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.
“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.
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!
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
The 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?
Pomegranate 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?
The 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.)
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?
Maintaining muscle strength is a critical factor in ensuring a long healthspan—being as healthy as possible for as long as possible—and in ensuring that we can do so independently. Fending for oneself is an important psychological component of successful aging. That’s not to say that we don’t all need to be looked after periodically throughout our lives—illness, injuries, and surgeries being obvious examples of when it is both nice and often essential to temporarily relinquish our independence and allow others to care for us. But to be dependent on others to help us accomplish the daily demands of living—opening jars, carrying groceries, rising from a chair, climbing stairs—is a scenario most people would like to avoid.
Muscle weakness with age is often, but not always, accompanied by sarcopenia—a severe loss of muscle mass and muscle function—often referred to in older adults as frailty. The perils of sarcopenia are not surprising: higher risk of falls, faster functional decline, more bone fractures of all types, greater chance of hospitalization, longer hospital stays, and higher death rate. It is estimated that about one-quarter to one-third of those over age 70 are sarcopenic and it is likely that even more are dynapenic—muscular weakness with or without sarcopenia.
We will all gradually lose muscle mass and strength as we age, but we can control the rate at which we lose it. In simple terms, inactivity and a poor diet accelerate the aging of muscle while regular exercise and a good diet remain the best ways to keep our muscles young. To that end, any kind of physical activity is better than no physical activity, but the best results come from a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training. The current recommendations are to engage in at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity (walking, biking, swimming, etc.) each week, along with two sessions of strength-training exercise.
Regular physical activity preserves strength and function by stimulating not only the muscles involved in exercise, but also the nerves responsible for muscle contractions. In addition, active muscles release compounds called myokines that travel in the bloodstream and positively affect cells throughout the body. Also, fit muscle cells recover more quickly from injury and surgery, additional benefits to staying active.
Added good news is that we do not have to devote hours each week to strength training. Preserving and even increasing muscle strength can be accomplished with short bouts of exercises that are continued to fatigue. For example, doing a combination of push-ups, tricep extensions with weights, and chair dips will quickly exhaust the shoulder, chest, and arm muscles involved in elbow extension, adding strength and protecting muscle mass. Doing similar combinations of movements with other muscle groups will reap the same results. As with all exercise, the best results come from getting our muscles out of their comfort zone on a regular basis.
When it comes to diet, studies show that older adults who increase their daily protein intake can better support improvements in strength and muscle mass. The simplest way to accomplish increased protein intake is to consume more protein at breakfast, the meal that often has the least amount of protein. Consuming 30 to 40 grams of protein at each meal will give most of us the recommended amount of protein. (For ideas on how to eat about 30 grams of protein per meal, check this out.)
Use it or lose it is the operative explanation for age-related changes in muscle strength and mass, as well as for most every other body function that we’d like to preserve as we grow older. For older adults just getting started with strength exercises, the U.S. National Institute on Aging has examples of activities that can easily be accomplished at home (click herefor a link to strength exercises.) YMCAs, fitness centers, and various internet sites (click here for one internet site with many at-home workout videos.)
Chapter 6 of Food & Fitness After 50 is devoted to gaining and maintaining muscle and strength, and chapter 2 has all sorts of tips for how to eat for optimal aging. Aging is inevitable, but we can exercise control over the rate at which we age. We just have to do it.
Managing your weight after 50 brings some challenges, but not obstacles that can’t be overcome. It’s true that as we age there are changes to our body composition, including:
Increase in abdominal fat (the dreaded “belly fat”)
Increase in fat deposits in muscles, heart, and liver
Increase in body weight until about age 70
Redistribution of fat with more fat in the trunk and less in arms and legs
But, before you jump on the latest popular diet, take stock and assess your weight. In Food & Fitness After 50 we offer assessments in every chapter to get you thinking about where you are and where you want to go with your diet, your strength, your endurance, your weight, and many other health and lifestyle issues. And, on our new web pagefor the book we’ve added the “Assess Your Weight” for you. So, take the quiz!
Do you have a scale that is accurate and reliable?
If yes, how do you know?
How often do you weigh yourself?
How do you usually feel when you see the number on the scale?
Compared with when you were 25 years old, do you weigh:
Do you know your Body Mass Index (BMI)?
Do you know how to interpret your BMI?
What is your waist size (circumference just above the hip bones and below the belly button)?
Have you ever been on a weight-loss diet?
If yes, which one(s)?
Did you lose weight on the diet?
If yes, how much, and how long did you keep the weight off?
What do you think is a healthy weight for you?
Review Your Answers
The first step to managing your weight is knowing your weight, an accurate weight, not a guess. If you have a scale, check its accuracy by using a known weight on the scale (like a 5-lb dumbbell) and recalibrate the scale if necessary. If you don’t have a scale, buy one!
We suggest weighing yourself every day or every other day. Don’t worry about fluctuating a couple of pounds up or down from day to day; that is simply a normal change in water weight. But, by regularly weighing yourself, a pattern will emerge if you are maintaining, gaining, or losing weight.
