Five Reasons I’m Thankful This Turkey Day: What are you thankful for?

We’ve all faced challenges these past two years, but we are also grateful for many things this holiday season. Here are my five reasons to be thankful. What are yours?

Food. While food prices have risen, the U.S. has one of the most affordable food systems in the world. Americans spend just 6.4% of their household income on food, according to the latest figures compiled by the USDA. Typically, the more developed a country is, the smaller the percentage of household income it spends on food. High-income countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom have higher food spending in absolute terms, but the share of household consumption expenditures devoted to at-home food is low—less than 10%. In Kenya and other low-income countries, at-home food’s share of consumption expenditures can exceed 50%.

If you have sufficient money to buy food for your family, consider spreading the wealth by donating your time, money, or food to a local food pantry or support organizations that feed people with a monthly contribution. While there are too many great organizations to name, Feeding America and No Kid Hungry are two to consider supporting.

Great nieces Willow & Amelia
With nephew Jack

Family. We associate the holidays with gatherings of loved ones. This year I’m thankful to get to enjoy visiting with a dozen of my nieces and nephews. This year brought us our 42nd great nephew (yes, we have 42 nieces, nephews, and greats) and getting to see about 29% of the gang in one weekend is a win!

Friends. Covid kept us isolated from our friends, so I am thankful that we are starting to see more our friends for fun times. Holiday parties are on the calendar and vaccines have allowed us to start to enjoy each other’s company in the community and in our homes.

Longtime friends Liz & Kathleen at Rose Gardens in Portland, OR

Fun. Fun for me is associated with travel and I’m thankful I got to travel to Portland, Oregon for a media tour sponsored by the Alliance for Food & Farming and connect with some longtime friends while making new ones! We also traveled to Italy, and I wrote about our experiences in Tuscany and Rome (click here for the post) and the great fun we had. Bonus, we spent time with friends, too!

My Thanksgiving pies

Feast. What Thanksgiving feast wouldn’t be complete without pie? I admit, I love to bake but do it infrequently, but my pie making skills will be on full display this year.  I hope you enjoy your feast, too. My colleague, registered dietitian, Marisa Moore, says it best: “It’s OK to eat your holiday favorites as is—no need to make them “guilt-free.” Friendly reminder: Guilt was never an ingredient in pie or any food.” 

Happy anniversary to us!

Food, family, friends, fun and feasting are all things I’m grateful for! And, one more…. this Thanksgiving weekend I’ll be celebrating my 47th wedding anniversary….and that will involve food, family, friends, fun and feasting!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian and nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. She is the co-author of Food & Fitness After 50 and authors the blog Fit to Eat. Click here to follow her blog.

How to eat in Italy: Enjoying foods that are off-limits to many Americans

After 10 days in Italy, I believe it is impossible to have a bad meal! This was my 5th trip to Italy and on each trip I enjoyed the following…almost every day.

My morning cappuccino

Cappuccino with whole milk

Rustic white bread

Tuscan bread

Pizza

Antipasto with salamis, prosciutto, and pate

Pastas made with white flour

Whole milk cheeses

Red wine

For many Americans these foods are off-limits, yet Italians have one of the lowest rates of obesity of any European country while enjoying foods that many Americans consider “bad.” Italians can teach us a lot about how to enjoy foods.

If you’ve not travelled to Italy and think Italian food is what is served at American-inspired Italian restaurants (like, Olive Garden), think again. No meat lover’s pizza or unlimited salad and breadsticks in Italian restaurants. And, although we were in two different regions, where the foods are different, we saw very few fast food or street food.

Ostia Antica

Italy has a long history of celebrating food. Just look at this fresco from an ancient tavern advertising their offerings…food, drink, and music. The tavern is found in Ostia Antica, described as Rome’s first colony, it was founded in the 4th century BC. For history buffs, consider making the quick train trip to Ostia when you are in Rome. Buried by mud and silt preserved the site and once it was excavated it gave visitors a glimpse back in time. My favorite were the mosaic tile floors of the market stalls….the pictures revealed the merchants. Baskets for grains and dolphins for fish and all things related to the sea…the original infographics!

Fast forward thousands of years and Italians still enjoy simple, in-season foods. My husband and I took cooking classes alongside our friends in Tuscany and noticed the liberal use of fresh herbs, most picked from the kitchen garden hours earlier. Basil, rosemary, thyme, and oregano were used throughout cooking to give depth of flavors to dishes without a heavy hand with salt.

