I am a failed vegetable gardener. Like many, I long for home grown tomatoes, lush green peppers, juicy melons, and a variety of squash in all shapes and colors. And, of course, I thought I could grow anything with just water, sunlight, and little love. I have a designated space with plenty of sun and amended soil to counter the hard, red Georgia clay. But, the deer ate everything, no matter what home remedy I tried or how many tubs of deer repentant I spread around the garden. Then, we caged the whole garden so it looked like a small prison compound, minus the razor-wire at the top of the enclosure. I was so excited that the deer would stay out that I forgot that pests could find a way in. I learned about the tomato horn worm; an ugly/beautiful creature that stripped the leaves off all my plants overnight! Here is a photo I took of the little bugger if you’ve never seen one! (My niece Erin said, “Since the deer couldn’t get in, they sent their friends to feast!”)
So, what does this have to do with the title of this post? Many of the adults I talk to about Food & Fitness After 50 ask about organic produce; or I should say, are convinced that organic produce is the key to good health and that conventional produce grown with the use of pesticides is the cause of poor nutrition and contributes to chronic disease. So, let’s set the record straight with a little quiz.
- According to a recent United States Department of Agriculture Report on pesticide residues, what percent of domestic food samples were found to be in compliance (meaning levels of residues below any levels that could have a health effect)?
50%, 78%, or 99%?
The answer is 99%. What’s more, 53% of all domestic samples and 51% of all imported foods samples analyzed had NO detectable levels of pesticides.
- Organic farmers do not use pesticides.
True or False?
The answer is false; organic farmers can use natural pesticides and some synthetic pesticides. But, remember that natural doesn’t mean safe, non-toxic, or chemical-free. All pesticides, natural and synthetic, undergo rigorous testing for safety by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Organic is a production term; not a health claim for quality, nutrition, or safety of our fruits and veggies.
- When shopping at the local farmer’s market, the claim is made that the produce is “pesticide-free.” What should you ask the farmer?
According to Safe fruits and veggies, a website about the safety of organic and convention produce, ask the farmer what he or she does to control pests, because as we all know, insects in the garden have to be controlled in some way. Click here for a handy guide on food safety at farmer’s markets.
- You should wash produce under running water before eating.
True or False?
True, washing produce with cold or warm tap water and scrubbing with a brush, when feasible, can remove pesticide residues (but remember, most produce has negligible amounts of residues), but can also remove dirt or bacteria that may have come from the fields. Removing outer leaves of cabbage or lettuces is also recommended. Don’t use soap when washing fruit or veggies, just plain tap water is all that is needed.
- How many servings of blueberries could a woman consume in one day without any effect even if the blueberries have the highest pesticide residues ever recorded by the USDA?
10 servings, 87 servings, 100 servings, greater than 13,000 servings?
The answer is 13,228 servings in one day! Try the pesticide residue calculator for yourself to assure that eating conventional produce is not swimming in harmful chemicals!
The bottom line is that we should all be eating more fruits and vegetables without fear. If you can afford organic and you like the taste, go for it. But, if cost is a factor, don’t let fears keep you from eating conventional fruits and veggies from your grocery store.
As Paracelsus (a scientist from the late 1400s) so wisely said, the dose makes the poison!
This post was written by Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50.
When he was 61, Sam’s right leg collapsed as he was getting out of bed, the result of a long-ago knee injury from playing lacrosse, damage (torn meniscus cartilage) that happened two months before he graduated from West Point in 1971. His compromised joint is now supported by a knee brace that allows Sam to be physically active. Sam wrestled and played golf and baseball in high school and remained physically active during his college years at West Point. Meals at the Academy were high in calories and consumed quickly, laying the foundation for rapid weight gain after college when Sam’s career as an aerospace engineer entailed much more sedentary time, lots of travel and restaurant meals, and a frequently disrupted routine for exercise and eating. His love of sweets hasn’t helped matters; Sam says he has been at least 10 to 20 pounds overweight for most of his adult life.
