Fit to Eat

“Fit to Eat,” focuses on nutrition concerns of active people and showcases inspiring stories from adults who eat well, move well, and be well. Whether you are in your 50s, 60, 70s, or beyond you will find information to keep you healthy and active.

Food & Fitness After 50: Writing Your Own Story to Aging Well


Susan at Peachtree
Susan and husband, Ralph, at 2018 Peachtree Road Race

I admired Susan long before I met her. As food editor for the Atlanta Journal Constitution for almost 19 years, she was at the helm of the award-winning food section. I devoured that section every Thursday! Then one day, she had an idea for a new column, Fit to Eat, and she asked me to write it. I was thrilled to be on her team.  I was excited but also anxious: I was a college professor who wrote for professional journals, not for newspapers! I relied on her guidance to help me to find a voice that would resonate with consumers.  For 5 years she edited my weekly column and we’ve been friends ever since.

Storytelling through Food

Today, Susan is still passionate about food. She has authored many cookbooks that preserve the history of a regional or ethnic cuisine with interesting stories behind the food. She works with chefs to translate their stories into best-selling cookbooks. Her latest, Turnip Greens and Tortillas: A Mexican Chef Spices up the Southern Kitchen, features chef Eddie Hernandez and translates his delicious restaurant foods into meals that anyone can make at home. (A recipe from Turnip Greens and Tortillas is included at the end of this post.) Before Turnip Greens and Tortillas, she authored Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler’s Journey through the Soul of the South .When I pick up her books, I come for the food, but stay for the stories.

Susan grew up in Mississippi and was a rookie reporter writing general features for her hometown newspaper. But, she was drawn to writing about old foodways and her stories resonated with her readers and her editor. Eventually the stories were compiled into her first book, A Cook’s Tour of Mississippi. Having grown up a self-professed “picky eater,” her repertoire of vegetables consisted of “iceberg lettuce, carrot sticks, and overcooked broccoli.” But, one day she was served “perfectly cooked broccoli that was bright and crunchy,” and a lightbulb moment took hold. She hungered to learn more, so she took what was the first of many nutrition classes to complement in her interest in food. A second bachelor’s degree at Iowa State led to her second book, A Cook’s Tour of Iowa.  Her path of her marrying journalism background with post-graduate studies in nutrition led her to Atlanta and editing the AJC food section.

Transferring love of food into a personal journey

While she was writing about food and learning about nutrition, she had another “aha” moment. She thought, “I need to apply this to my life to get healthier.” She took up running and “one thing led to another.” She found herself surrounded by other runners and being around healthier people helped her improve her health.

Now, in her early 60s, Susan and her husband participate in the 10-K Peachtree Road Race every July 4th, with more walking than running these days, “but walking is not only fine, it’s good!” She stays active with reminders from her Fit Bit. “I just love the accountability and the awareness that the fitness tracker gives me.” While most of us aim for 10,000 steps a day (equal to about 5 miles of walking), she aims for 20,000 steps at least one day a week to bump up her activity. She also likes yoga for flexibility and to decrease the stiffness that often accompanies aging.

Aging Well

Susan’s tips for aging well reflect the themes highlighted in Food & Fitness After 50; eating well, moving well, and being well. The one word that best describes Susan’s journey for aging well is balance. “We need balance in all aspects of our life. That includes physical activity and food choices, but in our social life, too. My husband and I seek balance in our friendships and have many friends of all ages. We found that when we just socialize with our older friends, the talk quickly turns to ailments! It’s fine to talk about health, but when the entire conversation is about deteriorating health, it makes you feel old!”

As you can image in her work she eats everything and eats out a lot. “I tune into my body and have never fallen for popular or fad diets, but I am conscious of what I eat.” In this age of craft cocktails, she also is conscious of alcohol intake. “I pay attention to the amount of alcohol I drink as it is easy to overdo it, especially when eating out. I enjoy a cocktail, but I’m really enjoying the clever mocktails that bartenders are developing. I’ve also gotten into Kombucha. It tastes like sour beer, and I like sour beer!”

She suggests we surround ourselves with friends who have a positive outlook as positivity is contagious. Like many of the people featured in this blog, she says “don’t let yourself be sedentary!” Get up and out and do something because physical activity is good for your body, but also good for your mood and mental health!”

Learn more about what Susan is doing by checking out her website and blog.

Sloppy Jose Tacos1
Photo credit, Angie Mosier (c) 2018

SLOPPY JOSE TACOS Excerpted from TURNIP GREENS & TORTILLAS, (c) 2018 by Eddie Hernandez & Susan Puckett. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Rux Martin Books. All rights reserved.