Seasonal ingredients are abundant, but canned or jarred tomatoes are used when fresh isn’t available. I tend to rely on jarred pasta sauces but have switched to making my own pasta or pizza sauce by sauteing garlic in olive oil and adding a can of peeled tomatoes. Once the tomatoes cook down, the result is flavorful sauce without the added sugar and salt of commercially prepared marinara sauce. (For more on the health benefits of canned tomatoes, click here.) And, while pasta is a mainstay in Tuscany, the portions are more reasonable than what we eat in the U.S.

Stuffed pasta with breadcrumb topping

Speaking of olive oil, stay tuned for another post on choosing good olive oil. (Spoiler alert: I learned I was using crappy olive oil but now know what to look for and what not to buy!)

Tuscan bread is delicious when it is fresh but because it has no preservatives (and often no salt) it is used in many ways to avoid food waste. We had Tuscan bread soup, simple and delicious, and breadcrumbs made from stale bread that were used in many dishes. In this pasta dish, the topping is toasted day-old breadcrumbs to give the dish a bit of texture and crunch.

We also learned to make pizza! The secret is to use good quality yeast, letting it rise for many hours (or overnight) and using a hot, hot oven. Since most home ovens don’t reach high enough temps, and not many of us want to build our own back yard pizza oven, we tried baking pizza on our gas grill. The result was a great, crispy crust. We also learned that we use too much sauce, making for a soggy crust. So, light on the sauce, use whole milk mozzarella cheese, and easy on the toppings. Americans favor pepperoni pizza, but in Italy, peperone, means “pepper,” the green and red varieties of a vegetable. What we call pepperoni is a dried, spicy salami and it is not the favorite topping of Italians. They prefer simple tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves, the classic Margherita pizza.

Pizza making and pizza eating!

Maybe the biggest difference was the enjoyment of mealtime. Meals are an occasion meant to be shared with family and friends. No television in the background and kids playing games on their phones at the table! Each dish is savored, often with a good wine, and isn’t hurried. Eating is an event, not a race to the finish.

Enjoying meals with good food and friends

Italians also walk, a lot! Tuscan hill towns are really on steep hills, so the locals get plenty of exercise by walking. We were in Cortona, of Under the Tuscan Sun fame, and the town has only one flat street! So, if you go to Italy, make sure to wear good, sturdy walking shoes, experience the joy of simple, fresh foods, and share meals with your travel companion.

Hilly streets of Cortona

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian and professor emerita at Georgia State University. She is the co-author of Food & Fitness After 50. Follow her blog on all things optimal aging by clicking here.

Juicy fall apples and pears: pro tips on choosing the absolute best

I visited apple and pear orchards and blueberry farms in northern Oregon as part of the Alliance for Food & Farming Media Tour. I shared what I learned about conventional versus organic agricultural practices in a previous post (click here for the post). Today, I’ll share some pro tips from the experts on how to choose, store, and enjoy everyone’s favorite fall fruits, apples and pears (I gathered lots of great information on blueberries, too, but I’ll save that post for berry season!)

Honeycrisp apples in NW Oregon

First up, apples. According to Kate Tynan, Senior Vice President of the Northwest Horticultural Council, “69% of the apples grown in the United States are grown in the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon, and Idaho). These growers supply 76% of the U.S. market – meaning that a higher percentage of apples from this region go to fresh market versus processed than other parts of the country.”

Apples are one of the oldest fruit varieties in existence. Enjoyed by the ancient Greek and Romans, apples have a long history as the most eaten fruit. And, the expression, “an apple day keeps the doctor away,” still exists in our culture. I won’t promise you will never need to visit a doctor if you eat an apple a day, but I can promise an apple will contribute to good nutrition. A medium apple has about 100 calories and contains pectin, a type of fiber that can help lower both blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels. Apples also contain an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound, quercetin, which contributes to apple’s health benefits. Be sure to eat the skin because many of the healthy nutrients are found in the peel. (And, as with all fresh produce, wash apples before eating.)

There are so many varieties of apples and I’m guessing you have your favorite. Tracy Grondine, Vice President of Communications for USApple provided this handy chart showing the many varieties of apples and uses. In the U.S. “the top 5 apple varieties produced in 2021 include Gala, Red Delicious, Honeycrisp, Fuji, and Granny Smith,” according to Grondine.