Sam’s story is typical of so many older adults whose busy family and professional lives—along with injuries or health setbacks of one sort or another—made it difficult to maintain a healthy balance of food and fitness. Such is modern life. Now retired and in his late 60s, Sam now has the opportunity to find the right balance. “I want to be consistent with my calorie intake each day,” Sam said, “I want to eat a healthy breakfast, reduce eating out, drink more water, and lose fat weight. These are important goals for me because I want to live longer than age 87 that my annuity says is my life expectancy.”
Bicycling is Sam’s primary form of exercise and he also stays active doing yard work and repairs on rental properties. He credits his wife Elizabeth for being a great role model who cooks healthy meals, joins him on bike rides, and watches her calorie intake. High blood pressure runs in Sam’s family but he has been able to keep his BP well within the normal range by biking more often, eating healthier, and staying well hydrated. Sam has found that increasing his daily water intake has helped curb his appetite and keep him energized, especially important in the warm weather he experiences living in San Antonio.
Sam understands what he has to do to achieve his goals and is committed to staying the course. That commitment does not mean that he has to follow a stringent diet or exercise to exhaustion every day. Living a long “healthspan”—a term that reflects the importance of being as healthy as possible for as long as possible—includes enjoying what life has to offer … in moderation, of course. According to much scientific research, Sam is on the right track. For example, scientists from Harvard University recently estimated that a low-risk lifestyle (never smoking, a healthy weight, regular physical activity, a healthy diet, and moderate alcohol consumption) could considerably prolong life expectancy (longer than 10 years) compared with individuals who followed none of the low-risk lifestyle factors.
Sam’s main advice to others who want to strike a better balance between food and fitness is twofold: 1) count calories—Sam uses a phone app called FatSecret to help keep him from overdoing it, and 2) read Food & Fitness After 50 because Sam considers the book to be a great guide for pointing out errors and helping motivate him to achieve his goals.
(We appreciate Sam’s unsolicited compliments and are happy to hear that he found our book helpful.)
On Mary Ellen’s 80th birthday she gathered with 14 family members for a celebration weekend in Chicago. Her children and grandchildren asked every wait staff who served them to guess her age. Not one was close. She attributes her longevity to many factors. “My mother lived to be 100,” so she inherited some good genes, but she also learned firsthand the benefit of physical activity and social connections from her 40-year career in long-term care.
How a career choice can influence healthy aging
Mary Ellen is a registered dietitian who started consulting in nursing homes near her home in Indiana when her children were small. “When you have four little ones at home, part-time consulting work was a perfect fit.” That part-time work grew into a full-time thriving business, consulting with 35 nursing home, assisted living facilities, and group homes over her long career. She hired 11 associates to help her with the work. She sold her business several years ago but continued working with a monastery that devoted one floor of the building to members of an aging religious order. She worked with them for 40 years, “I know that it was 40 years because I started working with the sisters when my youngest son was born, and he is 50!”
What motivates you to stay fit?
The impact of working in long-term care made Mary Ellen want to keep herself as healthy as possible. Her motivations for staying fit include traveling with her husband and taking care of her grandchildren when their parents travel for work. “Keeping up with a 5 and 8-year old takes physical endurance and strength.” To keep fit and strong Mary Ellen works with a personal trainer three times a week. “I work out with a group of four women; sometimes the faces change but having the social connection keeps me committed to my workout.” Her trainer, a 63-year old woman, knows how to structure the workouts for older adults and changes it up frequently to provide a challenge. Before the training session she spends about 30 minutes on the elliptical or treadmill to warm up and introduce some cardio work into the routine. She also walks her dog and finds she is exercising more than she did when she was working full time. That is something many “retired” adults say; the enjoyment of being physically active when time isn’t as tight is a real perk of retirement.
Keeping the mind sharp is equally important
I put “retired” in quotes because Mary Ellen is still active in her professional world. She is a past president and currently newsletter editor for practice group for nutrition professionals who work in long-term care. In addition, she writes test questions for continuing education courses, and talks to the undergraduate students at Purdue University, her Alma mater. All these activities keep her “mentally sharp and up to date” with the latest research in her field.
