Food & Fitness After 50: It’s True! Good Things Come in Small Packages

“You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.” George Burns, Comedian

For 38 years, Bo worked in IT for IBM and then “retired” and worked for 3 years in the “best job I ever had.” That job was for the local Chamber of Commerce where “everyday was different, unpredictable, and fun.” But, being the people-person, she is, Bo says the best part was the people she worked with and the interactions with others in her community. Having just celebrated her 69th birthday, Bo is now fully retired, but she spends a good part of every day at the YMCA taking aerobic classes three days a week from Jean the Dancing Queen.”  She also plays pickelball for several hours 4 to 5 days a week.

Healthy Habits to Control Weight

Bo 2Bo has always been petite and the only time she gained weight was during her pregnancies with her 2 boys, but she quickly got back to her usual, healthy weight. While many adults gain weight as they age, Bo manages her weight by eating smaller portions, eating lots of fresh veggies, limiting sweets and sugar, and paying attention to how much and when she eats. “I’m lucky that I like the healthy stuff!” She often finds she doesn’t have much of an appetite, but eating breakfast and a mid-day meal around 2 pm (which she calls a cross between lunch and dinner as “linner”) keeps her fueled without being full. Her only dietary indulgence is a “real Coca-Cola” a couple of times a week. She also pays attention to hydration and is sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day to replenish water loss during activity.

Keep moving

As she has gotten older, Bo knows she needs to pay attention to her body and adjust as needed. “Know what you can do and what you can’t do.” TRX is all the rage at our local Y, but she knows that it isn’t for her. “Understand your body, but stay involved and active.” Her words of wisdom are “the more you use it, the better it gets.” Great advice for everyone!

Keep motivated

Many sedentary folks look at active people and think it is easy for them or that it comes naturally, but Bo makes exercise a priority in her life. Bo’s advice is “don’t be lazy; tell yourself you have to go to exercise class, an activity, or for that daily walk. “Feed your body right and use it every day!” Her words reminded me that while I often would prefer to skip morning exercise class and sleep in a bit longer or linger over a second cup of coffee, I have never once said, “I wish I hadn’t exercised today!” We all feel better, physically, mentally, and emotionally after a good workout!

 

Spice it up

Lately, I’ve been in a food rut; going back to the same recipes time and time again. Then I read an article in the summer issue of the American Institute for Cancer Research (available at aicr.org under publications tab Science Now) called The Spices of Cancer Protection. Herbs and spices have long been known to have plant compounds called phytochemicals similar to those found in fruits and vegetables. Scientists have been trying to unlock the cancer protective effects of phytochemicals and they are discovering that certain spices have potent anti-cancer effects; well, at least in the lab. It is too early to swallow tablespoons of  the stuff out of your spice rack, but it is never too early to learn how to use these spices in cooking for many reasons. Using spices can help you replace sodium, impart flavor without fat, and wake up your palate to new flavors.

The spices being studied for cancer protection include allspice, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, and black pepper. Garlic, although not a spice, is also included as we tend to use garlic as a seasoning (unless you trying to ward off vampires and then it becomes costume jewelry.)  The ways in which spices fight cancer are many and range from repairing DNA, reducing inflammation, regulating hormones, and altering cancer cell metabolism. Not all spices have the same effects so for now it is a good idea to include a wide variety of spices in your diet.

But, getting back to my food rut…how to overcome it? That is where a cool online tool from McCormick comes in (I have no relationship with the company and learned about it at a presentation at The Culinary Institute of America). McCormick has launched “Flavor Print” (accessed from McCormick website at mccormick.com/flavor print) an online tool based on sensory science that “reads your palate” to discover your personal flavor print. I started by rating foods that I liked; a thumbs up or thumbs down task. I rated everything from my like or dislike of hoppy beer (dislike), arugula (like), and pfeffernuse cookies (dislike). After rating a bunch of foods, my flavor print appeared. Turns out, I’m cheesey, garlic and onionish, and coffee and chocolatey. Next, I rated by cooking preferences (I’ve never deep-fried but I love to grill) and went to the recipe section to find matches to my flavor print. Based on my palate, I found several mouth- watering recipes like Slow Cooker Italian Beef (89% match), Almond and Date Bulgar Salad with Sofrito (88% match), and Grilled Chicken and Blueberry Pasta Salad (88% match). Fair warning, this online exercise will make your hungry!

I think this tool could break me out of my food rut and help me include more cancer-fighting spices in my diet. My 80-something year old mother-in-law will be spending some time with me and as many seniors do, she complains she has little appetite. I think the first thing we’ll do is her Flavor Print and then head to the grocery store!

Resvertrol: Longevity Miracle?

Last month a small study of 27 men in their 60s got national attention. The author of the study, a doctoral student, gave some of the men 250 milligrams of a resveratrol supplement and the other half got a placebo. The men were all healthy but not physically active. The men were put through a rigorous exercise program for 8 weeks. At the end of the study all the men showed improvements in physical fitness but the men not getting the resveratrol supplement showed greater improvement in fitness and blood lipid levels. The media reported that resveratrol “negated” exercise benefits and started the worried well wondering if they should toss their expensive resveratrol supplements in the trash and stop drinking red wine.

Resveratrol is a polyphenolic compound found in the skin of red grapes, berries, grape juice, pistachios and peanuts. The compound has antioxidant properties, reduces inflammation, initiates programmed cell death (a good thing in cancer prevention), improves nerve function and improves insulin sensitivity. All of these changes are good for human health but the problem is that most of the studies on resveratrol were done in animals or test tubes; very few studies were conducted in humans and no long term studies have been done for benefits or safety. For example, mice got anywhere from 22-400 milligrams of resveratrol per kilogram of body weight….far more than we would get in supplement form. And red wine, has about 1-2 milligrams PER BOTTLE of wine, according to ConsumerLab.com

So, even though evidence is slim for the benefits of resveratrol supplements on human health that hasn’t stopped the flood of supplements marketed to seniors. Dr. Oz has even blessed resveratrol as one of the “4 supplements for a longer life.” So, now, based on one small study, resveratrol is bad?

Not so fast, resveratrol is found in many healthy foods and we should all be consuming berries, grapes, and nuts as part of a healthy diet. Red wine, in moderation, and consumed with a meal, has heart health benefits beyond resveratrol. But, that small study did remind us that supplements are not thoroughly evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration for effectiveness or safety….let the buyer beware! Don’t believe the Internet supplement sales hype and stay healthy the old fashioned way….exercise and eat well. And, enjoy a glass of red wine if you drink alcohol without worry that you will get “too much” resveratrol.