Tynan adds that “apple harvest in the United States typically runs from July/August to October/November, depending on the year. While roughly 40% of the apple crop is sold by December, the remaining 60% are sold over the next eight months.” Which means that some apples must be in cold storage to maintain their freshness. “Apples are put in cold storage (essentially a giant refrigerated room) immediately after harvest to slow the ripening process and allow apples to stay fresh longer. Some apples are stored in a controlled atmosphere (CA) storage, where in addition to the cold temperatures, oxygen levels are brought down and other atmospheric conditions are controlled (i.e. humidity, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide levels). Apples respirate just like the rest of us, and these conditions slow the apple’s “breathing” and essentially put the apple to sleep. This dramatically slows down the ripening process so that crisp, fresh apples can be delivered to consumers year-round. Not all apples are well-suited for CA storage (it is dependent on variety and growing/harvest conditions), so packers carefully consider what apples are sold early in the season versus held for late season sales,” explains Tynan. Storage does not impact the nutritional benefits of the fruit.

In choosing an apple for eating (versus cooking or baking), look for firm fruit with no obvious bruises or blemishes. Color isn’t always a good indicator of apple quality but look for red, pink, or orange tones. One thing I noticed on the orchard tour was reflective strips (check it out in the photo) laid out between the rows of apples. These strips help enhance the red color of the fruit, sort of like an apple sun burn. It doesn’t affect the taste, but does give it a rosy, red color that is preferred by consumers.

Reflective strips between rows of apples

What about pears? Pears are on my mind because in addition to visiting pear orchards in Oregon, I learned to make a poached pear in wine sauce on a recent trip to Tuscany. Stuffed with goat cheese, chocolate, and pistachios it ranks among the best dessert I’ve ever eaten!

My poached pear creation!

Pears differ from apples in more ways than taste and appearance. Pears need to be picked from the tree unripe; if left to fully ripen on the tree they taste mealy or gritty. The best way to ripen a pear is at room temperature or if you want to speed ripening you can place them in paper bag, alone or with a banana. The fruit gives off a gas, ethylene, which speeds ripening. Still not sure if they are ready to eat? USAPears offers this handy tip, “Check the Neck.” Place your thumb near the neck or stem of the pear and lightly press. If it yields just a little bit, it’s ripe and ready to eat. When pears are ripe, you can refrigerate to slow the ripening and make them last longer.

I was familiar with Bartlett, Bosc, and Anjou pears but did you know there are 10 pear varieties? And October is peak pear season so it’s a perfect time to enjoy them. One medium pear has about 100 calories (similar to a medium apple) but has twice the dietary fiber, with 6 grams, making an excellent source of the nutrient that is short supply in the diet of most Americans. While fresh pears are wonderful, don’t forget about canned pears. When poached and canned in juice, they make a great addition to salads or sandwiches. Check out the recipes from Pacific Northwest Canned Pears at this link.

Pears fresh from the orchard

I think it is time for me to grab a snack….a fresh Honeycrisp apple or Bartlett pear is ready to eat!

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian and professor emerita at Georgia State University. She is the co-author of Food & Fitness After 50. And she would love it you would follow her blog, Fit to Eat, by clicking here.

How facts, not fear, can help you eat a healthier diet for optimal aging

Disclosure: I was a guest on a recent “Facts, Not Fear” produce safety media tour organized and hosted by The Alliance for Food & Farming. My travel expenses were covered, and I was compensated to write a blog post on a topic of my choosing. All the ideas expressed in this post are my own.

Farm to fork. Most of us are separated from where our food comes from. Sure, we know that farmers and ranchers grow and produce food, but how many of you have visited a farm, talked to farmers about their production methods and the challenges they face, or visited a food packing plant to learn how technology is being used to quickly and safely pack food so that it ends up in the grocery store and eventually on the fork?

Apples growing in the shadow of Mount Hood

My trip to the Hood River Valley and Mount Adams region, north of Portland, Oregon, allowed me to visit apple, cherry, pear, and blueberry farms, talk to farmers and get answers to the questions you asked. (And I got to eat a honey crisp apple right from the tree!)

The number one question was about organic versus conventional produce. Which is better you asked? The answer is it is your choice, and a few facts might help you decide:

  • Organic is a food production term. It doesn’t mean the produce is healthier or safer or always more sustainable than conventionally grown produce. The orchards we visited had both organic and conventionally grown fruit. Farmers are quick to point out that some consumers think organic produce is “safer,” meaning that no pesticides are used in growing a crop. That is not true; both organic and conventional agriculture use pesticides to protect the crop. Organic farmers use different pesticides that are described as “natural,” but natural doesn’t always mean better.
Freshly harvested blueberries

All conventionally grown produce is tested for pesticide residues by USDA throughout the year. Tests are randomly conducted, and the tests consistently reveal very low levels of pesticide residues. In fact, 42% contain none and over 98% of the fruits and vegetables monitored do not exceed safety limits set by the U.S. EPA. OK, so I hear you saying, any pesticide residue on my food is BAD but check out this calculator to help reassure you that trace amounts of chemicals on conventionally grown produce is not a hazard to your health. (The analysis used on the calculator was conducted by toxicologists at University of California, Riverside.) Using myself as an example, I could eat 850 apples or 13,225 serving of blueberries in 1 day without any effect even if the worst-case scenario of the fruit having the highest pesticide residue recorded by the USDA.