As you might image, a registered dietitian knows how eat healthfully, but moderation is her eating style, and nothing is off limits. She has found that her appetite isn’t as good as it was in her younger years and lunch is the hardest meal for her; “if I eat too much at lunch I’m not hungry for dinner, so I try to eat a lighter meal at either lunch or dinner depending on my hunger level.” Also, she has become more conscious of hydration. “I don’t think I was drinking enough water, so each time I wash my hands I drink a glass of water. It’s a good reminder to stay hydrated.”
Her tips for optimal aging?
- Keep your mind active. In addition to her professional involvement, Mary Ellen plays Words with Friends to keep mentally active.
- In addition to regularly scheduled exercise, she keeps active throughout the day by taking “activity snacks” of 5 to 10 minutes of physical activity every few hours.
- And, she maintains an active social life to stay connected.
Mary Ellen and her husband recently celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary with family and friends. Her grandchildren wanted to celebrate the event my going to the zoo, so after a nice family dinner, she walked the hilly zoo. “I might have been a few paces behind, but I kept up!”
For more tips on eating well, moving well, and being well, check out Food & Fitness After 50.
When I was helping my mother-in-law move from her apartment I came across this 1963 booklet, “Calorie Counter for 6 Quick Weight Loss Diets.” (My mother-in-law tends to hang on to things for a long time!) The 6 weight loss diets featured were the:
- Three-Day Jet Diet
- Seven-Day Hurry Up Diet
- Get Slim Diet
- Stay Young Diet
- Slow-and-Easy Diet (editorial note, seems odd that this one is a “quick weight loss” scheme)
- For Men Only Diet (second editorial note, this diet plan implies that the other five plans are for women).
Diets come and go, but overweight and obesity continue. Today’s popular diet plans are packaged not as diets, but as “lifestyles.” Keto, Paleo, Gluten-free, and Whole 30 are 2018’s versions of “Get Slim” and “Stay Young” diets of the 1960s.
But, the plan I am asked about most often is Intermittent Fasting (IF). There are several versions, but the original plan was popularized by British journalist and physician, Michael Mosley in 2013 (revised and updated in 2015). The book suggests intermittent fasting for 2 days each week (500 calories for women and 600 calories for men) as a weight loss strategy and as a path to improved health. Many of my 50+ friends express interest in this approach because it appears to be an easy way to lose weight.
The premise of the book is that “fasting” on a “5:2” plan (5 days of normal eating and 2 days of fasting) can help achieve a weight loss of 1 or more pounds per week and reduces the risk of chronic disease. The fasting days do not have to be consecutive to follow the diet.
It promises weight loss and protection against cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
Since the book’s publication, researchers have been interested to learn if the promises hold up. Many of the studies are done on rodents and the human studies are mostly short-term. But, there are some pros:
- Reducing calories for 2 days each week could result in weight loss if calories are held constant on non-fasting days. This could be an easy diet for those who have trouble with portion control and it could help individuals jump start a weight loss plan.
- It can help educate dieters on how many calories are in their favorite foods, as they learn how little food it takes to achieve 500 and 600 calories on the fasting days. A man could blow his entire 600 calorie allotment on a Smoothie King Peanut Power Plus Chocolate drink and a woman would have a mere 100 calories left for the day if she drank a Venti Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks.
- There may be some mood enhancement with intermittent fasting. Many cultural and religious practices encourage intermittent fasting (although intermittent fasting is defined as 200-500 calories for a period of 7 to 21 days in one comprehensive review). Mood enhancement is reported when individuals fast intermittently and some chronic inflammatory degenerative disease symptoms, such as rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, appear to be reduced with fasting.
The cons of the diet:
- While the authors claim the diet results in weight loss and reduces disease, there is no evidence to support those claims for this type of intermittent fasting. Some studies show reduced blood sugar and insulin levels, but we don’t know if that translates into eliminating diabetes or heart disease or cancer.
