Type “supplements for healthy aging” in Google and 26,200,000 results show up! I’m constantly being asked about supplements but I want to know what supplements are on your radar. I’m working on an article for health professionals on supplements commonly used by those of us in our 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond. And, your input is important to help me narrow down the wide field.
I know from consumer survey data from supplement trade groups that that vitamins (like vitamin D) and minerals (like magnesium) are popular, as are supplements that claim to support “healthy aging,” “heart health, and “bone health.” But, I don’t know what supplements fit neatly into those boxes and would like to know if you take any supplements or are curious about supplements you’ve read about or seen advertised in print or on television.
When I reviewed some of those 26,200,000 results, I was impressed with the creativity of the names and claims. From youngevity to longevity to herbal supplements that claim to be the “root of anti-aging.” (And, of course, we all know there is no such thing as anti-aging; even animals kept in the purest environments age.) And, the names are cool, too, sort of like the names of the paint samples in Home Depot: “cell shield,” “ReVerse,” “Imortalium, ” and my favorite…. Super Ultra Mega longevity, because super isn’t a strong enough descriptor.
So, email me (chrisrosenbloom@gmail) or hit me up on twitter @chrisrosenbloom and help me compile my list. And, of course I promise to share what I learn about the supplements (what works, what doesn’t, what might, and what is just plain hype) with you in a future post.
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
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 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!”
Suellen 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
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!”
My friend Bonne asked about the health benefits of Tai Chi for older adults, so I was thrilled to meet Chris Cinnamon, owner and head instructor of Chicago Tai Chi.™ I met Chris, an American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) certified exercise physiologist, at the ACSM Health & Fitness Summit and we struck up a conversation about Tai Chi. I knew I had met the perfect person to help me understand and explain the benefits of this ancient martial art to my Food and Fitness After 50 friends.
From Navy Flier to Lawyer to Tai Chi Practitioner
Chris, age 59, is also an example of someone who eats well, moves well, and practices what it takes to be well, but his journey was a winding road that led him to his current path. After college, Chris joined the Navy where he flew carrier-based fighter jets. After his stint in the military he attended the University of Michigan Law School and had a successful law practice for over 20 years. As managing partner of a busy firm, it dawned on him that the “intensity and volume of work endemic to the law profession was shortening my life,” said Chris. That examination of his life while in his mid-40s made him map out a new plan. Athletic and a competitive martial artist, he discovered Tai Chi as “softer martial art.” So, he began training with a high-level Tai Chi Master. After the first week he knew that this was the right direction for his life.
As he transitioned out of law and into his new life, he decided to go back to school to get a graduate degree in exercise physiology to better understand the science behind movement and exercise. It was also a way to bridge the difference between Western and Eastern perspectives in promoting health and wellness.
Chicago Tai Chi™
Founding Chicago Tai Chi™ was certainly “an unconventional step for a lawyer but it felt deeply right for me,” says Chris. He started his school as an experiment with just a few classes but in 8 years has grown it into the leading Tai Chi school in Chicago. “I teach 12 to 14 classes a week, see private clients for individual sessions, lead workshops, and manage a growing business. It’s hard work at times, but very meaningful and exciting.” With a total of three instructors, they have over 150 students attending classes, online trainings, and workshops.
Understanding Tai Chi
When asked to explain Tai Chi to the uninitiated, Chris puts it this way. “I describe Tai Chi as a sophisticated exercise system. Tai Chi originated as a martial art in China over 600 years ago. Introduced in the U.S. about 60 years ago, Tai Chi is mainly performed today as a health practice. It is a low impact, yet powerful whole-body exercise.” The benefits are many, “Tai Chi works the muscles, all connective tissues including fascia, the joints, the spine, and the nervous system.” Chris describes how, unlike many forms of exercise, Tai Chi works the entire body, even internal organs. “By performing smooth, fluid Tai Chi movements in increasingly connected ways, you work more than just muscles and the cardiovascular system, you intentionally work internal organs, like the kidney, liver, spleen, and digestive tract with gentle compressing and releasing motions. This promotes circulation of fluids, motility of tissue, and healthy functioning of organs. Healthy organs support healthy aging.”
When I asked Chris the difference between yoga and Tai Chi he described “yoga is a practice that assumes positions and holds them to stretch muscles and other tissues. Tai Chi is almost the opposite, you relax to stretch. The more you release tension, the more the tissues relax and elongate.”
“I have had extensive training in Tai Chi, Qigong, Meditation and related practices, some of which may seem esoteric. My background helps me explain the health benefits of Tai Chi from a Western exercise science perspective. My clients and students find that really helpful,” says Chris.
