Fit to Eat focuses on the food and nutrition issues meaningful to older adults.
Christine Rosenbloom, PhD, RDN
Fit to Eat focuses on the food and nutrition issues meaningful to older adults.
Christine Rosenbloom, PhD, RDN
No matter how well we eat or how many times we exercise, stuff happens as we age. Sometimes it’s an accident, sometimes it’s just bad luck, and sometimes it’s genetics. We know high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and smoking are the “big 3” risk factors for heart disease (and, about half of Americans have at least one of these risk factors). But, when you add heredity and one or more of the big 3 factors, the risk is exponentially increased. In this post, Bob Murray introduces us to a master’s swimmer, Irene, and her journey of resilience and coping and how exercise saved her life!
Guest post by Dr. Bob Murray
No one knows for certain when Irene had her first heart attack. She was informed about it only when her second heart attack was diagnosed. After having experienced a second heart attack, she believes her first heart attack happened about two years earlier while she was skiing in Utah at 10,000 feet. She recalls feeling awful, but thought she was just experiencing altitude sickness. She did not seek medical attention and never mentioned it to her primary care physician, decisions she now knows were big mistakes. Two years later, at age 67, Irene woke in the middle of the night with the real deal – and was certain she was having a heart attack. Her husband was out of town, so she was taken by ambulance to the hospital. She immediately told the ER doctor about her family history of heart disease, nonetheless, the doctor declared her symptoms to be heartburn and sent Irene home.
Relieved that it wasn’t a heart attack, Irene went through with her plans to fly to North Carolina the next morning to connect with her husband to take their 2 young grandsons on a trip. Irene felt extremely tired but was no longer having chest pains. She attributed the exhaustion to being up most of the previous night. After 4 days in NC, it became obvious there was still something very wrong and Irene went to the small-town ER where they were staying. She was soon flown by helicopter to a major medical center and had middle-of-the-night surgery to correct a heart valve that was not functioning properly and posed an immediate threat to her life. Two days later, she had open-heart surgery for 5 coronary artery by-passes. Two weeks later, Irene had a pacemaker implanted in her upper chest, which has since been replaced with an ICD (pacemaker-defibrillator). She spent 10 days in intensive care and a total of 3 weeks in the hospital and came out feeling almost dead, but very happy to be alive. Unfortunately for Irene, the 4-day delay caused permanent damage to her heart, killing 50% of her heart muscle cells.
Irene’s Formative Yeas
Irene was raised in a suburb of Chicago. As with many kids in1940s and 1950s, her parents told her to “go outside and play and come home when the streetlights come on.” There were lots of kids in her neighborhood and they played active games like hide-and-see, kick-the-can, jump-rope, tennis, and baseball. In the winter, they ice skated, sledded, and played in the snow. At that time, hardly anyone owned a television, so screen time was non-existent– kids were outside and constantly active. Irene’s meals were almost always at home, going to a restaurant was rare, and they didn’t eat fast food or TV dinners. Meals were basic “meat and potatoes,” along with whatever vegetables Irene’s parents could get her to eat.
Irene remembers her childhood as being almost idyllic, except for one very important event: her father died of a heart attack at age 34 when Irene was only 4 years old. Not only did heart disease claim Irene’s father, her paternal grandfather and all 6 of her father’s siblings also died from heart disease.
When she was 6, Irene learned to swim while on a vacation. At the age of 10, she joined the local YMCA swim team. She loved competitive swimming right from the start and continued for 8 years, “retiring” when she graduated high school. This was pre-Title IX, and there were more disincentives than incentives for women to participate in sports in college.
Although many of her friends smoked in high school, Irene did not because of her swimming. She had survived the pressures to smoke in high school, so Irene thought she was safe from that habit. But as an 18-year-old college freshman, she started smoking and continued for the next 13 years.
When she graduated from college, Irene married and took a job where many of her co-workers also smoked, as did her husband. When her daughter came along 4 years later, she left the business world to become a full-time mother and homemaker. Her new lifestyle was more sedentary than active, and she began to gain weight. Keenly aware of the medical history of heart disease in her father’s family, Irene knew she had to start exercising regularly. She tried several activities but didn’t enjoy any of them as much as she had enjoyed swimming. In 1972, the local YMCA started a masters swim team and an old swimming friend pestered Irene until she finally agreed to give it a try. She wanted to swim but didn’t think she wanted to compete and certainly didn’t intend to train as strenuously as she had as a teenager. At 28, Irene thought she was much too old for those workouts.
A Masters Swimmer, a Masters Degree, and a Law Degree
After a few training sessions and her first masters meet in 1972, Irene was hooked. Her workouts soon became much more strenuous than when she was a teen, and she added strength training as part of her routine. Irene was swimming faster than she ever had, setting national masters records … and still smoking! After 3 years of swimming and smoking, Irene decided it was just crazy to smoke and finally quit, “cold turkey,” and never looked back. Her husband quit the next year.
Around that same time, Irene decided to become a part-time student to earn a masters degree with the goal of teaching at a local community college. She reached that goal and taught for 7 years, but her dream was to be an attorney, so at the age of 40, Irene enrolled as a full-time student in law school. She wasn’t the oldest one in her class, but close to it. After receiving her law degree, Irene enjoyed a very satisfying 31-year law career, retiring at age 74 only because her health demanded it.