  • Organic produces isn’t always a more sustainable way to grow food than conventional produce. Some organically grown produce, like pears, require more inputs (pesticide application, water, weeding) and more land to grow an organic crop. There are many ways to eat a sustainable diet and it can be achieved with both conventional and organic crops.

Key Takeaways

We have the safest, most affordable, and most abundant food supply in the world. Farmers feed their families, as well as ours, and they work hard every day to make our food safe and nutritious.

Climate change is affecting farmers around the globe, but I saw firsthand the ravages of the 100+ degree temps that blanketed the northwest this summer. Blueberries literally shrived up and died on the bush before they could be harvested, and one farmer lost 40% of his apple crop this year. Despite these challenges, farmers are resilient!

Our food system isn’t broken. Farmers are innovative, passionate, and hard at work every day of the year to supply our food.

Mount Adams Fruit Farmer

Conventional versus organic is your choice, but conventionally grown produce is safe and affordable.

Eat more produce every day. Many people talk about a plant-based diet, yet we aren’t meeting the recommendation for fruits and vegetables…the original plant-based foods.

Eat less highly processed plant-based foods and more real plant-based foods…fruits and veggies!

Wash it. Always wash all produce under running water to remove any remaining pesticide residues, dirt and bacteria that may linger on the produce. Scrub most produce (not tender produce, like berries) with a brush to help loosen dirt. Use only water; never dishwashing soap or disinfectant solutions as they are not meant for human consumption.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this post when I will answer your questions on how to choose an apple, pick a pear, and keep blueberries fresh and tasty.

 Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and professor emerita at Georgia State University. She is the co-author of Food & Fitness after 50. Click here to follow her blog.

Top tips to be your best during Healthy Aging Month…and every month

Happy, healthy September! Since Food & Fitness After 50 was published, Dr. Bob and I have interviewed about 50 inspiring adults asking them what they do to achieve optimal aging. They range in age from 55 to 90 years old and they live as far away as Australia and as close to home as our own backyards of Hartwell, Georgia or Chicago, Illinois. (We hope you like our posts and if you haven’t already followed our blog, please do by clicking here.)

Today, we are taking a short trip down memory lane to mine the advice and wisdom of the folks interviewed for Fit to Eat. As we do in our book, we’re capturing the ideas in three buckets: Eat Well, Move Well, and Be Well.

Eat 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 carnivore eating plans. The key word for everyone was balance. Balance is the ability to eat and drink anything you want, in moderation. Of course, you must 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 occasionally, like Bob did on his 7-day bike trek across Iowa riding about 65-miles a day, but you can’t overeat every day and claim you are eating well.
  • A second theme that emerged is eating for health, not to achieve a number on the scale. Those we interviewed enjoyed a wide variety of healthful foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, lean meats, fish, and dairy. Some folks 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 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.

Move Well

Everyone we talked to was active in their own way. Some loved pickleball and others used their fists and feet from boxing to ballroom dancing. Some were runners, other walked. Some loved cycling on the open road and some preferred riding an exercise bike while binge watching a favorite show. Me, I love group exercise classes and walking my dog while Bob prefers individual activities and doesn’t own a dog.

The theme that emerged is to 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!

Be Well

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 for 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 setbacks. Everyone we talked to had experienced some challenges, but they all recognized the issue and found ways to positively cope.

Social support is also important for being well, whether family or friends, community or religious institutions, everyone valued social support for optimal aging. Book clubs, health clubs, volunteering at the library, joining a local botanical garden, or developing a social club for Single Outstanding Ladies Offering Support (SOLOS), anything that keeps us connected helps us to be well.

Lastly, intellectual curiosity and a thirst for lifelong learning was a trait of all the over 50 age group we talked to. Try to learn something new every day on your journey to healthy aging, this month, and every month.

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and professor emerita at Georgia State University. She is the co-author (along with Dr. Bob Murray) of Food & Fitness After 50.

When your smart watch tells you 500 calories were burned in exercise, is it telling the truth?

This morning my fitness watch showed that I burned 720 calories between a one-hour aerobic dance class and a 45-minute walk with my dog. Yeah, me! But, a new study, says not so fast!  