The Health Benefits of Tai Chi
A recent review of research of the health benefits of Tai Chi reveals that the strongest evidence is for reducing fall risk and reducing pain from knee osteoarthritis. Evidence is also growing, but not conclusive for enhancing cognitive function, as well as many other health conditions.
Reducing fall risk is a critical for an aging population. A recent report in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) cites falls as “major epidemic” for older Americans. One in three persons over the age of 65 falls every year and falls can be life threatening. Broken hips, knees or ankles can mark the start of downward cycle of hospitalization, loss of independence, and lasting effects on both physical and mental health.
Several studies have shown that practicing tai chi helps reduce fall risk. Chris describes Tai Chi as a great exercise to combat all the things that contribute to falling. “Tai Chi can make you more stable and secure in your gait by strengthening leg muscles, which in turn makes you more confident in your abilities to move through space. I’ve seen clients get stronger after about 6 to 8 weeks of Tai Chi practice.”
Tai Chi is also a great exercise for those with knee osteoarthritis. Many people with knee pain stop exercising and Tai Chi can be great way for someone who has been sedentary, deconditioned, or overweight to begin exercising. “Tai Chi works the weight bearing joints and the gentle movement can help alleviate pain,” reports Chris.
From personal observation based on his 8 years of watching clients transform, Chris says “the emphasis on relaxing in Tai Chi has mental and emotional benefits. It calms the mind and helps people learn to cope with stress. My students and clients frequently report being less upset and reactive to stressful situations.”
Chris also shared a story of a long-time student who was practicing Tai Chi at home. Her husband observed her and remarked how graceful she looked. The woman was thrilled, no one had ever called her graceful before. That didn’t surprise Chris, “the neurological connections made in practicing Tai Chi lead to fluid, graceful movement.”
I asked Chris how someone could get started in Tai Chi and what to look for in an instructor or class. “I suggest monitoring a class to learn about the instructor and students. Ask the instructor about his or her training and experience. And, the bottom line of any class, it should be convenient and enjoyable.” Chris offers a series of online courses and that is a good place to start if Tai Chi instruction is not available where you live. (Click here to learn more about the online courses.)
Advice for aging well
We closed our conversation by reviewing the three pieces of advice that Chris gives for optimal aging.
#1. Move more. “The research is overwhelming that activity reduces the risk of chronic disease. It doesn’t matter what you do, just move and get strong.”
#2. Pursue a practice that calms emotions and settles the mind. “High stress adversely affects health, and exercises like Tai Chi that emphasize relaxing and calming the mind can help with the mental side of life.”
#3. Eat well. “Get the advice of a qualified nutritionist.” Or in other words, don’t fall for the fads or diet du jour and learn to eat healthfully and with enjoyment.
I encourage you to visit Chicago Tai Chi™ website and follow Chris’ blog at this link.
I’ve published over 150 blog posts on this site but today I’m asking YOU to help me on what you most want to know on all things seafood. I want to know your questions about fish!
In less than one month I will be on 7-day immersion trip to Alaska to learn all about salmon and seafood. The trip is build on 4 pillars of education, fishing, Alaska, and fellowship.
I’m preparing my list of questions, but I want to know what is of most interest to you so I can write about any or all of the following:
Wild-caught vs. farm-raised salmon nutritional differences
Fresh, frozen, or canned salmon? Which is best?
How to choose a fish oil supplement
Which fish is the richest on omega-3 fatty acids?
Does the preparation method (frying vs. grilling) alter the good fats?
So, please hit me up with your questions and I promise to come back with great information, amazing photos, and some interesting tales of being on a trawler in Bristol Bay (think “Deadliest Catch,” on second thought, I hope not too dangerous), sport fishing, touring the world’s largest floating seafood plant, hiking in Katmai National Parkto watch bears catching salmon, and much more.
You can send questions by commenting at the bottom of this post, by email at email@example.com or on twitter @chrisrosenbloom
How many of you enjoyed a cookout over the Memorial Day weekend? With summer right around the corner, grilling becomes even more popular. But, how many of you know that much of what you do to protect yourself, family, and friends from food poisoning begins and ends with what you do in your own kitchen? Food poisoning is more prevalent in the summer because bacteria multiply fast when the weather is warm and cooking outdoors means many food safety rules are view as suggestions that are easily ignored.