- There is no guarantee that dieters will hold food intake constant and not eat more calories on non-fasting days.
- This plan is also not recommended for pregnant or lactating women. For those with diabetes taking medication, medical supervision is advised.
- For athletes and really active people, the biggest challenge is having sufficient energy to support hard training. Intermittent fasting could impair the ability to train at high intensities unless athletes fasted on non-exercise days. In addition, ingestion of protein and carbohydrate consumed shortly after a weight training session enhances muscle protein synthesis and muscle growth. Resistance exercise coupled with food intake results in elevated insulin levels which in turn promotes protein synthesis. Fasting could impair the ability to repair and build muscle.
- The U.S. News and World Report for the Best Diets in 2018 rank The Fast Diet as #35 out of 40 plans evaluated. Not a very high score.
A study of longer duration (1 year) comparing IF to conventional calorie reduction found both achieved similar beneficial results. This infographic summarizes the study and the results.
The bottom line: If intermittent fasting helps you learn portion control and you don’t overcompensate on non-fasting days, and you don’t mind feeling hungry, give it a try. Be sure to spend your 500 or 600 calories wisely (no pumpkin spice lattes) by choosing lean protein (eggs, seafood, chicken, turkey, pork, or beef), plenty of low-calories vegetables, and drink lots of water.
Food & Fitness After 50 devotes a chapter to weight loss and maintenance with tips to help you achieve good health.
I knew Janice as one half of a dynamic duo who taught families to prepare healthy meals for kids. For 15 years, Meal Makeover Moms developed recipes for busy parents who wanted to provide easy, healthy meals for their families. But, in 2016 Janice’s career took a turn; not a slight turn but a radical shift of reinvention. “It wasn’t a goal to reinvent myself, it was fate!” she says.
Her father was in severe pain from multiple injuries to his spine. The heavy dose of prescription medicine wasn’t controlling the pain very well and it made him groggy. At one of his many appointments, Janice asked the doctor if medical marijuana might help her dad. To her surprise, the doctor responded that he thought it was a good idea. “I don’t know why I even asked about marijuana because I knew very little about it and thought it was something people mostly used to get high.” But, the doctor recommended cannabidiol (CBD) and after 2 puffs from a vape pen, her dad said, “wow, I’m not in pain.” That completely changed both of their lives and Janice was on a mission to learn all she could about the medical benefits of medical marijuana.
Her research led her to the Holistic Cannabis Academy where she studied the benefits of medical cannabis and became an expert on the various forms and delivery methods of cannabis and its derivatives. After completing the course work and passing the exam, “Cannabis Janice” was born. Her website JannabisWellness, provides information on her journey and her services. And, for those of you who want to clear the confusion about cannabis, check out her recent article in the Food & Nutrition Magazine.
I was interested in Janice’s personal journey to reinvention and to aging well so I asked her a few questions to share with our 50+ readers.
What did people think when you introduced yourself as “Cannabis Janice?”
It has been an educational experience; some of my colleagues wondered if I was pushing alternative treatments that didn’t have research to support the claims, but that isn’t the case. On my website, I share many research studies conducted around the world on the benefits of cannabis and CBD for relieving pain and reducing inflammation from many chronic diseases. So many older adults suffer with pain and if a plant-based solution could help them, why not use it? It certainly helped my father and improved the quality of his life.
How has the medical community responded to learning about cannabis?
Only 10% of medical school students learn about cannabis and I hope to change that. I’m conducting a Grand Rounds presentation on cannabis for pain management for doctors and pharmacists at a Boston-area hospital and I’m talking about cannabis and CBD for older adults to social workers at a long term care facility. Every state that allows the use of medical marijuana has different laws regulating its use, so it’s important to know what is happening in each state.
“What do you do to stay healthy as you age?”
I eat well but I don’t exclude anything from my diet. Moderation has always been my guiding principle. I’ve always been thin, but as I age some of my weight has shifted to my middle, but I don’t obsess over it. I just had to buy a new pair of bike shorts because my old ones were getting tight! I think we should accept the changes that come with aging and not expect to look the same at sixty as we did at thirty.