The numbers on the scale aren’t good or bad; they are just numbers to help you assess your body weight.
As we age, weight-creep can happen. Many adults gain a pound or two each year, but after 20 years that can add up to an extra 20 or 40 pounds. By comparing your current self to your younger self, you might find that the extra pounds have been accumulating through the years.
If you don’t know your body mass index (BMI), accurately measure your height and weight (for tips on accurate measurement, see Chapter 8 of Food & Fitness After 50).
Enter your height and weight into an online calculator to determine and interpret your BMI atthis website.
Measure your waist just above your hipbone and below your belly button. For women, a waist size of 35 inches or greater, and for men, 40 inches or greater, often indicates storage of excess belly fat.
There are hundreds of weight-loss diets and many people have tried them all. You can lose weight on any diet that restricts calorie intake; the hard part is keeping it off. We slowly lose weight whenever the calories (energy) we consume are less than the calories we expend. For example, if we expend 500 calories more each day than we consume in food and drink, we will lose about a pound of weight each week. The goal is to lose mostly fat weight rather than water or muscle weight. Rapid weight loss is often comprised of mostly water and some muscle. Gradually losing fat weight is the best way to ensure that the weight stays off because gradual weight loss helps us establish new lifestyle habits that are easier to maintain over the long haul.
If you lost weight on the diet, congratulations, but if you gained it back, that can be defeating. Read more about weight loss and maintenance here: from an international obesity researcher in this interview.
Be honest in your assessment of a healthy weight; let the BMI numbers guide you in your assessment. As we age, it is normal to gain a little weight. We suggest focusing on good overall health instead of a number on a scale.
More information, tips, and personal insights into managing your weight is found in Food & Fitness After 50 available on Amazonand from other booksellers.
Recently retired, Idie, age 65, spent 25 years as a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE). She became a Registered Nurse in 1986. While working at an Atlanta area hospital a newly opened diabetes program was interviewing for a nurse-educator. “At the time I was working what is called a “Baylor Plan,” working 12-hour shifts on the weekends so I could be at home with my 8-month old son during the week. I never thought I would get the position, but I did and quickly learned all I could about diabetes. I took a national examination to become a CDE in just the second year the certification was offered, and I guess the rest is history.” After nine years in that position, she transferred to the Piedmont Atlanta Diabetes Resource Center where she worked for 15 years.
I asked Idie some questions about her career and how she applied what she learned to her own life.
What did you like most about being a diabetes educator?
“While I enjoyed clinical nursing, the opportunity to teach patients about the prevention
and management of diabetes was rewarding. When it comes to diabetes management, the patient is solely responsible for his or her health outcome and helping coach patients to better management is something I enjoyed.”
Many heath educators learn lessons for their own lives along the way, and Idie is no exception. “I don’t think I ever appreciated the impact of what you eat on diabetes management as well as overall health in general. When I became a nurse, food wasn’t much talked about as a management tool. But, as our understanding of diabetes has increased we’ve learned that diet and exercise are cornerstones of treatment.” Today there is more information than ever about nutrition and exercise, but as we’ve written about before, some of it is good information and some is not so good. “Many people want to live at the extremes when it comes to diet….no fat, high fat, no carb, low carb. Not only are patients confused, but many health care workers are too!” We’ve included some reliable resources on diabetes at the end of the post to cut through the confusion.
Path to Healthy Aging
We often talk about 3 components to healthy aging…eat well, move well, and be well, and Idie echoes those notions. “I think nutrition and food is critical to feeling good and as we age, we figure out what works for us. Everyone is different so what works for me might not work for you. But, for me, I don’t feel well when I eat a very high carbohydrate diet. So, I try to reduce carbs, but I don’t eliminate them. I eat a lot of vegetables, snack on fruit, and aim for balance in what I eat and feed my family.” She also enjoys cooking and trying new recipes and is a big fan of Ina Garten, better known as the Barefoot Contessa; I’ve been the beneficiary of many of those delicious meals, so I speak from experience!
As for activity, Idie used to be runner, but running and mild dehydration triggered migraines, something she’s suffered with her entire life. Add aging and knee pain, and running is in the past. But, she walks every day, enjoys cycling with her husband and friends, and has been a lifelong devotee of callanetics. And now that she is retired, she is taking a yoga and body sculpting classes.
Being well is a special challenge for those who are caretakers. Idie has six granddaughters and enjoys spending time with them and helping when duty calls. She also cares for her 87-year old mother, putting her in the sandwich generation for sure. “Being newly retired is allowing me time for me, managing my time and prioritizing what is important is my goal for 2019.” She also enjoys knitting as an activity that “is relaxing and occupies by brain!”
“Acceptance” is the word that first came to mind when asked about challenges to healthy aging. “It is helpful to tone down your expectations and accept aging, but it is equally important to not fall into the trap of thinking, ‘well, I’m 65 so I deserve to let myself go.’ That is exactly the opposite of what we should do to achieve optimal aging!” So, despite the challenges, eating well and moving well is good advice at any age.