When talking about food and fitness for those over 50, it is the best of times, and sometimes the worst of times. Everyone want to know the ”best” exercise or food to eat to prevent aging. A quick Google search will provide you with many answers, unfortunately most of them are less than science-based and are usually trying to separate you from your money. Let’s be clear: there is no one superfood or exercise that will prevent aging.
That is why, I am excited to launch Food & Fitness After 50, with co-author, exercise physiologist, Bob Murray. The book will be published later this year. While there might not be a “best” exercise or food, that doesn’t mean that food and fitness are unimportant as we age. You can be healthier at 65 than you were at 45 by eating well and starting (or increasing) your physical activity. This is important because so many of us are living longer. Baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, began turning 65 in 2011 and by 2029 when all boomers will be 65, more than 20% of the population will be over 65. Why is 65 an important number? Because people reaching age 65 have an average life expectancy of 19.3 years (20.5 years for women and 18 years for men). How do you want to spend those 20 years? Do you want to travel, enjoy your favorite physical activities, and be a vibrant person in the lives of your grandchildren and great grandchildren? I am sure that we all want that, so being active and eating healthfully are steps you can take right now to increase your odds of being healthy into your later years.
Just this week, The Journal of the American College of Cardiology published an article on nutrition controversies in preventing heart and blood vessel disease. The article can be found here http://www.onlinejacc.org/content/69/9/1172?_ga=1.183783078.1620905078.1488293025 and here is an easy to guide to see their recommendations.
While their article focused on heart disease, our book covers many healthful eating patterns to keep your heart, bones, joints, blood sugar, blood pressure, and brain healthy. Remember there isn’t one “best” eating plan. So, we feature four plans that we think most older adults will find fit their lifestyle and their enjoyment of foods:
- The DASH eating plan (DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)
- The Flexitarian plan
- The Mediterranean Diet
- The MIND diet (MIND stands for Mediterranean- ASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay)
We also dive into exercise for endurance, strength, agility, balance, and functional fitness. Keeping our heart and lungs strong, halting muscle loss, and keeping agile all contributes to functional fitness….the ability to do the things you did when you were younger without a second thought. I want to be able to lift my suitcase in the overhead bin when I travel and pick up a 50-pound bag of dog food, all examples of functional fitness. Age-related muscle loss usually starts at about age 40. We can lose 10-15% of muscle mass and muscle strength every decade if we don’t engage in progressive, resistance exercise.
We hope that our book can help those over 50 learn to separate usual aging from the disuse of a sedentary lifestyle and sort out the fact from fiction about foods. Please visit our webpage to learn more about the book and leave us a question that you might see featured in an upcoming blog post. Web page for Food & Fitness After 50
I recently attended a conference where both turkey (National Turkey Federation) and beans (Bush Brothers and Company) sponsored scientific sessions. I was not asked to write this post, do not serve as a consultant for either company, nor was I compensated for writing this article.
I am excited for the Atlanta Falcons playing in the big game on Sunday, and with the game comes parties and snacks, lots of snacks. According to some sources, 49 million cases of beer, 100 million chicken wings, and 139 million avocados (for guacamole, of course) will be purchased in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. But, this year, I’m taking two of my favorite foods in that quintessential football dish to a Super Bowl party…chili. Not just any chili, but one with ground turkey and black beans.
Ground turkey breast is a great canvas for chili as it takes on the flavors from the tomatoes and spices and contributes to texture, taste, and nutrition. Turkey is a great source of lean protein without the excess saturated fat of other popular chili meats. Beans are also a good source of protein with the added benefit of containing soluble fiber. Bean have super powers: as part of a healthful diet, beans can lower blood sugar, blood pressure, blood lipids, and increase satiety (that means you might not look longingly at the platter of wings because you are full and satisfied after eating a bowl of my chili!) Associate professor of nutritional sciences and researcher on the health benefits of beans and peas at the University of Toronto, Dr. John Sievenpiper, is also a staff physician. He sees patients with diabetes and heart disease and those at high risk for developing chronic diseases. He writes prescriptions for his patients to eat a healthful diet (the “portfolio diet”) including beans and peas for the protein and fiber. I wish more doctors would write prescriptions for healthy diets! (For more information on the Portfolio Diet see http://portfoliodietplan.com/ )
Enjoy the chili and the game, and, of course, we will be hoping the Falcons come home with a victory.