After the heart attacks
After her heart attacks, open heart surgery, valve replacement and long stint in the ICU,
Irene was put on a long list of medications and went through cardiac rehab, but it was still a huge disappointment when she first got back into the pool. She swam 1 length and came up gasping for air. Once upon a time she had been a Masters national champion in butterfly events multiple times, but now could barely swim 50 yards! That was 10 years ago. Since then, Irene has been swimming, walking, doing some resistance work, and is currently going through her second round of 36 sessions of cardiac rehab. Irene knows her diet isn’t perfect but tries to eat lean meat and include fish and more fruits and vegetables in her meals. Although she has a sweet tooth, she tries (with varying degrees of success) to control it. Every cardiologist she now meets tells her that her history of regular exercise is the only reason she survived the second heart attack.
Irene retired when she was 74 because she wanted to exercise more but needed a 2-4 hour nap after doing so. Now 77, Irene continues her exercise routines and current sessions of cardiac rehab, resting whenever she feels the need. She stills go to Utah to ski each year but limits her skiing to altitudes less than 10,000 feet. Irene also spends time with friends, reads, and does a little sewing and gardening.
Adjusting Activity to Fit Your Circumstances
“I’ve had to adjust my swimming goals from being very competitive to just enjoying being in the water,” says Irene. “I think the most important thing I have done for my health is, as my front license plate reads: “Just keep swimming.” Irene says the best advice she’s received about health issues is to keep moving as much as your energy level allows and look around you – you’ll always find someone with worse health problems. Irene’s advice to anyone with similar health problems is, “Don’t give up. Keep working at whatever it is that makes you happy. Sitting in your rocker and grieving for your lost health will only make your health worse and probably hasten your death.” A poster on Irene’s wall nicely sums up her philosophy, “You don’t quit swimming because you get old, you get old because you quit swimming.”
Resilience and Coping Skills
Irene’s story points to resilience and coping skills needed for healthy aging. Resilience influences how we evaluate a stressful situation and coping is the strategy we use to manage stressful events. Coping strategies can be positive or negative. Optimism, humor, acceptance, spirituality or religiosity, social support, role models, and exercise are examples of positive coping. Research shows that resilient older individuals tend to employ the positive adaptive coping strategies. Irene’s exercise habits not only help her physically, but also mentally. Physical activity improves the quality of our lives and reduces anxiety and depression.
Irene is truly a role model for all of us as we navigate the challenges of aging! Share your story with us and let us feature how you eat well, move well, and be well as you age. Reach me at email@example.com and follow our blog by clicking here.
Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian and nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. Chris and Bob are the authors of Food & Fitness After 50.
“How to Live to Be 100.” That was the title of a course I taught when I was a professor at Georgia State University. Faculty were asked to develop 1-credit hour courses on topics that might interest young college students. Since I was interested in healthy aging, I wondered how I could get a young college student, who thought age 30 was ancient, to think about their own path to wellness beyond the college years. So, I modeled the course on the Blue Zones, observational global research on long-lived populations and the guiding principles common to all groups.
The Blue Zones gained popularity when it was the 2005 cover story in National Geographic. Students in the class were instructed to develop a personal Blue Zone plan as the capstone project of the course. With 100 students in the class, some enjoyed the project, especially those who were close to their grandparents and saw first-hand the challenges of aging. The Blue Zones team identified 9 commonalities and they fit within the theme of eating well, moving well, and being well…. all tenants of Food & Fitness After 50.
Focusing on the dietary patterns, one common element in all of the diets of long-lived populations….from Loma Linda, California to the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, is beans. Different kinds of beans from kidney beans to black beans, or even soybeans in the Blue Zone in Japan, but they all eat beans.
What makes beans so special? Let’s break the benefits down into three buckets:
What makes beans so appealing to so many different cultures? Besides the benefits listed above, they are versatile, affordable, and delicious. As a rich source of protein, they can replace meat for vegetarians or extend meat dishes so less animal protein is consumed. Think of the many traditional dishes featuring beans: Cajun-style red beans and rice, French cassoulet with white beans, Caribbean rice and pink beans, refried bean burritos, pasta fagioli, or good old baked beans at a summer cookout, all starring beans.
I’m a big fan of canned beans for the ease, convenience, great taste, and long shelf life. On occasion I will use dry beans in a dish, but mostly I reach for the handy can. (Disclosure: I am not a paid influencer, blogger, or spokesperson for Bush’s Beans, but they are my favorite because they hold their texture in cooking and I did ask them for some photography for this post.)
However, some people don’t eat beans citing GI complaints or buying into the myth that beans contain a toxic chemical and shouldn’t be eaten. Others cite the sodium in canned beans as a reason not to use them.
Beans contain a carbohydrate that is not digested in the gut, so it passes to the large intestine where it is fermented causing gas. “The cooking process reduces the gas-forming carbohydrates in beans and for those whose diets are low in fiber, increasing consumption of high fiber foods can lead to gas,” says Dr. Cichy, “however, these same carbohydrates are prebiotics, meaning they feed the healthy microbes in your gut.” Gradually increasing the amount of fiber-rich beans can help your body adjust to the GI effects and canned beans cause less gas than dry beans.