Food recalls seem to be everyday news, with the latest being 62,000 pounds of ground beef recalled and when you hear about these recalls it means that our food safety system is working. But, no one is going to recall Uncle Bob’s famous BBQ chicken or yummy guacamole if he makes some common mistakes in the kitchen or at the grill. Let’s see how well you spot Uncle Bob’s food safety no-nos. (Hint: there are 8 food safety rules broken and possibly 4 more!)
Uncle Bob buys cut up chicken parts at the grocery store and being an environmentally conscious consumer, brings his own reusable cloth bags. To save space when packing his groceries at checkout he packs the heavy melons on the bottom of the bag and puts the chicken on top, placing lighter items, like avocados and tomatoes in the top of the bag.
After shopping, Uncle Bob passes his golf club and decides to make a last-minute stop at the driving range to hit a few balls. An hour later, he heads home and unpacks his groceries, placing the chicken on the top shelf of the fridge.
To prepare for the BBQ, he washes the chicken in the kitchen sink and puts the washed pieces in a large bowl and pours his special BBQ sauce over chicken. As the meat marinates, he slices the melon using the same knife he used to trim the chicken. He cuts the avocados (using the same cutting board and knife) to make guacamole.
As his guests arrive, he turns on the gas to preheat the grill and slaps the chicken on the grates. While cooking, he uses some of the BBQ marinade to baste the chicken. To check for doneness, he cuts into a piece to visually judge it. Satisfied the chicken is thoroughly cooked, he puts the pieces back in the bowl with the remaining marinade and dinner is served!
Uncle Bob may have served up more than BBQ chicken; from grocery store to the dinner table, this meal was a recipe for disaster.
Mistake #1: Raw chicken should never be placed on top of other foods, especially fruits and veggies. Juices can drip down contaminating any food that it touches.
Mistake #2: It’s a big no-no to leave raw chicken in a hot car. Bacteria thrive in warm environments and a hot car is the perfect incubator for growing nasty bugs. In the summer, remember the 2-hour rule…never keep food out on a counter (or a hot car!) for more than 2 hours, and when the temps soar, the 2-hour rule becomes the 1-hour rule.
Mistake #3: Don’t store raw poultry on the top shelf of the fridge unless you put it on a plate to catch the juices (same idea as in mistake #1).
Mistake #4: Stop washing raw chicken! Washing it in the sink or rinsing in a colander can spread the raw juices around sink, counter tops, and other foods that might be near by (like the melon or avocados that Uncle Bob is prepping for dinner). Cross contamination is never good!
Mistake #5: Speaking of cross contamination, always wash the cutting board and knife in hot soapy water before using it to cut veggies or fruits. Better yet, have separate cutting boards for produce and raw meats.
Mistake #6: Reusing the marinade on the chicken could spread bacteria lingering in the sauce from the raw chicken. It is better to have some extra sauce in a separate dish that hasn’t been in contact with raw poultry.
Mistake # 7: Give Uncle Bob a food thermometer as a host gift! Chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of a 165 degrees F. as measured with a thermometer, not Uncle Bob’s eyes. Need another good reason to use a thermometer? There will be no danger of overcooking! Moist and tender chicken is the goal, not an overdone, tough bird.
Mistake #8: More cross contamination going on by putting the cooked chicken in the same unwashed bowl used to marinate the raw chicken. Once the chicken goes on the grill, take the used bowl or plate back to the kitchen sink for a thorough washing before reusing.
How many mistakes did you spot? And, what about the 4 possible infractions?
#1: Using cloth reusable bags is becoming more popular as we consider the environmental impact of plastic grocery bags, but did you know they can harbor bacteria if not washed? Toss bags in the laundry to keep them clean. In other words, “keep them clean while going green.”
#2: Did Uncle Bob wash his hands before starting the food preparation? Let’s hope so because the dirtiest piece of equipment in your kitchen is your hands.
#3: Always wash melons or avocados under running water and use a scrub brush to wash the rind or peel. Why you ask, since you only eat what is on the inside? Dirt can harbor bacteria and when you slice through the rind, bacteria can be transferred to the flesh. So, wash first, cut second, then eat and enjoy.
#4: How clean is the grill? Keeping the grill clean makes the food taste better by removing grease (which can hold on to bacteria) and carbon deposits which can cause uneven heating. For tips on how to keep your grill in top shape, click here.
So, now you are prepared for a summer time full of great cookouts with good food and no bad bugs! For more information on home food safety click here and here.
Strategies for losing weight and maintaining weight are not the same!