Turkey Black Bean Chili (I’m not sure of the origins of this dish, but I’ve been making it for many years)
16-ounces of ground turkey breast
1 medium onion, chopped
2 Tablespoons of chili powder
Dash or red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon salt
2 cans diced tomatoes (I like the diced tomatoes for chili)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen or canned (drained) whole kernel corn
14-ounces unsalted chicken stock
Brown turkey over medium heat and separate into crumbles; cook and stir for about 7 minutes or until turkey is browned. Stir in onion and spices and continuing cooking for a few minutes. Add tomatoes, beans, corn, and stock and bring to a low boil. Transfer to chili to a crock pot and cook on low for several hours or until ready to serve at the Super Bowl party. Top with grated cheddar or jalapeno jack cheese, plain Greek yogurt, and a dash of hot sauce for those who like chili extra spicy.
Makes 6-8 servings
Some of the information in this post was obtained from a conference partially sponsored by DSM and a session they presented, featuring Dr. David Katz from the U.S. and Dr. Hilary Jones from the U.K. I was not asked to include this information on my blog, I am not a consultant for DSM, nor am I being compensated to write this post.
My OMG moment was really an ΩMG moment; Ω (the Greek symbol for omega) standing for my blood levels of omega-3 fats (called the Omega 3 Index). I recently used a home test kit to uncover my blood level of these important fats. I have my cholesterol and triglycerides checked every year, but never thought about checking omega-3 levels. I pricked my finger, collected a drop of blood, and send it off in the mail; the results came back and they weren’t good (For more information on the test, see http://www.omegaquant.com).
As a dietitian, I know I should eat more omega-3-rich fatty fish, as the American Heart Association recommends. But, I grew up eating fish sticks, not salmon. I don’t like salmon, mackerel, trout, or herring…fish with high levels of omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats are the highly unsaturated fats that are tied to many healthy body functions, including:
· Heart and blood vessel health
· Brain health (our brains are 60% fat)
· Eye health (especially dry eye syndrome)
Omega-3 fats come with some long chemical names, so I’ll skip the biochemistry, and shorten them to the two most important omega 3s: EPA and DHA. There is another omega 3, ALA, found in flax and flaxseed oil, walnuts, and canola oil. While these are healthy fats, the conversion of ALA to DHA and EPA is rather small, so we can’t rely on ALA to provide us with EPA and DHA.
Back to my blood test; my Omega 3 Index was in the low-to moderate range. The Omega 3 Index was named by American and German scientists in early 2000s. Research showed that increasing the index from 3.5 to 6.8% was correlated with a 90% reduction in sudden death. Correlation doesn’t mean causation, but the strength of the association is impressive and makes it worth using the test as a marker to increase awareness of omega-3s. My plan is to increase my intake of omega-3 rich foods and take dietary supplements of fish oil and then repeat the test in the spring to see if I increased my Omega 3 Index.
I’ve already mentioned some fish high in omega-3s, but since I don’t like them, I will eat more crab, shrimp, and scallops. They have lower levels of omega-3s than fatty fish, but can contribute to total intake. Eating fortified foods is also a way to boost intake; eggs, some milk, orange juice, energy bars, and even some peanut butter have added omega-3s. These foods indicate that they have added DHA and EPA on the package, but check the label to find out how much is in each food. Lastly, I started on supplements. I should stay started again…. I used to take fish oil supplements, but stopped a few years ago.
When taking supplements, consider using fish oil or krill oil, and look for supplements that disclose the total amount of DHA and EPA, not just total amount of fish oil. For example, a supplement might say 1200 milligrams of fish oil but not reveal how much of that is EPA and DHA. The supplement I take has 360 milligrams of EPA and 240 milligrams of DHA in 2 pills (serving size is also an important thing to consider.) I don’t have a problem swallowing pills, but for those who do, krill oil might be a better choice because the pills are usually smaller. But, I do take a supplement that is labelled “burpless,” to reduce the fishy after taste of some supplements. Stay tuned; I’ll check in after I retest!
Here are some good resources for more information, including the American Heart Association recommendations on eating fish:
All of my friends have grandchildren; many grandchildren. They love having their grandkids visit and spend time on the lake, but they all have one complaint. The kids have a hard time putting down their tablets or phones when it is time to eat. Many of my friends don’t want to set strict rules around mealtimes; after all, they aren’t the kid’s parents and they want them to have fun and enjoy their visit.
I’m going to argue that grandparents should apply some rules because mealtime is important enough to: (1) sit and together as a family, (2) have a no phone/tablet rule at the table, and (3) involve the kids in all aspects of getting the meal to the table.