What kind of physical activity to you like to do?
I used to run more than I do now, but I still do the occasional 5 or 10K run, but nothing longer. I realized the value of strength training and balance, so I practice yoga and do TRX. I love to hike with my daughter, and I want to keep up with her, and my husband and I like to kayak. I want to be fit and healthy and live a long life, but I am more motivated to exercise to feel food right now!
What three things do you advise for adults to be well as they age?
First, I think it is important to be gentle with ourselves. My point of view is that we should all be thankful for every day because not everyone gets a long life. It is also important to be part of a community. Take time for connecting with people, and not just on social media! Make time for the people you care about. And, lastly, I practice what I preach by taking a low dose (sometimes called micro-dosing) of CBD to reduce inflammation from the aches and pains that come with activity and aging.
Do you think your passion for new career path will remain?
Oh, definitely! Being a holistic cannabis practitioner will be my dad’s legacy. I said earlier that I think it was “fate” that led me down this path. When I was born my mother wanted to name me Holly, but dad said I think she should be Janice. Is it a coincidence that Janice rhymes with cannabis and sounds perfect as “Jannabis?” I don’t think so!
For more information on eating well, moving well, and being well, check out Food & Fitness After 50.
September is Healthy Aging Month and Dr. Bob and I wish everyone a happy, healthy September! Since we published Food & Fitness After 50 we have posted a weekly blog, Fit to Eat, and we have interviewed over thirty inspiring adults, ranging in age from 55 to 90! They live as far away as Australia and as close to home as our own backyards of of Hartwell, Georgia or Chicago, Illinois. (We hope you like our posts and if you haven’t already followed our blog, please do but clicking on the Fit to Eat link!)
Today, we are taking a short trip down memory lane to mine the advice and wisdom of the folks interviewed for Fit to Eat. Like our book, we’re capturing the ideas in three buckets: Eat well, Move well, and Be well.
Three themes came through from our 50+ folks on eating well. First, no one adhered to a rigid plan or fad-diet-of -month. No Paleo, no Keto, and no CICO or IIFYM plans. One person experimented with intermittent fasting, but the key word for everyone is balance.
Balance is the ability to eat and drink anything you want, in moderation. Of course, you have to know what moderation is; eating a basket of fried chicken wings with a half dozen beers every Friday night is not moderation! It is OK to indulge once in a while, like Bob did on his 7-day bike trek across Iowa riding about 65-miles a day, but you can’t over eat everyday and claim you are eating well.
A second theme that emerges is eating for health, that is, enjoying a wide variety of healthful foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, lean meats, fish, and dairy. Some focused on plant-based vegetarian diets, but most didn’t limit a particular food or eliminate an entire food group, like grains. Eating a variety of foods is smart because you are more likely to get all of the nutrients you need to support optimal aging.
Lastly, everyone we spoke to did not fear their food! They know that eating is not only biologically necessary, but one of life’s pleasures. They are conscious of limiting sugar and saturated fat and excess alcohol, but they love sharing meals with family and friends over social occasions.
Everyone we talked to was active in their own way. Some loved pickleball and others used their fists and feet from boxing to Bollywood dancing. And, me, I love group exercise classes and walking my dogs while Bob prefers individual activities and doesn’t own a dog.
So, bottom line, find something you like to do and do it. Make it challenging…get your heart rate pumping a bit harder, your breathing a bit labored, and fatigue your muscles when you lift weights. As Sally says, “no challenge, no change.”
Exercise brings intrinsic joy, but it helps to have a mentor to encourage you or a buddy who will meet you at 5:15 am every morning for a run before work. So, make it fun and make it your own and be consistent!
We all know that eating well and moving well are only part of the equation for optimal aging. To be well we need resilience; probably the most important trait to healthy aging. Because as we age, stuff is going to happen; we lose loved ones, we get injured, we experience chronic health problems, we get joints replaced…but, through it all we need to see the positive and bounce back from set backs. Everyone we talked to had experienced some challenges but they all recognized the issue and moved on.