There is a popular diet, called a lectin-free diet, advising against eating foods containing compounds called lectins. Dr. Cichy explains, “lectins are sugar-binding proteins that can attach to red blood cells and alter them to produce compounds called PHAs. Lectins are naturally found in dry beans (as well as other legumes and whole grains) but the soaking and cooking process neutralizes the effect, so there is no need to stay away from cooked beans.” Canned beans are no cause for worry. The bottom-line? Don’t eat raw or undercooked beans!
For those concerned about sodium in canned beans, there are low sodium versions of your favorites, but a simple at-home trick can reduce sodium by rinsing. Research on five popular canned beans (red kidney, garbanzo, pinto, black, and great northern) showed draining and rinsing reduces sodium. Draining canned beans reduced sodium by 36% and draining and rinsing with tap water reduced sodium by 41%.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating 1.5 cups of beans (or other legumes, like lentils) each week. For me, no problem, but if you aren’t eating beans, get started! There are many ways to incorporate more beans in your diet and for inspiration check out cannedbean.org and open the possibilities!
Christine Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian and nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. She is the co-author of Food & Fitness After 50. Follow her blog, Fit to Eat, by clicking here.
Do you have to give up meat to be healthy? Should you be a carnivore or a vegan? A better question might be why does it have to be one or the other? While some people choose to be vegan (foregoing all animal products), vegetarian (not eating meat but including milk, eggs, and cheese), or flexitarian (mostly plant-based meals but with some flexibility), there is room for meat on a healthy plate. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recently released for 2020-2025, takes a lifecycle approach. As we age, “resilience, stamina, independence, and mental clarity” are the goals for most aging Americans, says Dr. Heather Leidy, associate professor of nutritional sciences and member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Lean meat can provide the protein and nutrients needed to help us stay strong as we age.
Americans like meat. Pandemic purchases proved that. Meat sales increased almost 20% during the past year and 43% of households say they bought more meat than before the pandemic.
But, to make every bite count, consider pairing a 3 to-4-ounce portion of lean meat with plant-based foods to boost nutrients needed to age strong. While meat, like lean pork, is rich in protein, vitamin B12 and zinc, plant-based pairings can add dietary fiber, B-vitamins, and a host of other nutrients that are often in short supply in our diets.
Recently, three food groups paired up to encourage us to balance our plates with both lean meat and plant-food favorites. USA Pulses, the Pork Checkoff, and Sorghum Checkoff make up Powerful + Pairings, a website filled with delicious recipes and reasons why these 3 foods make up a happy plate.
I’m sure you are familiar with pork, but did you know that pork is a versatile meat that checks all the boxes for good nutrition for older adults? It is a nutrient-rich meat of high quality, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids needed for muscle repair and maintenance. Older adults need about 30 grams of protein per meal…sounds like a lot, but easy when lean meat is part of the diet. A 3-ounce serving of lean pork, beef, chicken, or turkey has 24 grams of protein. A scoop of protein powder might also give you 20 grams of protein but is devoid of other nutrients.
And while there are fattier cuts of pork (hello, bacon), there are 7 cuts of pork that are lean by the USDA definition (less than 10 grams of total fat, less than 4.5 grams of saturated fat, and 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving). Pork tenderloin and pork sirloin roast are leaner still. An easy way to remember to choose lean cuts of pork is to look for the word loin or chop in the name.
Pulses is a word you may not know when it comes to food, but you know them as a delicious vegetable found in global cuisine. Pulses are the term for the dry, edible seeds of legumes, including dry beans, dry peas, chickpeas (or garbanzo beans), and lentils. For a recent virtual meeting I was asked to make a side-dish with pulses and I choose a Mediterranean Bean Salad (you can find the recipe here) and it will be my new summer go-to salad. Pulses are good for people and the planet; a sustainable crop that puts nutrients, like nitrogen, into the soil.
Another sustainable crop is sorghum. You might be less familiar with sorghum as a grain but more familiar with it as a syrup. Sorghum is an ancient grain with a texture like rice or quinoa. It makes a great base for grain bowls, either on its own as a vegan option or paired with lean meat as a side. Depending on where you live, it can be hard to find so here’s a link to help you source sorghum. Check out this website for more on sorghum and recipes to learn how to incorporate it into delicious dishes.
Whatever you choose, remember it is the total dietary pattern that makes for good health. So, for meat eaters, keep the portions in check, pile on the veggies, eat healthy grains to make every bite count.
Christine Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and professor emerita of nutrition at Georgia State University. She co-authored Food & Fitness After 50, available online and other book sellers. And, for more timely tips on eating well, moving well, and being well, follow her blog by clicking here.
One year ago, we learned a whole new vocabulary: coronavirus, COVID-19, fomites, masking, and social distancing were words we had to use, and we continue to use. But we’ve learned a lot in the last year and where science usually moves slowly, food safety experts really upped their efforts to help us stay safe….on the farm, in the processing plants, in grocery stores, and at home.