September is National Family Meals Month™ (for more information and great resources see this website (http://www.fmi.org/family-meals-month/about) and eating family meals leads to life-long benefits for kids: better grades in school, improved self-esteem, and enhanced social behaviors. When I was a kid we ate dinner as a family every night at 5 PM (that seems so early now!) But, today, only 30% of American families eat dinner together every night. One of the goals of the national family meals movement is get to families to eat just one more meal together each week…not such a hard goal. Grandparents can support that goal by setting a family meal standard as part of the normal operating procedure when grandkids visit.
Sitting together…without distractions (that means turning off the television, too) can help kids be more social and engaged. One good strategy is to ask specific questions to engage everyone around the table. This summer when we had a lot of family visiting we developed some questions, such as:
- Who is your favorite current singer or group?
- What sport are you most looking forward to watching in the Olympics?
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Who knew that trampoline is an Olympic sport and that one adult loves Justin Bieber? You can learn a lot about family members around the table!
I’ve also learned that kids like to be involved in helping with the meal; sure, they may resist at first, but when given a specific task they respond. Whether setting the table, making the salad, or clearing dishes, small jobs can make a child an integral part of the meal. If you have the time and the interest, check Pinterest for fun food displays that kids may enjoy making. They can be easy (as seen here with my great niece, Ailey) or quite elaborate (check out the watermelon shark if you’ve not seen it on Pinterest!) And, I’ve found that kids are much more likely to eat what they have a hand in preparing…even healthy veggies!
So, a call to grandparents to enjoy family meals this month, and every month!#FamilyMealsMonth
Everyone loves to fire up the grill for a July 4th cookout. How you grill and what you cook on the grill can be tasty, healthy and can even reduce your risk of developing some cancers. You may have heard that certain foods cooked on the grill at high temperatures aren’t good for you but you may ignore the risk because you love to grill. Well, no need to stop grilling, “just make some smart grill moves in what you cook and how you cook,” says Alice Bender, a registered dietitian and head of nutrition programs at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).
First, let’s look at what is at the root of the health concern. The culprits include two chemicals produced when grilling meat. The first are chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that are formed when meat is cooked at very high temperatures causing some the building blocks of protein (amino acids) to break down into HCAs. The other dangerous compound produced during grilling occurs when the fat from the meat hits the hot coals or gas grill lava rocks and causes flare-ups and smoke. The smoke contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Both of these compounds have the potential to alter DNA leading to increase cancer risk. The studies showing the changes are done in animals, and while the human research is only an association, not a cause, but why not make smart moves with grilling to reduce your risk?
What should you grill? The biggest culprit in forming HCAs comes from muscle meat, especially fatty cuts: steaks, burgers, chicken pieces with the skin, and ribs. So, consider leaner cuts of meat (flank steak, skinless chicken or turkey filets, and pork tenderloin) and try some new alternatives, like organic chicken sausages instead of the fatty brats. Other healthy grilling choices include fish, burgers made from soy or ground turkey or chicken breast, and kebabs made with smaller pieces of meat and plenty of vegetables.
The next strategy to reduce your risk is to change your grilling techniques. All of the following will reduce the formation of HCAs and PAHs to reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals.
- Pre-cook meat in the oven and finish it on the grill; that translates to less grilling time but still gives the meat the grilled flavor
- Don’t eat the charred or blackened parts of grilled meat; cut those off and toss
- Marinate meat before grilling; marinades seem to provide a barrier between the flames and the meat
- Use lean cuts of meat and trim all fat
- Keep the drips to a minimum by using tongs instead of a fork that pierces the meat and leads to more grill flare ups
- Flip foods more often
- Grill at lower heat to avoid flare-ups which lead to charring and smoke formation
Now for some good news; grilling vegetables doesn’t increase your risk of cancer; vegetables don’t contain a lot of protein and it is the protein in meat that interacts with the high heat and smoke to produce HCAs and PAHs. So, lighten up on the meat and load up the grill with veggies. Thick slices of veggies work well on the grill or toss smaller cuts of veggies in a grill basket and lightly baste with olive oil and fresh or dried herbs. Try this Summer Grilled Balsamic Veggie recipe from AICR (and check out all of their healthy recipes) at http://www.aicr.org/health-e-recipes/2016/summer-grilled-balsamic-veggies.html
And, don’t forget that grilled fruit makes for a sweet ending to a meal. Grill slices of apple, pineapple, pears, or peaches and top with vanilla Greek yogurt and sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg.
For more information, take the AICR quiz on grilling and cancer risk.
