often silver rings), so think of Silver Salmon (also called Coho)
  • And, of course, the pinkie is for Pink Salmon

The next day we donned waders and took to skiffs to fish for Sockeye; my first experience with fly fishing and it wasn’t easy! Obviously, not easy because I didn’t catch anything. But, only one person in our group caught a Sockeye, so I’m blaming it on the 90-degree heat! I think the fish just wanted to swim in deeper, cooler water since it seems that I brought the Georgia weather with me to Alaska!

IMG_2529In the afternoon we took a float plane to Katmai National Park and hiked the bear trail to Brooks Falls to watch the bears fishing for salmon. They didn’t have any better luck than I did, but it was amazing to see them in action! As we were getting ready to board our float plane, we had a slight delay as a momma bear took her two cubs for a lakeside stroll. No one wants to come between a mom and her cubs!

IMG_2541 (2)

IMG_2555The next day we took a flight to Dutch Harbor, midway down the Aleutian Island chain, and were lucky to find a catcher/processor vessel in the harbor for a tour. These vessels catch the fish and process it all on board before off loading the frozen fish in the harbor. Amazing to tour the boat as the cargo was being delivered to the dock. The number one thing I remember about the tour was how clean it was…. cleaner than my own kitchen! The dedication to food safety (as well as safety of the crew) is remarkable.

IMG_2613After the tour our “cruise” began; we boarded the Fishing Vessel (F/V) Sovereignty, heading out to fish for wild Alaska Pollock, heading to Akutan. If you’ve ever watched Deadliest Catch, you might recognize this view of Akutan, the largest primary fish processing facility in North America. The Pollock were not cooperating as they were further west and north, so we couldn’t drop the net, but we were entertained by a pod of humpback whales (at least 40 of them!) scooping herring into their huge jaws! IMG_2604

Touring the plant, a mini-city, as they processed Pollock at lightning speed was amazing. They also process surimi and fish oil. After a long day (dusk is about 11:30 in Alaska this time of year), we crashed in Akutan. Fog blanketed the island and the only way back to Dutch Harbor was to board the trawler at 5 AM for another 5-hour trip. (There is no airstrip on the island….only a helicopter pad.) The crew was so gracious to the eight women on board; preparing delicious meals for 2 days! I never expected to eat shrimp ceviche on a fishing vessel in the Bering Sea!

Our flight out of Alaska took us to Anacortes, Washington to tour a secondary processing plant. This is where the frozen fish meets battering and breading, depending on what the customer wants. From Costco and Sam’s Club to quick service restaurants to food service in schools and other institutions, you’ve probably had seafood from the Bering Sea!

Our last stop was in Seattle at the Trident Innovation Center where we got a peek, and a taste, of innovative products that will be coming to market in the future. We also heard from the Seafood Nutrition Partnership and the Alaska Seafoods Marketing Institute and many of your questions were answered.

20190712_200138The last night focused all on the fellowship as we relived our adventures and enjoyed the new friendships we made. We dined at the famous Ray’s and were joined by Captain Josh Harris. I never thought I would be learning to crack Alaska King Crab legs with the Deadliest Catch star!

I’m working on new posts to answer all of your questions, so stay tuned! But, for now, eat more seafood, because it does make you smarter and prettier!

Very special thanks to our Trident hosts, amazing Women of Seafood, Ana and Christine!20190712_171253

For more information on eating well, moving well, and being well check out Food & Fitness After 50.

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

 

 

 

Food & Fitness After 50: A Deep Dive into Water Aerobics

If you are looking for a non-impact activity that provides all the components of fitness…cardiovascular, muscle strength and endurance, and flexibility, then water aerobics might be for you. And, bonus points for the cooling water in the pool as a great antidote to summer heat and humidity.

Water Aerobics is not Playing, but it is Fun

Sue Ellen
Suellen leading water aerobics

If you think that those folks in the pool are just playing, think again. “Water aerobics is a full body workout,” says Suellen, who at age 73 teaches classes throughout the summer, sometimes as many as five classes a week. Suellen has been an avid exerciser since the early 1980s when she and her friends donned leotards and did Jazzercise until she found water aerobics. “I’ve had lower back problems since I was a teen and the jarring impact of land-based exercise could make my back issues worse and put me out of commission for over a week,” says Suellen. So, she switched to water-based exercise and liked it so much she became a certified water aerobics instructor. “I never planned to be an instructor, but another instructor encouraged me and a friend to take the YMCA-based training and the rest is history.” The certification “wasn’t easy, but I learned CPR, water fitness, and both classroom and in-the-pool exams made me a competent instructor with more confidence,” says Suellen.

