Powerful food pairings to dial up nutrients you need for healthy aging

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
Mediterranean Bean Salad

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.

Keeping your food and family safe: A COVID-19 update from the experts

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!

Photo credit: Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

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.

Surprising insights on how your brain makes it hard to manage weight loss.

(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.

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian and nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. Check out her book, Food & Fitness After 50 and click here to follow her blog.

Want a Quick, Easy, Nutritious Meal? Try Eating Cereal at Any Age

(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.

Top Selling Brands of Cereal in the U.S.

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:

  • It has to be delicious.
  • It has to be a brand kids will eat.
  • It has to be a great value.

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.

Can Prebiotics Improve your Gut Health? What you Need to Know.

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:

  • inulin
  • chicory root extract
  • chicory root fiber
  • fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS)
  • oligofructose (OF)

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

Culturelle® supplements

Fiber Choice® gummies

Kellogg’s® Happy Inside Hi! Cereal

Lily’s® chocolate

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:

  • Eat more whole plant foods.
  • Choose naturally rich prebiotic foods.
  • Look for prebiotic enriched foods.

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.

Chris 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.

Clarity on Collagen Supplements: Do They Live Up to the Claims?

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.

Should You Hire a Personal Trainer? What You Need to Know.

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.

Photo courtesy of Brigid Richardson

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.)

Photo courtesy of David Leard

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?

IStock photo

“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.”

IStock photo

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.”

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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.

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.

How to be Your Healthiest Self: 100 Tips for 2021

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.

Eat Well

Photo credit: The Ginger Network

Tips to increase fiber

  • Add leftover veggies to scrambled eggs.
  • Top casseroles with crushed high fiber breakfast cereal.
  • Add oatmeal to homemade chocolate chip cookies.
  • Make lentil soup; dried lentils are easy to use and inexpensive.
  • Eat fresh, in-season fruits more often than drinking fruit juice.
  • Choose whole wheat bread, brown rice, or whole wheat pasta at least half the time.
  • Use more canned beans and peas as main dishes.

Tips to eat more fruits and veggies

  • Top hot or cold breakfast cereal with berries or bananas.
  • Make your own trail mix with dried apples, cherries, raisins, and apricots.
  • Add chunks of sweet potato and winter squash to any soup or stew.
  • Add grated apple or pear to pancake batter or muffin mix.
  • Top pizza with at least 2 veggies: peppers, onions, mushrooms, or tomato, are good options.
  • Spread unsweetened applesauce on toast in place of jelly or jam.
  • Add a can of drained mixed veggies to your favorite canned soup.
  • Combine canned pumpkin with yogurt and cinnamon for a smoothie.
Photo credit USDA ARS

Tips for healthy snacks

  • Drink vegetable juice for a mid-morning or afternoon pick-me-up.
  • Bake an apple and sprinkle with cinnamon and a pinch of brown sugar.
  • Eat a handful of nuts…peanuts, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, and pecans are all great snacks.
  • Popcorn is a whole grain, healthy snack; just don’t drown it butter.
  • Cut up some veggies and keep them visible in the fridge so when you are searching for a snack, they are ready; kids love to dip them in Ranch dressing.

Tips for choosing nutrient-rich foods

Photo credit: NCBA
  • A smart portion of lean beef (3-ounces) is rich in iron, zinc, and B-vitamins for healthy aging.
  • Eat more seafood; aim for at least twice per week. Frozen seafood and canned or pouch tuna and salmon are affordable choices.
  • Choose a variety of colorful fruits and veggies, but don’t overlook white veggies, like onions, potatoes, or cauliflower.
  • Skip the egg white omelet and eat the yolk, all the good nutrients are in the yellow part.
  • Embrace a Mediterranean eating pattern; rich in seafood, beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and olive oil.
  • Eat cold cereal and milk; even sugar-sweetened cereals contain needed vitamins and minerals, and they keep good company when you add milk.
Photo credit: The Ginger Network

Tips for increasing bone-saving nutrients

  • Drink low-fat dairy milk.
  • If lactose-intolerant, drink calcium-fortified soy milk.
  • Buy dried milk powder….it is the original whey protein and lots cheaper.
  • Drink kefir.
  • Eat canned salmon.
  • Mix up yogurt choices: Yogurt in a tube for kids, and for adults, Icelandic, Greek, or regular yogurt all contain bone-building nutrients.
  • Choose 100% orange juice with added calcium.
  • Rediscover cottage cheese; rich in protein and calcium.
Photo credit: Chris Rosenbloom

Tips for reducing sodium

  • Drain and rinse canned beans, even the low sodium versions, to reduce sodium by about 40%.
  • Eat fewer salty protein foods, like cured meats, cold cuts, sausage, bacon, and smoked meats and fish.
  • Enjoy unsalted nuts.
  • Read labels for hidden sodium; salt is often the first ingredient in seasoning blends like lemon pepper, poultry seasoning, Italian seasoning, or other herbal seasoning blends.
  • Make salad dressing at home with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a truly salt-free dressing.
  • Check labels on poultry and look for products that don’t have added saline broth.