Dietitians are quick to tell you that you can get all of the nutrients you need from your diet. True enough, but just how many of us eat healthfully every day? A multi-vitamin mineral supplement “when taken regularly can be an effective way to increase nutrient intakes to meet recommended levels of nutrients,” according to the position stand of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Who can benefit from taking a supplement? Look at this list:
- Calorie restrictors
- Food group eliminators
- Older adults
- Pregnant women
- Strict vegetarians or vegans
- Those with chronic health issues
I fall into a couple of those categories. Research from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) shows that a large percentage of older adults fall short in getting adequate amounts of vitamins A, C, D, E, and the minerals calcium and magnesium. As we age we are a greater risk for bone loss and vitamin D, calcium and magnesium are all important for healthy bones.
For me, I take the supplement to add to my diet, not as a substitute. I still eat well but a multi helps ensure that I get needed nutrients every day. I don’t take a handful of pills of individual nutrients, but just a well-formulated multi for women 50+. An older woman recently wrote to me and asked if she should take a prenatal vitamin; the answer was a resounding “no.” Why? Well, for starters she wasn’t pregnant, but she was post-menopausal so she needs less iron, not more, after menopause. My multi has no iron; prenatal vitamins have 28 milligrams or 150% of the recommended amount.
Another reason I like a formulation designed for older women is that it contains more vitamin D than most multi-vitamin supplements. Aging skin makes less vitamin D and we are less efficient at converting vitamin D from sunlight in the liver and kidneys as we age. There are not many food sources with naturally occurring vitamin D, so I am sure to get an adequate intake from my daily pill. And, while we always think natural is better, a synthetic form of vitamin B-12 is easier to digest and absorb as we age.
A recent survey from the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), a trade group representing the supplement industry and ingredient suppliers, found that those of us over the age of 63 use the following supplements:
- 69% take a multivitamin
- 48% take vitamin D
- 40% take calcium
- 30% take vitamin C
- 27% take omega-3-fatty acids (“fish oil”)
When asked why they take supplements, the majority say for overall health and wellness. While a multi is not a substitute for good health, it may be a surrogate for a healthy lifestyle. Supplement users tend to eat well, exercise, and not smoke.
When choosing a vitamin-mineral supplement, look for a reputable company. You get what you pay for with supplements. I also suggest looking for verification that the supplement contains what is says it contains and doesn’t contain any tainted substances. I look for the USP-verified symbol to make sure I am getting a quality supplement.
Lastly, remember that supplementing a bad diet still results in a bad diet. And, more isn’t better when it comes to supplements. Always follow the dosing instructions.
For more information on CRN survey and information on supplements in general, visit http://www.crnusa.org/
You can also find information on supplements and healthy aging at Nutrition 411 at http://www.nutrition411.com/home
Disclosures: I am on the editorial board for Nutrition 411 as an unpaid editorial board member to provide peer-review of content. I am not a consultant to any supplement group and have no ties to the industry.
A friend asked me what I thought about water labelled as “non-GMO and gluten-free.” Since water is not genetically modified and never contained gluten (a protein found in some grains), it is a great marketing ploy to separate her from her money.
Shortly after that conversation, another friend said she was looking for non-GMO pizza crust. Again, a head scratching moment because wheat is not genetically modified. Pizza dough is made from wheat flour so how could a wheat pizza crust be non-GMO? It reminded of the time when everyone was worried about cholesterol and marketers and food companies took advantage of our fear. Suddenly, foods like peanut butter and potato chips were carrying cholesterol-free stickers…two foods that never, ever contained cholesterol.
What does genetically-modified (GM) or GMO mean and should you be buying non-GMO foods?
A little biology review. This chart from the non-profit International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Application (http://www.isaaa.org/) shows the ways our food can be modified.
“Genetic modification is the fasted adopted crop technology in history,” says Jennifer Armen of Okanagen Specialty Fruits. Most of us are familiar with breeding, but the other three technologies might be new to you and they sound scary. But, as Jack Bobo, Senior Vice-President and Chief Communications Officer for Intrexon and former Senior Advisor for Food Policy for the U.S. State Department, says there is a difference between “a health scare versus something that is scary but healthy.” Why would we adopt something that sounds scary? To be sure, there is profit for the companies that develop and sell new biotechnology to farmers but that doesn’t make it bad. Drug companies make plenty of money on our prescription drugs, but that doesn’t make them bad for creating a product that lowers our blood pressure or cholesterol. Others who benefit from biotechnology is the farmer.