I had a chance to talk to a few of those experts to help us understand what we need to do to stay in the grocery store and in our homes. But let’s be clear, the pandemic isn’t over. While many of us are getting vaccinated, we still need to exercise caution as new variants of the virus circulate.
Dr. Ben Chapman, North Carolina State University, says we’ve learned a lot about virus transmission. As it is a respiratory virus, person-to-person, face-to-face interaction is the number one way the virus is spread. “At the beginning of the pandemic, we were concerned about the virus infecting people in the grocery store and restaurants through transmission on surfaces. We’ve learned that infections from touch pads, condiment bottles, grocery store carts, or menus, while theoretically possible, isn’t actually occurring based on data available. The best thing you can do is follow the CDC guidelines for masking and social distancing and continue to wash your hands/sanitize them after being in public places.” Dr. Chapman and colleagues have developed a useful resource at foodcov.net. This one-stop shop of resources is based on the best available science from the CDC, FDA and USDA and peer reviewed by food safety and virology experts across the country.
Dr. Chapman’s colleague at NC State, Dr. Lee-Ann Jaykus, a professor in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing, and Nutrition Sciences, urges us to continue to use hand sanitizer when we can’t wash our hands. “For the simple reason that we touch our faces numerous times each day, using hand sanitizer is an excellent way to reduce virus contamination and prevent its introduction through the mouth or nose. This reduces infection. Continue to use hand sanitizer when entering or leaving any retail establishment.“ When we stop to think about it, how many of us have not had a cold or the flu this past year? While we might miss hugging our friends or shaking hands with our neighbor, the fist or elbow bump might be a good practice for the future.
Early in the pandemic, people were concerned about coronavirus in food, and some were spraying produce with a bleach solution, scrubbing with dish detergent, or wiping foods with disinfectant wipes. “We have no evidence that the virus is spread through eating or drinking,” says Dr. Chapman, “and bleach, soap, and disinfectants are not meant for consumption. They are great for cleaning hands and kitchen surfaces but are not for ingestion.” The Alliance for Food & Farming has some good resources on food safety, but the recommendations from all government organizations have been consistent in advising that we should continue to do the following: note the word “continue” because we should be doing these things all of the time!
Wash produce under warm or cold running tap water to help remove any dirt, bacteria or residues that might be on the product. This goes for conventional and organic produce whether from the grocery store, farmer’s market, or CSA.
• When preparing fresh produce, begin with clean hands. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after preparation. Your hands are the dirtiest thing in your kitchen. (According to one study, 65% of consumer don’t wash their hands before meal preparation…let’s change that sad statistic!)
• Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with soap and hot water between preparing raw meat, poultry, and seafood and preparing produce that will not be cooked.
• Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables before preparing and/or eating. Throw away or compost any produce that looks rotten.
• Remove and discard the outer leaves of leafy vegetables, like lettuce and cabbage, and toss in the compost bin.
• Even if you do not plan to eat the skin, it is still important to wash produce first so dirt and bacteria are not transferred from the surface when peeling or cutting produce. I always scrub melons, cucumbers, avocado with a produce brush under running water before I slice into them. Dirt on the outside can be transferred to the inside through the knife.
• According to the FDA: “Many pre-cut, bagged, or packaged produce items are pre-washed and ready-to-eat. If so, it will be stated on the packaging, and you can use the produce without further washing.”
Dr. Chapman adds that “There is no link between reusable bags and COVID-19. Reusable bags are
not considered a significant risk factor in the spread of COVID-19 and as such do not need to be banned from stores.” However, reusable shopping bags should be cleaned between uses. Bacteria from raw fruits and vegetables can get into the bags so they should always be tossed in the laundry and washed with hot, soapy water between uses. (This is not new advice, but how many of us do it?) For more tips on keeping reusable bags clean, click here. As an older adult, we know that our demographic and those with chronic diseases are in the high-risk category for COVID-19.
Those in their 50s are at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 40s. Similarly, people in their 60s or 70s are at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 50s. The greatest risk for severe illness from COVID-19 is among those aged 85 or older. As older adults get vaccinated, restrictions are lessening but it still is recommended to mask up, wash your hands, and avoid crowds. As Dr. Chapman says, “nothing we do is zero risk,” so continue to follow the advice from the CDC so we can see the end of this pandemic.
Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian and nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. Check out her website and her book, Food & Fitness After 50. And, Click here to follow her blog.
(I attended a virtual, sponsored session, A Journey from Conversation to Care: Shaping Communication on Obesity, sponsored by Novo Nordisk. I was not asked to write or compensated to write this post.)
I bet we all know someone who has been on the roller coaster of weight loss:
Step 1: Pick a diet from the hundreds that are popular at any moment (Paleo, Keto, Atkins, South Beach, WW, Nutrisystem, etc.)
Step 2: Lose weight.
Step 3: Regain weight.
Step 4: For many, repeat steps 1-3.
Motivation to lose weight was high, the plan was easy to stick to, but rarely do we stay “on” the diet. And, then after the initial weight loss, our lost weight finds us! Why?
Why do we eat?