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 1/2 pounds ground chuck
1/4 cup paprika
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 Tablespoon granulated onion
1 Tablespoon granulated garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground chile de arbol or cayenne pepper
1 cup tomato paste
1 cup water
1 cup roasted, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped green New Mexican chilies (or roasted mild canned green chilies)
24 (6-inch) flour tortillas
Garnished: Crushed Fritos, grated sharp cheddar cheese, and sliced fresh jalapenos
Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until soft and translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the beef and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned and cooked through. Stir in the paprika, sugar, granulated onion, granulated garlic, black pepper, salt, and chile de arbol. Add the tomato paste, water, and roasted chilies and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water if the mixture gets too thick. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.  Set a dry skillet over medium-high heat. Add a tortilla and heat on both sides for a minute or two, until a few dark spots appear. Remove to a plate and place 3 to 4 tablespoons of beef mixture in the center of the tortilla; garnish with Fritos, cheese, and jalapenos; fold. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.
(Note from a dietitian: I used ground sirloin to reduce the saturated fat from ground chuck.)

To learn more about writing your own story to good health, check out Food & Fitness After 50.



Food & Fitness After 50: Foods for a Healthy Gut: Part 2

onion_home_graphicLast week in our interview with Jo Ann Hattner, gut health expert and author of Gut Insight: Probiotics and Prebiotics for Digestive Health and Well-Being, we covered basics about the gut microbiome. This week we get down to the application: prebiotics, probiotics, and fermented foods. And, we’ll dispel some myths about pre-and probiotic foods.

Can you describe the difference between a probiotic and a prebiotic?

A formal definition of probiotics is “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.” What that means for us is that when we take in foods with probiotics, either in foods or drinks or supplements, they should have a health benefit for us.

What does confer a health benefit mean?

It means that a particular strain of live bacteria has been studied and demonstrated to have a positive health outcome. “Demonstrated” is an important word because research is required to show it has a health benefit before it can be considered a probiotic.  For example, stains of bacteria called Bifidobacteria (pronounced biff-ah-doe bacteria),a group of lactic acid bacteria that live in your gut, confer a health benefit by alleviating constipation and reducing the symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome, to name a couple of demonstrated benefits.

One other benefit is worth mentioning. Probiotic has an opposite…antibiotic. When we take an antibiotic for an infection, it can have a side effect of disturbing our healthy gut bacteria. Ingesting probiotic foods or supplements when we take antibiotics can help push out the bad bacteria. Bad bacteria don’t like to live in the same space as healthy bacteria.

yogurt bowlPrebiotics and probiotics are easily confused. They both contribute to the population of good bacteria in our gut. Think of prebiotics as foods that feed the good bacteria. In other words, once you have a good population of bacteria, it needs to eat! And, it’s nourishment comes from prebiotics. Another term you might hear is synbiotic. That is a food or combination of foods that contain both pre and probiotics. For example, when you eat yogurt (a probiotic) with fruit (a prebiotic) you are doing something good for your gut bacteria. A recent study demonstrated consuming yogurt and fruit is a good combination for a healthy gut.

How do fermented foods affect the gut microbiome?

Fermented foods were traditionally made by taking a food, for example cabbage, and allowing the naturally occurring microbes on the food to grow. This changes cabbage to sauerkraut, and it was originally done for food preservation. Fermented foods can naturally ferment or be aided by adding probiotics. The big question is how many of these new, trendy fermented foods actually contain probiotics that help your gut microbiome? For a probiotic to survive, it can’t be heat treated or pasteurized and it is hard to tell by looking at a food label if it contains live probiotics. Sauerkraut in a glass jar or pouch found in the refrigerated case is more likely to contain probiotics, than canned sauerkraut which is heat treated when it is canned.

One of my favorite fermented foods, and a good source of live active cultures, some of which are probiotics, is kefir, or fermented cow’s milk. It comes in lots of flavors, but you can try the plain kefir and flavor it with fruit or honey until you get used to the sour taste.

Kombucha, a fermented sweetened tea, is made with bacteria and yeast. It is sour-tasting (some people love it, and some describe it as vinegary-tasting dish water). And while it is popular and seemingly sold everywhere, documentation that is an effective probiotic is lacking.

What are some common pre-and probiotic foods that you recommend?

1008p40-live-active-seal-mYogurt is probably the most commonly consumed probiotic food. With so many choices on the market, look for a yogurt that contains the seal “live and active cultures” to make sure you are getting the right strains of bacteria. I prefer yogurt that doesn’t have a lot of added sugar; I would rather eat plain yogurt or Greek yogurt and add my own fruit or toppings, like granola.

Walnuts-in-Dish_Marble-Surface_hi-resMany fruits and vegetables contain fibers that are prebiotics.  Inulin is a prebiotic fiber found in banana and is one of the first foods we feed infants. Inulin can also be extracted from chicory root fiber and is well documented to be an effective prebiotic. Many foods, including yogurts and energy bars are adding inulin for its prebiotic fiber. Fiber-rich foods, like whole grains, contain prebiotics, as do some nuts, like walnuts.

The most important thing to remember is to include probiotic foods every few days (every day is ideal) to replenish your healthy gut bacteria. Include prebiotics at every meal; fresh fruit smoothies, veggies and salads, and whole grains all contain fibers which are good for your gut.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about the gut microbiome?

The biggest misconception is that we have a profile of what the gut microbiome should be; we know there are healthy bacteria, but how many bacteria and how much diversity do we need?  As we get older the number of good bacteria decrease. Without good bacteria, we are more susceptible to illness.