Social support is also important for being well; whether family or friends, community or religious institution, everyone valued social support for optimal aging. Book clubs, health clubs, Friday morning breakfast with the guys or gals, or developing a social club for Single Outstanding Ladies Offering Support (SOLOS), anything that keeps us connected helps us to be well.
Lastly, a thirst for lifelong leaning, as typified by Elizabeth, who at 90 seeks out opportunities to learn something new every day.
We hope you take every day this month (and every month!) to be healthy. For more practical intel on eating well, moving well, and being well, check out Food & Fitness After 50 on Amazon.
Charles doesn’t mind letting people know he is competing in the 85-89-year-old category of the USA Track & Field National Masters Championships. “We need to stop the nonsense that we are too old to do anything,” he tells me during our phone interview.
For 24 years, Charles was professor of computer information systems, but his real passion seems to be staying totally fit, “mentally, physically, and spiritually.”
From mountain and rock climbing to running to race walking
Charles was a mountain and rock climber in his early adult years and with encouragement from his daughter, he started running at age 54 and “was ready to die after the first 50 feet!” His daughter didn’t give up on him and offered him her coveted Peachtree Road Race number for the annual July 4th 10-K race under one condition: he had to buy real running clothes. Before that challenge, he would go out and run under the cover of darkness because he was embarrassed about his poor running condition. He got the clothes and got hooked on running and has been running ever since. However, around age 64 he had knee surgery and turned to a new sport, race walking several years later.
I guess it was a good move because he raced walked his way to a gold medal in the 1500-meter finals this year even though his pace had “slowed” to 14-minutes per mile. “Race walking is based on form and technique. As a runner, my posture was lousy, but race walking demands a more vertical style, so my posture has improved.” In fact, he holds several medals from the track & field championships, from individual medals to team relay medals. His goal? “To get back to running.”
Smart training and smart eating
To meet that goal, he trains hard, but smart to avoid injury. He mixes interval training to improve his aerobic and anaerobic capacity, performs stretching, squat jumps, lifts free weights, and race walks within the course of a week. He also enjoys hiking up Kennesaw Mountain (elevation gain 1200 feet) in the Kennesaw Mountain National Park near Marietta, GA. To fuel his activity he eats simple, wholesome foods: lots of fresh vegetables and fruits and gets protein from beans, chicken, and occasionally beef. You might think he is crazy, but his “treat” is a big mixed veggie salad eaten with no salad dressing, so he can taste the crisp, delicious vegetables. He stays hydrated by drinking water, no sugar-sweetened beverages, just water.
In May, I interviewed Sally whose motto is “no challenge, no change,”and Charles lives that motto. “Challenging yourself brings those little ‘wow’ moments, whether it’s a physical challenge or a mental one, like completing a jigsaw puzzle without looking at the picture. I think we should all fill our lives with ‘wows!’ “Setting personal challenges is important because “you are in charge of your fitness.” People can encourage and support you, but you’ve got to be the one to challenge yourself and do it.” And, the more you do, the more you want to do. “If you use no energy, you will have no energy. The more you use, the more energy you will have. Bank accounts don’t work that way, but exercising does!”
He recommends challenging yourself with 5K races, because you will be among similarly motivated folks of all ages, genders, and fitness levels. “Don’t be concerned by initial failures, because you learn far more from failure than from success. It you succeed in all your ventures, you’re not challenging yourself enough.”
(Charles wants you to note that he is wearing his Atlanta Track Club shirt in these photos; they have been supporting him and his running efforts for 30 years!)
For more information on eating well, moving well, and being well as you age, check out Food & Fitness After 50.
This post was written by Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50.
At my 50-year high school reunion, I was reacquainted with two classmates who were planning to participate in the 2018 Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) event and they convinced my wife and me to join them. For the past 46 years, the Des Moines Register newspaper has sponsored the RAGBRAI—the world’s oldest and largest multi-day bike ride. Each year, over 10,000 riders from around the world gather near the Missouri River on the western border of Iowa to begin a 7-day trek across the state to the Mississippi River.