The benefits of water aerobics are many:

  • It promotes gains in muscle strength.“The resistance of the water makes an ideal environment to build muscle and there are many ways to change moves to make them more challenging as strength builds,” notes Suellen.
  • It is beneficial in treating osteoarthritis of knee and hip joints. Many people associate water aerobics with exercise for people with arthritis and for good reason. Your body weight is reduced by about 90% from the buoyancy of the water thereby reducing stress on weight-bearing joints. 
  • It is a welcoming environment for those who have been sedentary, who are overweight, or who have chronic disease. “We have all levels of fitness in a typical water aerobics class from those who are very fit to those who have chronic conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis, who find exercise difficult. Suellen always tells her students, to keep three things in mind during any class when they find movement difficult…slow it down, make smaller moves, and substitute an easier move.”
  • Many people choose water aerobics when rehabbing from an injury or surgery. Cathy, a regular in Suellen’s class, told me she was “looking for an exercise class that she could do after she finished physical therapy for knee replacement surgery. I found water aerobics to be of great benefit in strengthening my knee and I think it helped me get back to land-based aerobics more quickly, but I still do water aerobics because I love it!”

ThinkstockPhotos-480904565Suellen says that water aerobics follows the same format as other hour-long aerobics classes, “we start with a warm up of stretching exercises, and then spend most of the time on cardio, followed by a cool down. We use Styrofoam buoys for resistance exercise, and just like weights you use in the gym, these come in different “weights,” so we can increase resistance.”

Can Water Based Exercise Improve Bone Health

Water aerobics can help with bone health but is not as good as land-based exercise to strengthen bone, something Suellen found out when her doctor told her bone density was low. Suellen is working with a personal trainer who is knowledgeable about working with older adults with health issues. (I know this first hand, as I also worked with David when I had hip problems, for more on the benefits of working with a personal trainer, click here.)

Always a Teacher

Water aerobics
Class at YMCA, photo credit Bill Powell

Suellen taught 7th grade math for 29 years before she retired, but she sneaks some math lessons into her water aerobics classes now and then. “I’ll ask them to identify north, east, west, and south while we are in the pool and them ask them how that relates to the numbers on a compass, I guess once a math teacher, always a math teacher!” She loves the reactions she gets from the people who come to her class, “we have several people in their eighties who are regulars and they enjoy the exercise, but they really like the social aspects and the fun of the class.”

Tips for Optimal Aging

When I asked Suellen to identify the top three ways to optimal aging, not surprisingly, her first response was “move, move, move!” “My dad played golf at the age of 94 and moving is what keeps us all going.”

The second tip is to stay socially connected. It could be through an exercise class, volunteer activities, church groups, or as Suellen puts it, “anything that gets people going, gets them up, gets them dressed, and gets them out of the house so they develop a social connection to the place and to the people.” She works at getting to know the people in her class and “making them feel more comfortable about participating and looking forward to coming back is what matters.”

And, lastly, she said, “laughter, having fun and laughing during exercise is so rewarding, we laugh with each other and they laugh at me when I mess up, and that’s OK because it keeps us all laughing, having fun, and moving!”

For more information on eating well, moving well, and being well check out Food & Fitness After 50.

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

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Should We Walk and Chew Gum at the Same Time?

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!

Gum chewingFrom 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!”)

person_holding_chewing_gum_chewing_gum_and_IBSIn 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.

There are thousands of published studies on the effects of gum chewing.  It turns out that chewing gum is a simple way to help restore intestinal function after C-Sections and colorectal surgery.

Sugar-free gum aids dental health by stimulating saliva and remineralizing tooth enamel. Gum chewing also helps lower psychological stress.

It improves alertness (maybe that is why we’re seeing more pro golfers chew gum during tournaments?)

 92545738-56b007375f9b58b7d01f92dbNone 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 

Food & Fitness After 50.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Uncured Bacon, Must be Healthy, Right?

Uncured baconHave 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 sodium 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.)

Chemophobia

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.

Cancer Connection?

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.

caffeine mugIt 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 clickbait, 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.

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

Food & Fitness After 50: Get Old and Get Better

“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:”

  • lose weight
  • change my eating habits
  • get fit

Kathy medalsBut, 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.”

Pickleball Competitor

Dempsey and me
Kathy, on the right, in tournament mode

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.”

Kathy Greenville tourament
Kathy and her tournament partner collecting their medals

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.

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

Food & Fitness After 50: Diet and Cancer Connection

Vancouver grandson Michael (1)
Alice with her grandson

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?

I love our New American Plate Challenge. It’s a 12-week, free, interactive challenge that helps you:

  • Learn to eat a healthy, flexible plant-based diet
  • Become more physically active
  • Model a healthy lifestyle for your family
  • 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?

parkrun with husband Michael (1)
Alice and her husband at Park Run event

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?

Granddaughter (1)
Alice with her granddaughter

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.

 

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