We eat for three main reasons, and all are regulated by our brain. We eat for hunger (called homeostatic eating) and that is our survival mechanism. We also eat for pleasure (called hedonic eating). Under this heading I would lump recreational eating. Ask yourself how many social events (back when we had social events) centered around food? Or how many times has the smell of freshly baked cookies called your name, even though you were not hungry?) And third, is the brain’s executive function in deciding to eat or not eat.
What drives the brain to regulate our food intake? The answer is hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers produced in one part of the body that get transported to another part where they regulate functions. For eating, hormones influence the brain to trigger either hunger (telling us to eat) or satiety (telling us we are full). Satiety hormones are produced in the intestines, the pancreas, and even in fat tissue; hunger hormones are produced in the stomach. Sounds simple: our brain tells us to eat or not, but in the disease of obesity and especially after weight loss, a dysregulation can occur.
Dr. Gabe Smolarz, an endocrinologist and obesity specialists describes it as the “push-pull” of weight loss. After weight loss, metabolism declines (leading to less calories or energy burned), hunger hormones increase (making you hungrier) and satiety hormones decease (making you feel less full.)
Where does that leave us? It’s important to remember that obesity is a disease (click here a previous post on the disease of obesity) and is caused by many factors: societal, environmental, and genetic. Our genetics contribute 40 to 70% of our risk for overweight and obesity and our environment can influence the expression of those genes. There is no arguing that we live in an obesogenic environment…plentiful, inexpensive, good tasting food and little motivation to be physically active. Layer in societal issues, such as no or poor access to health care, racial injustice, and income inequality and it isn’t a surprise that 100 million Americans (or 2 in 5 adults in the US) are living with obesity.
What can we do? We can recognize that obesity is a disease that needs long-term management. Many people living with obesity find it hard to have a conversation with their healthcare provider because they are often dismissed or simply told to “eat less and move more.” But that is still a good first step. The website The Truth About Weight gives tips on how to start the conversation, along with more information on obesity treatments and science of the disease. We can also lean in by helping to change how society sees, prevents, and treats obesity.
Two recent initiatives (supported by Novo Nordisk) are worth checking out. Healthy Women and Black Women’s Health Imperative have teamed up to empower and educate women across diverse communities about obesity health risks and treatment options.
Another great partnership is with the NFL Alumni Association. Check out the video, “Huddle Up—Let’s Talk About Obesity” encouraging men to act on learning about and treating obesity.
As Obesity Week has just concluded, let’s remember their slogan, “Every Body Needs Everybody,” to successfully treat obesity.
(Disclosure: General Mills sponsored a virtual education session that I attended; I was not asked to or compensated to write this post.)
Cereal and milk is my “go to” breakfast. When I was a kid, Cheerios was a staple food in my household of seven kids and not just for breakfast but also for a snack. My siblings and I would break out the big frying pan and “fry” Cheerios in butter and then sprinkle with salt. I guess it was our version of popcorn or snack chips.
Today, I still eat Cheerios (although, I haven’t fried them in decades!) with add-ons like Fiber One and fruit. And I’m not alone in loving cereal. Sales soared during the pandemic. About 100 million pounds more cereal were sold in the past year! Kids and parents alike were learning/working from home and easy, affordable breakfast options were a must. Cereal fits that description: it is easy and kids like it, and parents and caretakers like easy. Amy Cohn, registered dietitian and Senior Manager of Nutrition & External Affairs, US Cereal, General Mills, Inc. says “The three things that consumers look for in cereal are:
Cereal and milk go together like a Batman and Robin. Indeed, 86% of cereal is eaten will milk, making for a dynamic duo. The slide shown above illustrates the top selling cereal brands in the U.S. and they all fit Amy’s rubric about what people want in a cereal. Yes, there are sugar-sweetened cereals in this group, but kids who eat cereal, including sweetened cereals don’t have higher intakes of added sugar when compared to kids who don’t eat cereal. Yet, kids who eat cereal…any cereal…have overall better intake of nutrients and overall better diets.
Yet many parents and health professionals tell kids not to eat sweetened cereals and stick to more nutrition-forward brands. But as any dietitian will tell you good nutrition isn’t good nutrition unless it is eaten. So, in these days, let kids enjoy their favorite cereal and you can be confident that they are getting needed nutrients like whole grains, calcium, vitamin D, and B-vitamins, like folate.
What about older adults? Many older adults that I talk to shun carbs. This important nutrient is vilified by some and viewed as toxic by others. Both are fake news! As we age, we need more of some nutrients but less energy (or calories) so choosing nutrient-rich foods is even more critical. For those older adults who live alone making dinner for one can be daunting. Layer that with depressed appetite and increasing concerns about being food insecure, and dinner can be a hit or miss affair…often more miss than hit.
According to Feeding America the rate of hunger among adults aged 60 and older has increased by 38% since 2001, a lingering effect of the 2008-09 recession. Layered with the pandemic, the number of food-insecure older adults will surely grow. According to Feeding America, 63% of older households served by the Feeding America network are forced to choose between food and medical care.