Weight loss is a national obsession and even older women are seeking the perfect weight loss plan (one that usually promises quick weight loss without cutting calories or being active!) We are bombarded with social media images (thanks, Instagram) of flawless women of all ages and magazine covers of swimsuit clad celebrities who never age (thanks, Botox, professional make up artists, and Photoshop). So, it is no surprise that the number one question I’m asked is about weight loss.
As women age, biology works against us to lose or even maintain our weight. As estrogen levels decline body fat stores increase and more fat is stored in the abdomen (the dreaded “belly fat”) and we have less fat in the periphery (arms and legs) as it migrates to the middle. And, if we do manage to lose weight, biology gives us another punch by slowing metabolism and ramping up hunger hormones (for a great overview of the biology of weight loss check out this link.)
So, what’s a woman to do? Let’s give three tips for losing weight and three more for keeping it off.
#1: Move the focus off weight and onto health. A quick weight loss plan might make a visible change on the number on the scale but could have lasting negative consequences for your muscle and bone. A focus on body composition management (as we talked about in this post ) instead of weight loss is the better goal. Make changes that you can live with for the rest of your life. You may think, “I can give up carbs forever,” but, trust me, you can’t, and you don’t have to.
#2: Stop thinking you can out exercise a poor diet. Exercise during a weight loss plan is important to preserve muscle mass and bone, but by itself it won’t do much for weight loss unless you are an ultra-marathoner. Every year, the Kiwanis Club in my town sponsors a 2-day bike ride, Challenge of the Centuries, comprised of rides of 30, 60, and 100 miles. Following the ride, most visit the street festival to celebrate. So, if a 170-pound man cycles 14-15 miles per hour for 2 hours (about a 30-mile bike ride) he will burn about 1500 calories; sounds great but if after the end of the ride he eats BBQ pork sandwich with a side of coleslaw, fries and sweet tea he has consumed about 1500 calories and I’ll bet it won’t take him 2 hours to eat the meal.
#3: If you need structure instead of a short-term fix, take the long view and consider a plan like The State of Slim. The program was developed by weight loss researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center. It’s called State of Slim because Colorado has the fittest and leanest population in the U.S. This 16-week program can help you lose weight and provides the tools you need to keep the weight off. One of the program developers and currently Chairman of Nutrition Sciences and Director of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama, Birmingham , Dr. James O. Hill, says that program provides what people are looking for in a program. “In the short term, it provides satiety to keep hunger down, in the long-term it provides not only satiety but weight maintenance, and the lasting legacy is that improves overall health, specifically cardiometabolic health.”
When it comes to weight maintenance, a new set of tactics are needed.
#1: “Diet drives the bus in weight loss, but in weight maintenance diet goes in the back seat and physical activity drives the bus,” is how Dr. Hill and his colleague, Dr. Holly Wyatt sum it up. A recent study published in the journal Obesityshowed that high levels of physical activity are found in individuals who maintain their weight after a substantial weight loss. To avoid regaining weight, exercise is paramount.
#2: Eat high quality protein foods to help suppress hunger and preserve muscle mass. With higher levels of physical activity, protein can help repair muscle damage after exercise and provide the building blocks for muscle protein synthesis. High quality protein choices include lean beef or pork, poultry, fish and seafood, and for the vegetarians, soy protein.
#3: Take a page from those who have lost weight and maintained the weight loss. They self-monitor, practice dietary restraint, eat breakfast, and as stated in #1, have high levels of physical activity. Dietary restraint isn’t the same as dieting; but it helps to be mindful of your food choices and when you overindulge don’t wait until Monday or January 2 to start back on eating healthfully.
For more insights into weight loss for those over 50 years, see our chapter on weight maintenance inFood & Fitness After 50. And, if you want to take a quick assessment on learning more about your weight, click here.
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!
“The human body is basically a leaky bag of water with legs.”
Dr. Bob Murray
April is National Pickleball Month! Did you know it is one of the fastest growing sports in America? Pickleballhas been described as mashup of ping pong, tennis, and racquetball. If you’ve never seen pickleball in action, here is a clip to introduce you to the sport.
Because so many older adults have taken up the sport (it is so popular at my YMCA the parking lot is often overflowing!) we’ve been asked about hydration strategies. To answer your questions, I turned to hydration expert, friend, and co-author of Food & Fitness After 50, Dr. Bob Murray. Dr. Bob was the director of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute for over 20 years, so he knows a thing or two (or maybe a hundred) about hydration.
I’m a recreational pickleball player who plays for 1-2 hours with plenty of breaks, but my husband is a competitive player and may play 3-4 hours a day, several times a week. How do our hydration needs differ?