Tips for managing your weight

  • Obesity is a chronic disease and is not caused by lack of willpower; learn how to get good care at the Truth About Weight.
  • To help motivate you to maintain your weight as you age, monitor it. Personally, I weigh myself every day to help me keep my weight within a certain range.
  • Aim for good health, not a number on the scale.
  • Start strength training. We lose muscle as we age, and muscle is an engine that helps burn calories.
  • Spread your meals throughout the day; aim for 3 meals a day and if you snack, keep the portions small.
  • Share an appetizer and split an entrée when you dine out or order take out to cut the calories in restaurant foods.
  • If you drink alcohol, stick to the Dietary Guidelines Advice of 1 drink/day for women and 2 drinks/day for men; remember you don’t have to drink alcohol to be healthy and less is better than more in many ways.
  • Ditch the extreme diets, including “cleanses” and “detoxes.” Your body can clean and detox you just fine.

Tips for grocery shopping

  • Embrace canned, frozen, and dried fruit…. they all count toward the minimum 5 a day serving of fruits & veggies.
  • Inventory what you have in the fridge, freezer, and pantry and plan meals and grocery trips around what is on hand.
  • Consider buying private label brands to save money on items you buy frequently.
  • Eat fresh fruit in season; mandarins and citrus fruits are at their peak in taste and lowest in price right now.
  • Forget about shopping the perimeter; the center aisles have an abundance of healthy foods.
  • Get weekly grocery store specials sent right to your phone by; it replaces the circular that used to come in the printed newspaper.

Move Well

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Tips for getting stronger

  • Start a progressive, resistance exercise program with weights…either machines or free weights or exercise bands will do the job.
  • Include weight training at least twice a week; lift a weight until your muscle says, “no more.”
  • After a strength workout, recover by feeding your muscles with quality protein: a small carton of yogurt, a stick of string cheese, or glass of milk will do.
  • Learn to breath properly through each strength move.
  • Lie flat on your back and move to a standing position. Try this every day and move in different ways to get to a standing position.
  • Think beyond muscle strength; exercise also helps mental strength.

Tips for getting and staying in shape

  • If you have been inactive, “start low and go slow” to avoid injury.
  • Try micro-bursts of exercise; just 10 minutes a day and gradually increase to 30 total minutes.
  • All movement counts: gardening, housework, and dancing to your favorite tunes keeps you moving.
  • Walking is great way to get in shape. If you are a regular walker, pick up the pace with the aim to walk at least 3 miles per hour.
  • Make it fun; doing what you like to do makes it easier to keep it up.
  • Try a new sport, like Pickleball, or clean up your bike and go for a ride.
  • Use your smart watch or phone to set hourly reminders to get up a move; walk around the room, up and down the stairs, or perform some squats.
  • Consider trying HIIT (High Intensity Interval Workouts) if you are looking for a challenge.

Tips for improving your ABCs…agility, balance, and coordination

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  • Try practicing yoga or Tai Chi.
  • Stand on one foot while brushing your teeth. Try closing your eyes to make it more challenging.
  • Try activities that require agility, like dance aerobics.
  • Practice walking forward, backwards, and side-to-side in your home, on level ground.
  • Try walking heal-toe while looking over your left shoulder, then back it up and look over your right shoulder.

Be Well

Tips for preventing disease

  • Stay up to date with vaccinations.  For the recommended vaccination schedule from the CDC, click here.
  • Don’t blame your genes for everything; the environment works with genes to manifest disease.
  • Continue cooking at home even after the pandemic is under control; family meals lead to good health for everyone in the family.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables; conventionally grown produce is just as nutritious as organic.
  • Use healthy fats and oils (olive, canola, soybean, etc) and use saturated fats (butter, coconut oil) sparingly.
  • Check out all the free information on the websites devoted to preventing chronic diseases: American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, The Arthritis Foundation, National Institutes of Health, or MyPlate.