This year’s July ride started in Onawa and ended in Davenport, averaging about 65 miles each day. RAGBRAI is a bike ride, not a bike race, so people ride every kind of bike imaginable; unicycles, tandems, recumbents, mountain bikes, hybrids, road bikes and strange variations of all of those clog the country roads and small towns along the route. The participants are equally varied: female, male, young, old, in-shape, out-of-shape, thin, overweight, fast, and slow, RAGBRAI is an equal-opportunity event.
Each day begins whenever you want it to begin and ends in the same fashion. Small Iowa farm towns pop up every 10-20 miles, so there are ample opportunities for rest breaks with plenty to eat and drink, along with the food and drink vendors that dot each day’s route between the towns. RAGBRAI is a weeklong combination of food and fitness, with nights spent sleeping in tents pitched on fields near each town, or on the lawns of residents willing to accept overnighters.
Depending on their speed and size, riders expend 1,500 to 3,000 calories each day (on top of the 1,000 to 2,000 calories needed for resting metabolism), so everyone had a voracious appetite. As you might expect, the streets of each town were packed with vendors selling drinks (including adult beverages), pork, corn, sandwiches (including the peanut-butter-and-jelly, toasted-cheese, and ice-cream varieties), pizza, barbecue, pies, pancakes, snow cones, salads, egg bowls, french toast, and stir fry. Suffice to say there was no reason to ever be thirsty or hungry.
Throughout the week, I was reminded of the saying “You can’t outrun a bad diet”, a reminder that it is the combination of food and fitness that provides lifelong benefits. That saying usually popped to mind each day when I stopped to eat a slice of cherry pie, but RAGBRAI was a one-time event and developing a cherry-pie addiction was unlikely, so I ate pie without a smidgeon of guilt. The same went for beer, pizza, ice cream, and whoopee pie.
There are times throughout each year when we’re thrown out of our usual diet-and-exercise routines—parties, holidays, and vacations being good examples—but all is not lost when we occasionally overdo eating and under-do exercise. Part of enjoying life is to avoid being so regimented that we can’t revel in special occasions and then return to the food and fitness approach that best fits our needs and lifestyles.
Enjoying food, fitness, and social connections are essential aspects of lives well lived, as we point out in Food & Fitness After 50. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to food and fitness, so it’s important to find an approach that works best for you this week. Next week, next month, or next year might call for a different approach; there is absolutely nothing wrong with switching things up because there are countless ways to eat well, move well, and be well.
For scenic bike routes in your state, check out this link.
For more tips on eating well, moving well, and being well, follow our blog, Fit to Eat.
I admired Susan long before I met her. As food editor for the Atlanta Journal Constitution for almost 19 years, she was at the helm of the award-winning food section. I devoured that section every Thursday! Then one day, she had an idea for a new column, Fit to Eat, and she asked me to write it. I was thrilled to be on her team. I was excited but also anxious: I was a college professor who wrote for professional journals, not for newspapers! I relied on her guidance to help me to find a voice that would resonate with consumers. For 5 years she edited my weekly column and we’ve been friends ever since.
Storytelling through Food
Today, Susan is still passionate about food. She has authored many cookbooks that preserve the history of a regional or ethnic cuisine with interesting stories behind the food. She works with chefs to translate their stories into best-selling cookbooks. Her latest, Turnip Greens and Tortillas: A Mexican Chef Spices up the Southern Kitchen, features chef Eddie Hernandez and translates his delicious restaurant foods into meals that anyone can make at home. (A recipe from Turnip Greens and Tortillas is included at the end of this post.) Before Turnip Greens and Tortillas, she authored Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler’s Journey through the Soul of the South .When I pick up her books, I come for the food, but stay for the stories.