The volume of fluid we need to drink each day varies widely due to several factors. Body size, the environment in which we live, our natural predisposition to sweating, and how much physical activity we do help determine how much fluid we need to stay well hydrated. For example, a large person who works up a sweat in a warm environment might need to drink two gallons of fluid (256 oz) over the course of a day to stay hydrated whereas a small individual who stays indoors and just putters around during the day might require only two quarts of fluid (64 oz). As a rule of thumb, we all need to consume at least 2 to 4 quarts of fluid each day and for those who sweat a lot, that volume can sometimes exceed 10 quarts each day. Another rule of thumb is that about 20% of our daily fluid needs comes from the foods we eat (most fruits and vegetables have especially high water content), while the remaining 80% comes from the various beverages we drink. In that regard, all beverages count toward our hydration. Colas, coffees, teas, and yes, even beers and wines, can contribute to keeping us hydrated (although beer or wine might affect the hand-eye coordination needed for pickleball, so save that beverage for post-play.) The only exception is shots of alcohol because the high alcohol content promotes the loss of urine. During physical activity, the loss of sweat can range from as little as 8 ounces each hour to over 60 ounces per hour in those who sweat heavily. That’s a lot of fluid and it is best replaced during physical activity by drinking at regular intervals.
I play both indoors and outdoors, any difference in hydration advice?
The best advice is to drink enough during physical activity to minimize dehydration because from both a health and a performance standpoint, it is always better to be well hydrated than even slightly dehydrated. Depending on conditions, we can lose a lot of sweat during indoor or outdoor exercise, so it’s wise to keep fluid nearby anytime we work up a sweat.
I play outdoors and just drink water and then when I got home I drink diluted fruit juice. Is that a good hydration strategy?
The best hydration strategy is to drink enough to minimize weight loss during physical activity, without over-drinking. If the combination of water and diluted fruit juice accomplishes that, then that’s a good hydration strategy. How do we know how much to drink during exercise? On days when you know you are going to be sweating, weigh yourself just before exercise and then again soon after. If you’ve lost more than a pound or two, that’s a pretty good sign that you need to drink more to prevent performance-sapping dehydration. If you’ve gained weight, that’s a clear indication that you drank too much and can do with less.
When I play in pickleball tournaments, and I win, I continue to play. My first match is at 8 AM and it may last 45 minutes or so. If I keep winning, I may play 5-6 matches. Often, I will sit out for extended periods of time waiting for a court or for a match to end, so may not end up playing my last match until late afternoon. Any advice for staying hydrated during the long tournament days?
This is a great example of conditions where daily fluid needs will be very high. Drinking during the games to minimize dehydration will be vital to staying hydrated, as will drinking enough between games to ensure that you begin the next game well hydrated. Under these kinds of circumstances, it is best to rely on a variety of fluids including water, sports drinks, and juices to help you stay hydrated.
Can I over-consume electrolyte drinks? How do I how much is too much?
Typical sports drinks do not contain enough electrolytes (minerals) to pose a risk of over consumption. Some athletes have overdone electrolyte supplements such as salt tablets or electrolyte powders and, in those cases, upset stomachs and nausea can result and those symptoms are usually enough to make people stop taking them before serious medical problems can occur. One of the benefits of relying on sports drinks rather than just plain water is that the electrolytes in sports drink aid hydration by helping us drink more and lose less (as urine). The electrolytes in sports drinks promote the drive to drink and we retain the fluid more than when we drink plain water.
Seems like pickle juice was made for pickleball….is it a hydrating beverage? I heard the acid in the pickle juice can stop cramps. True?
Pickle juice definitely contains electrolytes, but most people can’t drink enough pickle juice to stay well hydrated. It is true that pickle juice has been shown to reduce the duration of muscle cramps, so if you are prone to cramping, you might give a shot of straight pickle juice a try the next time you feel a cramp coming on.
I open a mustard packet and squirt it my mouth when I start to get cramps…I’ve heard the turmeric in the mustard stops cramps. Is that true?
There are lots of “cures’ for muscle cramps that include everything from eating a packet of mustard to pinching your top lip. The latest research shows that cramps can be stopped or reduced by stimulating receptors in the mouth, throat, and stomach that in turn reduce the excess nerve activity that causes cramping. Pickle juice and mustard both fit that description, although stronger spices such as capsaicin, ginger, and cinnamon might be more effective. Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory that gives mustard the yellow color, but it is not known to halt exercise-induced muscle cramps.
For more on hydration strategies, see our chapter on staying well hydrated in Food & Fitness After 50, sold at Amazon and other booksellers.