Tips for better sleep

  • Put down the phone or tablet an hour before getting into bed.
  • Invest in room darkening shades.
  • Keep the room cool, even if it means extra blankets on the bed.
  • Skip caffeinated beverages and foods after noon.
  • Keep to a schedule; get up and go to bed about the same time each day.

Tips for staying socially connected

Photo credit: Bob Murray
  • Celebrate your friends!
  • Get savvy with technology to stay in touch with younger family members.
  • Volunteer in your church, civic associations, or community organizations.
  • Join a book club, a knitting club, a gardening club, or anything that is of interest to you.

Tips for managing stress

  • Spend time in nature.
  • Meditate for at least 10 minutes a day; apps like Headspace or Calm can help you with guided meditation.
  • Go for a walk and enjoy your surroundings without listening to music, an audiobook, or podcast.
  • Focus on your breath by practicing mindful breathing each day.
  • Read a book or listen to your favorite music.

Tips for keeping your food safe

  • Wash your hands before food preparation; your hands are the dirtiest things in your kitchen!
  • Invest in a digital meat thermometer to cook foods, including reheated and frozen meals, to the correct internal temperature.
  • Practice the 2-hour rule; cooked foods and restaurant leftovers should be refrigerated within 2 hours.
  • Use a separate cutting boards for meat and produce.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables under cool running water before eating.
  • Avoid raw milk, raw cheeses, and unpasteurized juices.
  • Wash reusable shopping bags.
  • Clean your grill after every use.

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/.

How to Make the Dietary Guidelines Work for You

The release of the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) was met by the media with a yawn. In my world the DGAs are a big deal because they represent a comprehensive review of the science on food and nutrition. And I’m not kidding when I say comprehensive; the Scientific Report is 835 pages!

The report gets translated into guidelines, a 164-page report and then released to the public. (Click here for the guidelines.) If that is too much to sift through, here is a link to the 4-page version of the highlights.

Americans need nutrition guidance more than ever, but just like politics, we are in our tribes and unwilling to see the big picture. From Keto to Carnivore, diet tribes swear their eating plan is the best, the healthiest, and are unbending to the science. The science on food and nutrition is ever changing to be sure, but the bulk of the evidence is clear: eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein from lean meat or meat alternatives, such as beans, nuts, and soy, low-fat dairy, and healthy fats and oils is the basis for good health.

What we eat has a profound impact on health and here are just a few statistics that could be impacted by changing our dietary habits:

About 74% of adults are overweight or have obesity.

Adults ages 40 to 59 have the highest rate of obesity (43%) of any age group with adults

60 years and older having a 41% rate of obesity.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death.

About 45% of adults have hypertension.

Almost 35% of American adults have prediabetes, and people 65 years and older have

the highest rate (48%) compared to other age groups.

More women (17%) than men (5%) have osteoporosis.

20% of older adults have reduced muscle strength.

But most of us would get a failing grade for our eating habits. The Healthy Eating Index is a scoring system used to evaluate diet quality. Americans score 59 out of a possible 100 and that translates to an F; older adults do slightly better with a 66, but that is still a D in this professor’s grade book. We can improve our scores because it is never too early or never too late to start eating for good health.

The 2020 DGA recognize that food is more than the nutrients it contains. A sustainable diet is one that includes foods we like, honors our cultural traditions, and is affordable. That is why the DGA emphasize dietary patterns over single nutrients. Whether you follow a vegetarian or Mediterranean plan, keep in mind that:

 “Nutrients are not consumed in isolation, foods and beverages are not consumed separately either. Rather they are consumed in various combinations over time—a dietary pattern. The evolving evidence showed that components of a dietary pattern could have interactive, synergistic, and potentially cumulative relationships, such that they could predict overall health status and disease risk more fully than could individual foods or nutrients.” (Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.)

For the first time, the DGA takes a life course approach, offering guidelines based on specific needs at different stages of life. For older adults (defined in this report as those of us over 60 years), there are a few special things worth calling attention to:

Photo credit USDA ARS

Vary your protein source. We’ve talked to expert about the importance of protein but the DGA emphasize not putting all of your eggs into the protein basket. As we move into older ages, both protein quantity and quality are increasing important. About half of women and a third of men over the age of 71 don’t get enough protein. While we are pretty good at eating enough meat, poultry, and eggs, we are woefully short on other protein sources: seafood, dairy, soy, beans, peas, and lentils should all make more frequent appearances on our plates. Foods from these groups also deliver nutrients needed as we age: calcium, vitamin D, omega-3 fats, fiber, and vitamin B12.