For older adults cereal is great at breakfast but don’t over look it for dinner. This is a great opportunity to think of cereal for dinner and here are some ways to punch it up to get a few more essential nutrients, like protein, healthy fats, calcium, B-vitamins and minerals, like potassium.
Recipe for Tasty Breakfast Bowl for Dinner on those days when you don’t want to cook!
Step 1: Choose your favorite cereal, any cereal. Feel free to mix it up by combining a whole grain cereal, a high fiber cereal, and a sweetened cereal.
Step 2: Choose your dairy food carefully to get needed nutrients. Milk is our primary source of calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. Milk is the gold standard for nutrients, but if you can’t tolerate milk, consider soy milk. While plant-based milks are popular, they are not as rich in nutrients and are more costly. A glass of dairy milk (fat-free, 2%, or whole) has 8 grams of protein whereas a glass of almond milk has only 1 gram. And almond milk is much lower in potassium compared to dairy milk.
You might also consider adding your cereal to yogurt; I love Greek or Icelandic yogurt for the tangy taste and extra protein, but regular yogurt is a good option, too.
Step 3: Top it off. Add some chopped nuts to increase protein and healthy fats, and top with whatever fruit you like. You could choose frozen berries, a fresh banana, canned peach, or dried fruits, like raisins.
Step 4: Eat and enjoy: your breakfast bowl has most food groups represented (grains, fruit, dairy). OK, no veggies but maybe add a vegetable juice chaser!
Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian and nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. Her book, Food & Fitness After 50 offers nutrition and exercise tips for adults. Follow her blog, Fit to Eat, by clicking here.
One of the hottest topics in health and wellness is the gut microbiome. The human gastrointestinal tract is host to one of the most complex ecosystems on the planet. So important is the gut microbiome that it has been dubbed our “second brain” for its role in influencing our health. Let’s look at how what we eat, specifically a type of fiber called prebiotics, can positively influences the microbes in our gut.
Primer on prebiotics
Prebiotics, fiber-rich carbohydrates, are an important fuel or food source for beneficial microbes that already live in your gut. Almost all prebiotics are dietary fibers but not all dietary fibers are prebiotics.
What do prebiotics do?
They target the microorganisms already present in the gut acting as food to nourish them. Bacteria that reside in the gut, specifically lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, are the usual targets for prebiotics, helping these good bacteria stay healthy.
Why should we eat them?
Prebiotics help the good guys, that is helping the good microbes to flourish while keeping the bad or disease-causing microbes in check.The concept of prebiotics is relatively new, but it is well established that they can improve digestive health and emerging research shows that they can positively influence our immune system, improve calcium absorption (which can protect your bones), and keep blood sugar in check.
How much should we be eating?
Five grams of prebiotics eaten each day, from whole foods or as an ingredient in healthful foods is recommended for well-being. Whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain prebiotics but are present in low levels which is why prebiotics are being added to foods like bars, drinks, yogurts, cereals, and even chocolate. You would have to eat 10 bananas to get 5 grams of the recommended prebiotic fiber.
Prebiotics vs Probiotics
You are probably more familiar with probiotics than prebiotics. Probiotics, those active, live cultures found in yogurt, kefir, and some fermented foods are more well-studied for their ability to aid digestion, assist the immune system, help absorb some vitamins, and stabilize the gut bacteria when taking an antibiotic. Specific strains of probiotics can also help with specific health problems. For example, some probiotic strains can help manage lactose (milk sugar) intolerance or reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Prebiotics complement probiotics by feeding them. Simply put, prebiotics are the energy source for probiotics. They work together for good health…probiotics contain the live microbes that live in the gut and prebiotics feed them. Think of prebiotics as plant-food for the good microbes.
Which is better? Probiotics or prebiotics?
Both! Probiotics and prebiotics work in harmony to keep us healthy and improve well-being. Probiotics or prebiotics are not a cure-all. However, they can improve health to make the good bacteria strong to fight disease.
How Do You Know if a Food Contains Prebiotics?
Whole foods, including asparagus, bananas, garlic, leeks, oats, onions, legumes, and whole grains all contain small amounts of prebiotic fibers. Because they contain small amounts and the value of prebiotics is becoming abundantly clear, foods with added sources of prebiotics are becoming more popular and more available.
One of the most well studied prebiotics is called inulin (not to be confused with insulin!) One of the best studied prebiotics, inulin is found in the root of the chicory plant, as well as a few others, like agave. Extracting the inulin from chicory root is a natural process and the concentrated inulin can be added to foods to boost prebiotic intake.
The whole foods previously mentioned have naturally occurring prebiotics; for foods with added prebiotics, the amount of prebiotic fiber is included on the nutrition facts panel with dietary fiber, so it is hard to know exactly how much of the total fiber is prebiotic fiber. To know if a food has added prebiotics, check out the ingredient list and look for words like:
Are prebiotics added to foods safe?
Yes, prebiotic fibers have been consumed since ancient times. It has been estimated that some hunter/gathers ate more than over 100 grams of inulin a day.Current research shows that up to 10 grams of inulin a day is well-tolerated in healthy adults.If you typically eat a diet low in fiber, as many Americans do, gradually increasing fiber and prebiotics, helps your tummy get used to the fiber without any side effects. And, inulin is deemed safe by the Food & Drug Administration, adding it to Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list.