Susan grew up in Mississippi and was a rookie reporter writing general features for her hometown newspaper. But, she was drawn to writing about old foodways and her stories resonated with her readers and her editor. Eventually the stories were compiled into her first book, A Cook’s Tour of Mississippi. Having grown up a self-professed “picky eater,” her repertoire of vegetables consisted of “iceberg lettuce, carrot sticks, and overcooked broccoli.” But, one day she was served “perfectly cooked broccoli that was bright and crunchy,” and a lightbulb moment took hold. She hungered to learn more, so she took what was the first of many nutrition classes to complement in her interest in food. A second bachelor’s degree at Iowa State led to her second book, A Cook’s Tour of Iowa. Her path of her marrying journalism background with post-graduate studies in nutrition led her to Atlanta and editing the AJC food section.
Transferring love of food into a personal journey
While she was writing about food and learning about nutrition, she had another “aha” moment. She thought, “I need to apply this to my life to get healthier.” She took up running and “one thing led to another.” She found herself surrounded by other runners and being around healthier people helped her improve her health.
Now, in her early 60s, Susan and her husband participate in the 10-K Peachtree Road Race every July 4th, with more walking than running these days, “but walking is not only fine, it’s good!” She stays active with reminders from her Fit Bit. “I just love the accountability and the awareness that the fitness tracker gives me.” While most of us aim for 10,000 steps a day (equal to about 5 miles of walking), she aims for 20,000 steps at least one day a week to bump up her activity. She also likes yoga for flexibility and to decrease the stiffness that often accompanies aging.
Susan’s tips for aging well reflect the themes highlighted in Food & Fitness After 50; eating well, moving well, and being well. The one word that best describes Susan’s journey for aging well is balance. “We need balance in all aspects of our life. That includes physical activity and food choices, but in our social life, too. My husband and I seek balance in our friendships and have many friends of all ages. We found that when we just socialize with our older friends, the talk quickly turns to ailments! It’s fine to talk about health, but when the entire conversation is about deteriorating health, it makes you feel old!”
As you can image in her work she eats everything and eats out a lot. “I tune into my body and have never fallen for popular or fad diets, but I am conscious of what I eat.” In this age of craft cocktails, she also is conscious of alcohol intake. “I pay attention to the amount of alcohol I drink as it is easy to overdo it, especially when eating out. I enjoy a cocktail, but I’m really enjoying the clever mocktails that bartenders are developing. I’ve also gotten into Kombucha. It tastes like sour beer, and I like sour beer!”
She suggests we surround ourselves with friends who have a positive outlook as positivity is contagious. Like many of the people featured in this blog, she says “don’t let yourself be sedentary!” Get up and out and do something because physical activity is good for your body, but also good for your mood and mental health!”
Learn more about what Susan is doing by checking out her website and blog.
SLOPPY JOSE TACOS Excerpted from TURNIP GREENS & TORTILLAS, (c) 2018 by Eddie Hernandez & Susan Puckett. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Rux Martin Books. All rights reserved.
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 1/2 pounds ground chuck
1/4 cup paprika
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 Tablespoon granulated onion
1 Tablespoon granulated garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground chile de arbol or cayenne pepper
1 cup tomato paste
1 cup water
1 cup roasted, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped green New Mexican chilies (or roasted mild canned green chilies)
24 (6-inch) flour tortillas
Garnished: Crushed Fritos, grated sharp cheddar cheese, and sliced fresh jalapenos
Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until soft and translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the beef and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned and cooked through. Stir in the paprika, sugar, granulated onion, granulated garlic, black pepper, salt, and chile de arbol. Add the tomato paste, water, and roasted chilies and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water if the mixture gets too thick. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Set a dry skillet over medium-high heat. Add a tortilla and heat on both sides for a minute or two, until a few dark spots appear. Remove to a plate and place 3 to 4 tablespoons of beef mixture in the center of the tortilla; garnish with Fritos, cheese, and jalapenos; fold. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.
(Note from a dietitian: I used ground sirloin to reduce the saturated fat from ground chuck.)
To learn more about writing your own story to good health, check out Food & Fitness After 50.