According to one farmer, who grows GM corn, it allows her to use less pesticides, protects against soil erosion, and plant drought-tolerant seeds that help produce a better crop. She adds that we embrace technology in all aspects of our lives except when it comes to growing food. (You can read her story on the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance website at http://www.fooddialogues.com/headlines/gmo/why-we-grow-gmo-corn-on-our-farm).
The benefits of GM food crops haven’t really made it to consumers, but that is about to change. I think that once consumers see tangible benefits, they may not be so scared of GM foods. Later this year, the Arctic Apple (Okanagen Specialty Fruits http://www.arcticapples.com/) will appear in some test markets and should be widely available in 2017. What makes this apple special? It won’t brown when cut or sliced. No need to add an antioxidant, that often alters the taste, to prevent yucky brown apples. That sounds appealing to me, but everyone wants to know if it is safe to eat. Okanagen Specialty Fruits started field trials in 2002 and collected over 10 years of data to evaluate the fruit or any effect it would have on the environment. It took 5 years of petitions and reviews by 4 agencies (2 in the U.S. and 2 in Canada) to determine it was safe and get approval to plant the apple trees in Washington State. So, the USDA says it is safe to grown and the FDA says it is safe to eat. The nutritional profile is the same as a conventional apple. How did they do it? Looking back at the chart on how crops are genetically modified, the 3rd panel show the technology used. They took the DNA from the apple itself to silence or “turn off” the gene that causes browning.
Currently, only 8 GM crops are available and these are corn, cotton soybeans, canola, alfalfa, papaya, squash and sugar beets. Arctic Apples have been approved for consumption, but consumers won’t see them until later this year in test markets.
Greg Jaffe, Director of the Project on Biotechnology for the non-profit consumer organization, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says that there is no evidence that the current GM foods or ingredients from the foods is harmful to humans. This is based on the conclusions of multiple agencies including the USDA, the National Academy of Sciences and European Food Safety Authority (for detailed information on CSPI’s Biotechnology Project see http://www.cspinet.org/biotech/). Jaffe believes a “case by case” approach is best in evaluating new GM crops as they enter the marketplace, with stronger input from the FDA. “Biotechnology is not a silver bullet to solve world hunger and not the solution to all agricultural issues faced by farmers around the world, but it can be used as a tool to benefit farmers, the environment, and the consumers,” says Jaffe.
In the end it comes down to consumer choice. If after you learn more about GM foods and decide you want non-GMO you can buy organic foods or look for the non-GMO verified seal. One word of caution, a junk food is a junk food, so if you buy non-GMO snack foods, cookies, and frozen pizza you aren’t doing your health any favors in the long run!
I used the graphics from isaaa.org for educational purposes. Information on Arctic Apples came from a webinar sponsored by the Produce for Better Health Foundation and other information came from a conference that included speakers Jack Bobo, Greg Jaffe and USFRA farmers and ranchers. I have no consulting or financial interest in any of the companies mentioned in the post and I was not paid to write this article.
It is hard for most of us to believe that we are getting older. But, when my Medicare card arrived in the mail last week, it hit me that I’ve reached a milestone age. While I know that strength training (which I have been doing for years, but maybe not as routinely and rigorously as I should) is a cornerstone of preventing muscle mass loss with aging (called sarcopenia), protein intake is equally important.
At a recent conference, protein researcher guru, Dr. Stu Phillips of McMaster University in Canada, laid out a convincing trail of research to show that the protein needs for aging muscle is greater than for younger adults. We need more protein and we need to spread our intake of protein throughout the day. Most adults eat less than 15 grams of protein at breakfast and get greater than 60% of their protein at dinner. Sound familiar? It does to me!
A few facts about protein:
- High quality protein contains all of the building blocks, called essential amino acids (EAAs) and includes:
- Protein from animal sources (beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt)
- Protein from soy (tofu, edamame, soy burgers, patties, crumbles, soy milk, cheese, yogurt)
- The following foods do not contain all of the EAAs, but they contribute to total protein intake:
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, etc), almond butter, seeds (sunflower, chia, flax), legumes (peanuts, pinto, navy black beans, etc, split peas, black-eyed peas), peanut butter, quinoa, rice, whole grain bread
Try these 2 things to build and maintain your muscles:
- Eat more total protein (you need ~0.6 grams of protein per pound of body weight)
- Spread the protein out in 3-4 evenly spaced meals
Here are some sample meal and snack ideas to increase protein and distribute it throughout the day. I gave this information to my exercise class partners and one person was surprised that I didn’t include almond milk in any of the suggestions. The reason? Almond milk is a poor protein source (and a poor source of almonds according to recent reports that say almond milk has only 2-3% almonds!) A glass of almond milk has 1-2 grams of protein. Compare that to a glass of dairy milk with 8 grams or soy milk with 7 grams.