What foods have added prebiotics?
You can find prebiotics is some brands of yogurt, breakfast cereals, drinks, and bars. The following list is not meant to be exclusive, or an endorsement of any one food over another, but will give some specific foods that contain prebiotics.
LUNA® bar with prebiotics
Activia® pro and prebiotic dailles yogurt drink
Fiber Choice® gummies
Kellogg’s® Happy Inside Hi! Cereal
Oikos® Triple Zero Yogurt
Premier Protein® ready-to-drink beverages
Summing It Up
Eat a healthy, plant-rich, fiber-rich diet for good gut health. Eating more plants equals a greater diversity of healthy microbes in your gut. Aim for an increase in a specific type of fiber, prebiotic fiber, to improve GI tract function and overall well-being.
If your “second brain” could talk it would tell you to:
Here are two of my favorite websites for more information on prebiotics:
International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics. Available by clicking here.
Dietary Fiber available by clicking here.
From infomercials touting “ancient remedies” to A-list celebrities endorsing the benefits, collagen supplements are hot. Let’s remember that supplements do not have to prove they work to be on the market. That means those rows of supplements sold in your favorite store or thousands of products sold online do not have to prove that they actually work! Crazy, right? For more on what the Food and Drug Administration has to say about supplements, including what claims can and cannot be made, click here.
I turned to Dr. Bob Murray, my co-author of Food & Fitness After 50, and managing principle of Sports Science Insights to help us uncover what is known about collagen. He has decades of experience evaluating the science of supplements and he always gives a fair and balanced look at supplements.
Guest post written by Dr. Bob Murray
The best way to think of collagen is that it is the glue that holds us together. Collagen is the name for a large family of proteins found in the body. In fact, there are so many different types of collagen proteins that collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. Collagen proteins make up connective tissues throughout the body. The term “connective tissues,” makes many people think of tendons, ligaments, and cartilage, three good examples of connective tissues. Muscles, skin, and bones also contain large amounts of connective tissue and therefore large amounts of the collagen proteins that intertwine to give those tissues their structure, strength, and elasticity. It should be obvious that the connective tissue in bone has a different role to play compared to the connective tissue in muscles, skin, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. That’s why so many different kinds of collagen proteins are needed throughout our bodies.
From a dietary perspective, collagen is considered a protein, but it is an incomplete protein and is low in the amino acids that are important in building muscle mass and strength. However, collagen proteins are high in two amino acids—glycine and proline—that appear to stimulate the growth of connective tissues in physically active people.
Collagen production does naturally decline with age and there are some studies that report benefits of collagen consumption in older adults. While there are many claims for collagen supplements…from preventing wrinkles and strengthening skin to improving joint flexibility, the evidence so far is promising but far from conclusive. In other words, there is some evidence that consuming collagen can benefit skin, joints, and muscles, but the evidence has yet to reach the level of scientific quality and quantity required to draw confident conclusions. This means that don’t count on collagen supplements to return you skin to the way it looked in your youth, but consuming collage won’t do any harm and may help, as some research suggests.
There is an increasing number of studies that report benefits to muscle strength, joint pain, and repair of connective tissue, but a greater number of studies report no benefits. It is an unsatisfying answer but we’re going to have to wait and see what future research has to say. One fact that we do know is that regular physical activity stimulates, strengthens, and protects connective tissues in the much the same way that muscles are stimulated, strengthened, and protected.
Maybe the best news is that there is little to no risk of trying collagen supplements, aside from the possibility of spending money on something that does not work.
The current research indicates that the effective dose seems to be 15-20 grams of collagen per day, along with 200-250 mg of vitamin C to aid in collagen synthesis. Copper and zinc also aid collagen production, but those two minerals are needed in tiny quantities that a varied diet easily supply. The body seems to respond best to the presence of collagen peptides—short chains of a few amino acids—and most forms of dietary collagen contain such peptides. If you want to try it, look for products containing hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides on the label.
As we continue to learn about dietary supplements that might benefit older adults, follow our blog, Fit to Eat, to stay connected.
A new year brings new fitness goals. When coupled with the pandemic, some of us may need motivation to get back to or start a workout routine. I’m reaching out to two personal trainers to ask them why you should hire a personal trainer, what you should know, what you should ask, and what results you can expect.
Brigid Richardson is an ACE certified personal trainer (more on ACE in a minute) who works with clients at a private fitness facility, in her home, or a client’s home. David Leard is also is an ACE certified trainer, in addition to holding orthopedic specialty and weight management certifications. David trains most of his clients at a local YMCA, but also at some client’s homes. (For more on David, click here, to revisit a post from 2018.)
What are the top reasons that an older adult should consider working with a personal trainer?
“Engaging a personal trainer shows a commitment to improving your health,” says Richardson, and “hiring a trainer makes you vested and keeps you accountable to an exercise routine.” And while the experts recommend that adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week (that breaks down to about 30 minutes each day), we also need muscle strengthening activities at least twice a week. But Americans are woefully short on meeting those recommendations; only about 1 in 5 adults meet these minimum guidelines.