My last post reported on a new study that said middle-age weight gain is not tied to a slower metabolism (click here for the post). and another new study says that we compensate for energy expended in activity. In other words, for most of us 28% of the extra calories we spend on additional activity does not translate into extra calories burned that day. Only 72% of the extra calories spent in physical activity is the number of extra calories burned that day. (Click here for the study in Current Biology).

The authors of this large study of 1754 adults aren’t sure why this is so, but they speculate that “compensation would have been adaptive for our ancestors because it minimized food energy demands and hence reduced the time needed for foraging, the advantages of which may include reducing exposure to predation.”  The only foraging I do for food is drive to the grocery store and I’ve never seen a predator trying to steal my grocery cart at the local Ingles!

The study also noted there was no difference in compensation between men and women, young or old, but there was a difference based on body composition. Those individuals who were at the 90th percentile for BMI and had highest body fat levels burned only 51% of their activity calories. The authors suggest that “It appears that individuals with greater fat levels are predisposed to increased adiposity either because they are stronger energy compensators or because they become stronger compensators as they get fatter. If the former, then two people can be equally active, yet one puts on fat mass while the other stays lean. If the latter, then such a positive feedback loop may imply that using exercise as a strategy to escape high adiposity becomes less effective.” It’s important to remember that we exercise for more than just burning calories. Just look at all the benefits of physical activity listed in this slide:

Rosenbloom & Murray, ACSM Health & Fitness Summit presentation

This study also made me realize that some of my advice to athletes was simplistic. I developed a series of visuals for collegiate athletes called “Eat This, Do That” (a riff on the popular “Eat this, not that) to show them how much exercise would be needed to burn off the calories in some of their favorite foods. I tried to be as scientific as I could; looking up the energy expenditure values for an average female and male athlete for a variety of activities. For example, a serving of chicken wings contains 1590 calories, so a female athlete needs to play basketball for 6 hours and male athlete for 4 hours to burn those calories. This new study shows I was off on my calculations!

This new study shows us biology is complicated! We should stop the simplistic advice to eat less and move more as a cure for those with obesity. As Ted Kyle says in his ConscienHealth commentary, “this is just one more reason that you can’t outrun a bad diet. Exercise is great for physical health. But the popular concept that a person can simply work out to “burn off” excess fat is a lie that won’t die. If the goal is to reach and maintain a healthier weight, advice from a nutrition professional (an RDN) can be quite helpful.” (Click here for his commentary on the study on energy expenditure.)

So, that 720 calories my watch told me I burned in exercise translates into about 520 calories. So, I think I will enjoy the feeling that being physically active gives me and not be lulled into the false idea that I can have an extra dessert today!

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. She is co-author of Food & Fitness After 50. Follow her blog devoted to optimal aging by clicking here.

Is aging to blame for mid-life weight gain? A new study says think again.

 “Science is not truth. Science is finding the truth. When science changes its opinion, it didn’t lie to you. It learned more.”

Many folks read headlines and think scientists never get it right. A new study published in Science changes what we know about aging and weight gain. Some people won’t’ like the bottom-line of the research. A collaborative team of researchers looked at energy expenditure…. or how many calories we burn each day… throughout the life course. The new study looked at energy expenditure through the life cycle…from over 6400 people from 29 countries, ranging from 8 days to 95 years.

 First a quick refresher. Humans burn calories mainly in three ways:

  • Basal metabolism is the energy we burn for life-sustaining processes like breathing, keeping our heart beating, and repairing our body’s tissues. It is the largest portion of total energy expenditure, about 50-70%.
  • A smaller percentage, about 10%, is called the thermic effect of food. It is the amount of energy needed to digest food…. digestion, absorption, transport, and assimilation of the food we eat.
  • Exercise or physical activity is another way of expending energy, and it is highly variable. For an inactive person who spends most of the day in front of a computer screen, the percentage is quite low. For an ultra-endurance athlete, it is high. It runs the gambit between the two. A sub-component of exercise energy expenditure is called NEAT for nonexercise activity thermogenesis…a fancy name for energy expended outside of regular physical activity, such as fidgeting. We all know someone who can’t sit still…the leg shaker, the hair twirler…. they burn more calories than those of us who are good at sitting still!

The researchers found four distinct phases for energy expenditure:

  • From birth to 1 year of age
  • Juveniles, from 1 to 20 years
  • Adulthood, from 20 to 60 years
  • Older adults, over the age of 60 years
Rhoads & Anderson, Science, August 13, 2021

In the first year of life, energy expenditure is high, as might be expected with the rapid growth and development that occurs in neonates. “Between 9 and 15 months of age, energy expenditure is nearly 50% elevated compared with adults.”