Speaking of vitamin B12, that is another nutrient of concern. Absorption of the natural or food-bound form of B12 is less efficient as we age, so the synthetic form is a better absorbed. (Here is one instance where “natural” is not as good as the man-made form.) You will find the synthetic form of B12 added to foods, such as fortified breakfast cereals.

Think about your drink. Many of us do not drink enough fluids to stay hydrated. As we age, our thirst sensation declines, and we may limit fluids to avoid frequent trips to the bathroom. Adults over the age of 60 drink about 2 fewer cups of water per day than younger adults. The solution? Drink more water and don’t overlook water the contained in foods: fresh or canned fruits and veggies, soup, coffee, and tea all contribute to hydration. Yes, alcohol is also a fluid, but limiting alcohol intake is wise at any age. The effects of alcohol can be felt more quickly in older adults, can interact with many prescription and over-the-counter medications, and increase risk of accidents and injuries.

I encourage you to explore this website to take a quiz on your eating habits, find tip sheets, videos, and infographics, and some tasty recipes to help you put it all together.

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian and a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. Her book, Food & Fitness After 50 helps us to eat well, move well, and be well. Visit her website to learn more healthy aging.

10 Proven Ways to Maintain a Positive Mindset

Guest post written by Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50

You’re trying to eat well and be active every day, but are you working on your mindset about aging?

How we think about aging has a powerful impact on our lives. Older adults with a positive attitude and mindset about aging live an average of 7.5 years longer than those who harbor negative perceptions about aging (click here for a link to the study.)  

We don’t need to look further than Hollywood legend, Clint Eastwood, who at age 90 is energetic and productive. When asked how he keeps going strong he said, “I get up every day and I don’t let the old man in.” (Country singer Toby Keith turned it into song.)

Developing our mindset about aging starts when we are young. We develop perceptions about aging that we carry with us throughout life. Once we reach whatever age we consider to be “old,” we accept those stereotypical mindsets without questioning their accuracy. It doesn’t help that media images of older adults…befuddled with technology, pictured as alone and lonely, and disconnected and dependent can reinforce our view of aging. A recent report from AARP confirms visual portrayals and stock photography used in media build and reinforce ageist stereotypes.

So how do we develop a positive mindset if all around us is telling us old is synonymous with memory loss, disability, and rocking chairs? Professor Catherine Sanderson of Amherst College, speaking at One Day University offers this advice:

  1. Work to change our stereotypes about what happens with age. If we think that becoming more forgetful is inevitable as we age, that self-fulfilling prophecy is likely to come true. How many times have you said you were having a “senior moment?” Ditch that language and recognize that everyone forgets something now and then.
  2. Move and all movement counts. Gardening, housework, and playing with your grandchildren can be just as valuable as a fitness class.
  3. Find time for a few minutes of mindful solitude. Use an app for a guided 10-minute meditation or sit sill and quiet for 5 minutes each day.
  4. Keep learning—both mental and physical—helps restore, maintain, and expand neural circuits in the brain and throughout the body. 
  5. Faith of any sort. The stronger the faith in a higher power, the more positive the impact on longevity.
  6. Spend time in nature.  Good things happen to physical and mental health when we spend time outside, even when we just sit and enjoy our surroundings. The Japanese call enjoying nature “forest bathing.”
  7. Get a pet. Having a pet prompts us to move more, having the responsibility to care for an animal’s welfare adds a purposeful dimension to life. (see our blog on the benefits of owning a pet by clicking here.)
  8. Maintain good relationships.  Healthy relationships with family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors, leads to happiness and happiness leads to longer, healthier lives.
  9. Manage stress.  Often easier said than done, but how we react to unexpected events is usually under our total control. An adverse response to stress has many negative physical and mental consequences.
  10. Embrace adversity.  We can’t avoid it, so we might as well welcome adversity to improve ourselves.

A positive mind-set might not mean everything when it comes to successful aging, but it surely means a lot.  And successful aging is not simply a matter of feeling invincible because that mind-set can lead some—young and old—to avoid a visit to the doctor when one is absolutely necessary.  Perhaps the best news in all of this is that a positive mind-set about aging costs us nothing more than changing whatever negative perceptions we might have been harboring.  When scientists, a movie star, and a country music singer all agree that it helps not to let the old man in, that advice seems good enough for all of us. To see Toby Keith’s video of Don’t Let the Old Man In, featuring none other than Clint Eastwood, click here.

Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, RDN, is a registered dietitian and co-author of Food & Fitness After 50. Follow this blog by clicking here.