Richardson adds working with a personal trainer can reduce the chance of injury during exercise. “A trainer is able to safely demonstrate correct form and spot a client when needed.”
What qualifications or certifications should someone look for when working with a personal trainer?
“Look for a nationally, recognized, education-based certification that is approved by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA),” advises Richardson. Leard agrees and adds that some of the best certification organizations are the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). Both Richardson and Leard are certified by ACE. Richardson says it is also important that a certified trainer be insured.
How has COVID-19 affected the ability of people to get and/or stay fit?
“The fear of COVID has affected people emotionally as well as physically,” says Leard. “While the YMCA where I train has added the recommended cleaning, disinfecting, and social distancing protocols, I’ve had a few clients decide to stay home after we reopened in May. Several of my clients reported they were not exercising at home like they thought they would. With that in mind we posted many videos demonstrating home exercises. We’ve also found success in small group training such as TRX classes.”
Richardson reports that “technology has empowered many people to look for exercise options at home. There are a wide variety of virtual workout classes that are accessible with a computer or phone if you have an internet connection. Many classes promote “body weight” training so you can exercise without any equipment. Staying home has allowed some folks to squeeze in an exercise session and many of my clients have used quarantine to improve their health.”
The at home fitness trend may well continue. A recent Washington Post article reports the sale of in-home exercise equipment, from treadmills to yoga mats, boomed in 2020 and may be the future of exercise.
When a new client hires you, what do you want to know about them before you start training?
“It is important to ask a client what type of exercises they enjoyed and what time of day they prefer to exercise. Using that information to develop a workout, then it can help keep them motivated,” says Richardson. On the flip side, she likes clients to seek her advice on exercise routines that she endorses. “While I focus on the client’s desires in planning a workout, I think it is important to incorporate strength training and low impact cardio exercises into most workouts. Muscle strengthening activities provide many health benefits including preventing muscle loss that comes with aging and helping increase metabolism.”
Leard encourages clients to “ask about my credentials as I very proud of the work and study I’ve put in to be the best trainer I can be. I also enjoy responding to questions about successes I’ve had with other clients. I ask clients questions about their motivation, past experiences, and chronic health issues. I want to know what has worked and what has not worked for them in the past. I also want to understand their goals so I can formulate a plan to reach them. One of my favorite examples of goal setting is with a client who had a new grandbaby. Her goal was to be able to safely bathe the baby by lifting her in and out of the bathtub. We worked with the goal in mind keep them both safe and you can imagine how happy she was when she reported her success.”
What can an older adult expect when working with a trainer?
“A good trainer assesses a client based on their goals for posture, movement, balance and flexibility. Depending on the assessment, the trainer may focus on stability and mobility training at first. Later the trainer may focus on movement and resistance training and moving to more functional movement with increasing loads. Given that “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” I focus on a client’s weakest link. I feel this approach gives each client their best chance to succeed,” says Leard.
Richardson likes to show clients how each exercise affects they body. “A trainer should encourage the client throughout the workout, correcting posture while helping them get the maximum benefit out of each movement.”
Given that 85% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition and 60% have at least two, how does that change you train a client?
“A trainer should always ask appropriate questions about the client’s health, specifically if they have been cleared by a medical doctor to participate in an exercise program. This information and doctor’s approval will allow the trainer to customize a workout that is safe and effective for the client,” according to Richardson.
Leard’s specialty certifications in orthopedics “allow me to work confidently work with clients with chronic conditions. I have several friends who are Physical Therapists that I use as a resource when I have questions. In addition, I hold a Weight Management Certification from ACE. This certification gives me a good base for helping clients focus on healthy eating habits rather than fad diets.”
Both Richardson and Leard emphasize functional fitness for older adults; the ability to do the things you like to do while staying safe. Gardening, playing with grandchildren, walking the dog, and hiking in the woods require stamina, strength, agility, and balance, and working with a personal trainer can help you continue to enjoy activities.
Every new year brings hope for new beginnings. While we are still facing the ravages of the pandemic, there are thing we can control to be our healthiest self in 2021. And it doesn’t take a gym membership, an expensive piece of exercise equipment, or organic foods. Nope, just simple steps to better health. Food & Fitness After 50 is based on eating well, moving well, and being well. Here are 99 tips to help you do that and one bonus tip at the end.
Tips to increase fiber
Tips to eat more fruits and veggies
Tips for healthy snacks
Tips for choosing nutrient-rich foods
Tips for increasing bone-saving nutrients
Tips for reducing sodium
Tips for managing your weight
Tips for grocery shopping
Tips for getting stronger
Tips for getting and staying in shape
Tips for improving your ABCs…agility, balance, and coordination
Tips for preventing disease
Tips for better sleep
Tips for staying socially connected
Tips for managing stress
Tips for keeping your food safe
By my count, that is 99 tips! For the 100th tip, remember to enjoy food. It is so much more than the nutrients it contains. Food is love, connection, and comfort!
What’s your favorite way to stay healthy? Drop me a comment and let me know!
Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian and nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. She is co-author of Food & Fitness After 50. Follow her blog at https://chrisrosenbloom.com/fit-to-eat-blog/.