Sample meals and snacks with about 30 grams of protein:
6 oz Greek yogurt (18)*
1 oz granola (4)
Small banana (1)
Skim milk latte (6)
2 scrambled eggs with 1 oz cheese and spinach (21)
8 oz soy milk (7)
½ slice whole grain toast (2)
Smoothie made with 1 ounce whey protein powder (20)**
6 oz Greek vanilla yogurt (18)
½ cup frozen berries (1)
Large green salad with veggies (2)
4 oz grilled chicken or salmon (28)
1 Tablespoon sunflower seeds (1)
1 Tablespoon chopped nuts (1)
3 oz tuna mixed with mayo (21)
2 slices of whole grain bread (7)
Lettuce, tomato, banana peppers or other veggies (2)
1 cup pasta (6)
3 oz turkey or beef meatballs (21)
Green salad with balsamic vinegar dressing (1)
1 cup cottage cheese (28)
1 Tablespoon chopped nuts (1)
3 slices fresh or canned peaches (1)
Stir fry with ½ cup tofu (10)
Carrots, broccoli, edamame (16)
1 cup brown rice (5)
3 oz cheddar cheese (21)
6 whole grain crackers (2)
8 ounces skim milk (8)
*grams protein in parentheses
**most protein powders have ~20 grams protein per serving, but check labels
I recently attended a nutrition conference in London and some of the information for this article was obtained at a by Dr. Stu Phillips and sponsored by Daisy Brand Cottage Cheese. My travel and accommodations were partially provided by the event’s many sponsors. I was not asked to write this article and was not paid for my time. I have no consulting or financial interest in Daisy Brand Cottage Cheese.
Taste is the number 1 reason why we choose the foods we love to eat. Sure, good health and nutrients are important to a dietitian, but taste rules. This dietitian savors the flavors of food by enhancing the taste of foods with umami (oo-mom-ee). Most of you know about the basic tastes of sweet, sour, salty and bitter, but umami is the 5th taste, with specific receptors on our tongue for this flavor enhancer. Glutamate, an amino acid, is the trigger for umami taste receptors. When we eat foods with high levels of free glutamate, we stimulate the receptors for a real taste treat. OK, enough chemistry, what can you do in the kitchen or when dining out to get umami?
What I do, and what you might do without knowing the reason, is use ingredients that pack a glutamate punch. Parmesan cheese is an “umami bomb,” says Chef Chris Koetke, Vice President of Culinary Arts at Kendall College is Chicago. So, when the wait staff asks if you want Parmesan cheese shredded or grated on your Caesar Salad or pasta, Chef Koetke suggests you say, “yes, please!” Foods that are aged or ripened are also great sources of umami, think of aged cheddar cheese or a vine-ripened tomato. Mushrooms are also umami-rich; I make a meat blend of 2/3 ground beef or turkey with 1/3 chopped mushrooms for a delicious burger or meat mixture for tacos, chili or pasta sauce. Not only does the umami-rich mushrooms bump up the taste, they also cut the fat, calories and sodium of the dish while adding a serving of veggies. (Some restaurants serve “Umami Burgers” that are made with a meat-mushroom blend). Many Asian cuisine use fermented ingredients, like fish or soy sauce, to add umami. Another trick is to use monosodium glutamate (MSG) at home to enhance flavor and reduce sodium intake. MSG is a simply a sodium salt of glutamate. “Using 2/3 salt and 1/3 MSG means a 25% reduction in sodium,” says Chef Koetke. While MSG has gotten a bad rap, Katherine Zeratsky, RDN, LD, Mayo Clinic, says MSG has been used as a food additive for decades. “Over the years, the FDA has received many anecdotal reports of adverse reactions to foods containing MSG, however researchers have found no definitive evidence of a link between MSG and these symptoms.” For those who choose not to use MSG, labels clearly identify it.” For more on MSG, see Katherine’s article at http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/monosodium-glutamate/faq-20058196
So this month and every month, savor the flavor with umami.
I recently attended a nutrition conference in London and some of the information for this article was obtained at a session sponsored by Ajinomoto North America, Inc. My travel and accommodations were partially provided by the event’s many sponsors. I was not asked to write this article and was not paid for my time. I have no consulting or financial interest in Ajinomoto North America, Inc.