Energy expenditure continues through the teen years and plateaus around age 20. In adulthood, energy expenditure remains relatively constant and stable from 20 to 60 years. That is new information. Prior to this research, it was commonly accepted that basal metabolism, that energy needed for everyday existence, declined about 2% per decade, leading to a slower metabolism and contributing to weight gain. However, this new research says, not so fast.

This study did not assess hormone levels, like estrogen and testosterone, which can affect body composition as we age, but blaming middle age spread on our metabolism, doesn’t seem to be the case.

After the age of 60, there are declines in energy expenditure, fat-free mass (like muscle), as well as fat mass. There is also a decline in the energy used by specific organs, such as the brain. The declines could increase the risk of weight gain after the age of 60.

So where does that leave us? From this paper, it is clear that physical activity is a key driver of energy expenditure. Only 1 in 5 adults meet the minimum guidelines for physical activity, so moving more is a good place to start. It would be helpful if it there was a social and community commitment to help people move more…sidewalks, safe neighborhoods and playgrounds, accessible public transportation, bike and walking trails, could help us move more. Individual effort is important, but not everyone can afford a gym membership (both in time and money).

The paper only addressed physical activity, but we can assume that excess energy from the food we eat plays a role. Instead of labeling food as “good” or “bad” for you, why not enjoy all foods but be aware of the portions and the frequency of eating? And, in middle-age, alcohol intake might increase which contributes to excess calories.

If science doesn’t evolve, it’s no longer science, it’s history.”

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian, nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University, and co-author of Food & Fitness After 50. Follow her blog by clicking here.

6 Reasons to Fall in Love with California Walnuts for Optimal Aging

Has this ever happened to you? You are about to make a much-loved recipe only to find you are missing one ingredient. One very important ingredient for which there is no substitution. It happened to me recently and it led to a discovery. I was all set to make the absolute best banana bread, Old Soul’s Walnut Banana Bread, (click here for the recipe) using California walnuts. I’ve been making this recipe for ten years, ever since I got the opportunity to go on a walnut harvest tour in 2011.

Photo credit: Old Soul’s Walnut Banana Bread @cawalnuts

English walnuts versus Black Walnuts

I asked my husband to stop at the store pick up walnuts and he bought black walnuts. I didn’t know the difference, but my taste buds did! Black walnuts are bitter and sharp tasting compared to English walnuts and my favorite banana bread just didn’t taste the same.

I reached out to walnut guru, Carol Berg Sloan, a registered dietitian, and health research director for California Walnuts to ask her to explain the difference. “Black walnuts are indeed different from English walnuts …which the California Walnut Commission and Board represent. Black walnuts are indigenous to the United States and before there were hybrid rootstocks, English walnuts were grafted onto black walnut rootstock to produce the walnuts we are most familiar with. California walnuts are called English walnuts because English traders brought them over to the US from Persia centuries ago. Black walnuts are much more bitter than English …as you noticed. They are usually used in confectionaries and ice cream. Lots of people like the flavor, but I’m with you, they are too tannic for my taste.” There are many reasons for older adults to embrace English or California walnuts and here are my top 6 reasons, although you can find even more reasons by clicking here.

Photo credit: California Walnuts @cawalnuts

Unique Nutrient Profile

All nuts are healthful but English walnuts have a unique nutrient profile. Carol Berg Sloan explains, “California walnuts tout the omega-3 content as our claim to fame; it is the only nut with significant amounts of the essential omega-3 fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid or ALA.” In nutrition terms, the word “essential” means that the nutrient must be obtained from foods because the body cannot make it or make it in sufficient amounts. Research on the role of ALA is strongest in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. California walnuts contain three times the amount of ALA as black walnuts.

Plant-based

Interest in plant-based eating is high and 1 in 4 adults say they are eating more protein from plant sources than they did a year ago, according to the 2021 IFIC Food & Health Survey. A serving of walnuts (1-ounce or ¼ cup or 12-14 halves or about a handful) provides over 2.5 grams of protein which is more than an 8-ounce serving of almond milk. When added to salads, used in pesto, or simply eaten as a snack, walnuts can boost plant-based protein consumption.

Heart Health

High blood pressure and high cholesterol…. both major risk factors for heart disease…are the top chronic conditions of older adults. Since 80% of adults 65 and older have at least one chronic condition, while 68% have two or more, eating to help control chronic disease is a positive strategy that everyone can adopt. A handful of walnuts improves the elasticity of blood vessels and lowers LDL or the “bad” cholesterol. Both benefits lower the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Toasted walnuts, black bean, corn & tomato salsa
Photo credit: California Walnuts and Cape Cod Kitchen @cawalnuts

Cognitive health

It is well known that what is good for the heart is good for the brain! In addition to the essential fatty acid, ALA, walnuts are rich in plant-nutrients, called polyphenols, as well as vitamin E. Those nutrients are related to healthy aging and research suggests that walnut consumption improves cognitive function as measured by tests of reaction time and recall.

Gut health

Emerging research suggests walnuts have dietary fibers that act like prebiotic fibers. (For more on prebiotics, click here.) In recent studies, consuming a little more than a handful (about 1.5 ounces) each day led to changes in the gut microbiome; improving the diversity of “good” bacteria and supporting digestive health.

Great taste and versatility

Good nutrition isn’t good unless it is eaten! Taste rules and walnuts taste great. I like them as an afternoon snack for their nutrition and for satiety value, keeping me feeling full until dinner. But, they are also highly versatile as an ingredient….from walnut crusted chicken or fish to a filler for meatballs to pesto. Of course, they are the star in my banana bread! For hundreds of recipes check out this link from California Walnuts.

Thai walnut BBQ chicken bowl
Photo credit: California Walnuts and Cape Fear Nutrition @cawalnuts

If you need another reason to consume walnuts, recently published research in the Journal of Aging Research found that women consuming nuts at midlife have a greater likelihood of overall health and well-being at older ages. “Nut consumption may represent a simple intervention to explore and promote healthy aging,” suggest the researchers.

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian and nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. She is the co-author of Food & Fitness After 50 and you can follow her blog by clicking here.

4 Tips for Finding Happiness: One Woman’s Story to Inspire Us

“How do you look so good?” wrote a friend on Gail’s Facebook page. She replied, “because I’m happy.” I knew then that I needed to interview this 82-year-old acquaintance to learn more about her and share her tips for happiness. I’ve known Gail through our mutual volunteer work, but I didn’t really know her. We met for coffee and 2 hours later it quickly is obvious why she is happy.

But first a little background to set the stage for happiness in her octogenarian years. Gail grew up in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina where, like many of her generation, she played outside all day until her parents called her in for supper. Her mother loved to travel and took Gail and her sister on family adventures, enriching their lives and exposing them to new places and people.

After she graduated from Stetson University with an accounting degree, she joined Delta Airlines as an internal auditor. It quickly became apparent to Gail that she wasn’t cut out for desk work and so she was encouraged to become a flight attendant or “stewardess” as they were called then. “I loved flying back in the day when flying was civil! I worked the initial flights to the west coast and flew for 5 years until I got married. At that time, stewardesses had to retire when they married or when they turned 35…can you believe that?”

Once she had a daughter, she enjoyed staying at home with her for a few years until she went through a divorce. Her daughter was in school, and she missed working and was ready to get back into the business world. She started as a legal secretary at small law firm and eventually became the legal administrator for a large Atlanta law firm. “Even though I worked 50-60 hours each week, “I loved my job, but began to hate the Atlanta traffic!”

With her daughter in college and after her mother passed away, it made sense to move back to North Carolina to help care for her father who was showing signs of dementia. “My father’s favorite saying was ‘every day’s a holiday’ and he had such a love for life that it was a wonderful opportunity to spend time with him as he aged.” It also brought an unexpected adventure…. she was invited to attend a high school acquaintance’s 45th reunion. “Dann was 2 years ahead of me in school and we dated in high school and I hadn’t seen him in 45 years and we met up at the reunion and the rest is history! We’ve been married for 18 years. Between us we have 3 grown children, 6 grandchildren, and assorted grand dogs and cats.”

Gail and Dann in 1957 and recreating the photo 45 years later!

Recently, Gail revealed she lost 45 pounds in the past 2 ½ years. “I had slowly gained weight and I just didn’t feel as good as I wanted to, so I decided to eat more thoughtfully. No special diet or crazy restrictions, just eating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, lean meat, and fish and watching portions sizes. And no mindless snacking.”  Since losing weight, one of the things she enjoys “is trying a new recipe every week or two. I cook simple recipes with just a few ingredients, not too many steps or long preparation time. It makes preparing and eating meals enjoyable.” She also is conscious of staying hydrated. “Fortunately, I enjoy drinking lots of water.”

She also walks regularly with her husband and uses Silver Sneaker videos to practices balance exercises. “I know I need to add strength training and with the pandemic ending I will get back to the YMCA to work on it.”

Getting back to the comment she made on being happy she explained, “happiness is a choice.” Gail’s good friend describes it this way, “Joy is a gift and happiness is a choice.” Indeed, in The Book of Joy: Lasing Happiness in a Changing World by the Dali Lama and Desmond Tutu (if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it!)  the pillars of joy are identified and categorized as:

  • Qualities of the mind: perspective, humility, humor, and acceptance
  • Qualities of the heart: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity

Gail exhibits all eight of those qualities!

I asked Gail for 3 tips for healthy aging, and she immediately replied, “I’ve got 4 tips!”

  • Exercise the body and the brain.
  • Eat healthfully and think before you eat.
  • Socialize with a wide range of people of different ages and backgrounds.
  • Think happy, live happy!

This quote from the Book of Joy sums up Gail:

 “The three factors that seem to have the greatest influence on increasing our happiness are our ability to reframe our situation more positively, our ability to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous.”

― Dalai Lama XIV, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

Chris Rosenbloom is a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University and co-author of Food & Fitness After 50. Follow her blog by clicking here.

Can superfoods lead to healthy aging? Learn what dietitians think of superfoods.

I was thrilled when a writer from AARP reached out to me for an interview. The topic was right in my wheelhouse…healthful eating for those over 50. When we spoke by phone, my enthusiasm dipped as she explained that her editor wanted the column to be about “superfoods.”  I’m not a fan of the term “superfoods,” but super dietary patterns might be a better angle for the story. My suggestions were met with understanding from the writer, but as is often the case “superfoods” in a headline makes for clickable content and the editor has the final say.

When the article appeared online (click here for the article), I posted it to my social media and expressed my concern about the topic of superfoods and was happy that a fellow dietitian, Michele Redmond replied, “I had hoped the term “superfood” had died, but I keep seeing it in media and hearing it from my students!” Michele is a registered dietitian and chef and a “food enjoyment activist.” (To learn more about Michele, click here.) Michele teaches people flexible ways to simply eat well and enjoy making satisfying, flavorful meals.

“There is no formal definition, designation or regulation for “superfood,” Michele explains. That means that when you see a list of superfoods know that they “become defined by the agenda of whomever is writing about it.” Often the intentions are good; no dietitian would argue that eating more fruits and vegetables, more fiber-rich foods, or lean sources of protein aren’t healthful. However, some stories about superfoods promote a product, a diet plan, or supplements that financially benefit the writer. Just because someone declares a food to be “super” doesn’t mean it is.

This loops back to my comments to the writer…. a food that is called “super” only gets its superpowers when it is part of a healthful eating pattern. Eating a pint of blueberries every day won’t lessen your risk of poor health if you also smoke a pack of cigarettes and eat bacon, cheeseburgers each day.

Michele also notes how easy it is to move from “superfood to clean versus dirty and good versus bad foods.” Foods can take on moral overtones when thinking of foods in discrete categories. How many times have you heard someone say they “were bad” after eating an ice cream sundae? Eating ice cream doesn’t make you a bad person, but our language around food often gets tangled up with our self- worth. “Fear, doubt, and judgment should not be on anyone’s menu,” adds Michele.

Labeling something a superfood can also give it a health halo that isn’t always deserved. Just because someone declared that cookies made from “superfood” ingredients or organic cane sugar, gluten-free flour, and non-GMO ingredients doesn’t make them anything other than what they are; they are still cookies. The other issue with superfoods that Michele and I agree on is the “exclusive, and potentially elitist application.” With food insecurity on the rise in the older adult population, it is not helpful to position some foods with hefty price tags as more desirable. As an example, researchers found that when organic foods are touted as superior to conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, shoppers, especially those with low incomes, are less likely to buy any vegetables and fruit. And, considering that only 1 in 10 Americans eat enough produce each day, we should be encouraging, not discouraging intake.

Dietitians want foods to be affordable, accessibility, and appropriate for all Americans. We know that frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are good choices and, in many cases, more affordable, accessible, and appropriate than fresh. No one should be made to feel bad or shamed if they don’t shop at pricy specialty shops or use canned peas instead of fresh.

So, the next time you see the word “superfoods” in a headline, don’t fall for it! As Michele says, “you have your own superpowers to chose good foods that fit into your own super eating pattern.”

The author of the AARP story reached out to me last week saying the article was so popular her editor assigned her another piece…”bad foods to avoid for those over 50.” As my mother-in-law would say, “oy veh!”

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian and nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. Her book, Food & Fitness After 50 (with co-author Bob Murray) is available here. Follow her blog by clicking here now!