We are still in the infancy of understanding the gut microbiome and the relationship to human health, but by eating pre- and probiotic foods every day, we can get on the right path to a healthy gut.

Where can people find more information on prebiotics, probiotics, and fermented foods?

There is helpful information on the International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) website.

On my website, Gut Insight, there are resources such as frequently asked questions and a shopping list of probiotic and prebiotic foods.

For those looking for a cookbook, check out The Well-Fed Microbiome Cookbook.

Learn more on a healthy gut, eating well, moving well, and being well, Food & Fitness After 50.


Food & Fitness After 50: Foods for a Healthy Gut: Part 1

onion_home_graphicWe hear a lot about gut health, probiotics, prebiotics and foods that contain them, but it seems like there are more questions than answers on what it means to have a healthy gut. When I talk to older adults, gut health is bound to come up. I sat down with a gut health expert, Jo Ann Hattner, to ask some questions and seek clarity. Jo Ann has over thirty years of experience as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist in clinical academic settings primarily at Stanford University Medical Center where she focused on gastroenterology and nutrition. Currently, she is the owner of Hattner Nutrition in San Francisco, CA. She is author of the book Gut Insight: Probiotics and Prebiotics for Digestive Health and Well-Being.

We covered so much content in our interview, that this will be a two-part post so that you have time to “digest” all the material! The first post will discuss gut health and the gut microbiome,  and stay tuned next week for information about pre-and probiotic foods, and fermented foods, and dispel some myths about pre-and probiotics.

We hear a lot about a “healthy gut.” What makes a gut healthy?

Let’s start with the function of the gut. Basically, the gut is responsible for three big things: digestion, absorption, and elimination. So, your gut takes the foods and fluids you eat or drink and breaks them down into smaller pieces (digestion) so that we can transfer those smaller units into the blood stream (absorption) where they can travel to various parts of the body that need them. Then, the leftover parts that don’t get digested and absorbed get passed through the large intestine, the colon, where the fibers are fermented and the waste products are excreted (elimination.) A healthy gut tolerates a wide of foods and eliminates waste with ease. And, a healthy gut makes a healthy body. So, our gut nurtures our body, and to nurture our gut we need to eat foods that are rich in prebiotics and probiotics.

We also hear a lot about the human microbiome? What is the human microbiome and is it the same thing as the gut microbiome?

When you hear the words “human microbiome” it refers to all the microbial communities that live in and on our bodies. Scientists study the role they play in human health and disease. The gut microbiome or gut microbiota is the microbial communities that live in the gastrointestinal tract or the gut.

Many researchers and scientists consider the gut microbiome as the regulator or the control center of our biology. The gut microbiome has been shown to have an effect on immunity, obesity, inflammatory bowel diseases, and even central nervous system function. Emerging research tells us that our gut microbiome communicates with our brain (called the “gut-brain connection”). So, the phrase “gut instinct” may describe how our gut talks to our brain!

Can we change our gut microbiome by the foods we eat?

The basic pattern of our gut microbiome is established at birth and in early life. Babies delivered by C-section are exposed to different microflora than those delivered through the birth canal. And, breast milk contains important pre- and probiotics that help establish an infant’s gut microbiome. Even a parent’s caress and kiss transmit bacteria to the baby, as well as touches from friends and the family pet. Researchers believe that not only is the number of bacteria in our gut important, but also the diversity or having many different strains of bacteria, are best for good health. Currently, scientists don’t know if we can permanently change our gut microbiome or if the changes seen with eating probiotic foods just create a temporary change.

Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of this post, when we answer questions about specific foods that are rich in pre-and probiotics, fermented foods, and dispel some myths.

Jo Ann Hattner is one of the experts we interviewed for Food & Fitness After 50, available at Amazon.

Food & Fitness After 50: Attention Grandparents! Permission to Meddle in your Newborn Grandchild’s Feeding!

Now that I’ve got your attention, let me clarify. The permission to meddle is really a call to inform and educate your grandbaby’s mom or dad (i.e., your son, daughter, or daughter-in-law) about the early introduction of peanuts to reduce the incidence of peanut allergy.

A Real-World Detective Story

The history of introducing peanut foods in infants 4 to 6 months of age is as good as any osem-bamba-peanut-snack-e1364930961220detective story. Pediatricians in the U.K. noticed that peanut allergy was on the rise in Western countries. The prevalence of peanut allergy in children had doubled in the past ten years. It develops early in life and is rarely outgrown. And, as you probably know, it can be life-threatening. Here’s where the sleuthing comes in; the doctors noted that the risk of developing peanut allergy was ten times as high in Jewish children in the U.K. as it was in Jewish children in Israel. Israeli kids are given peanut-based foods early in life (like the peanut snack food, Bamba), whereas infants in the U.K. (and the U.S.) are not exposed to peanut foods until much later. What if early introduction to peanuts protected kids from developing an allergy?

Taking the LEAP

Thus, was born the Learning Early About Peanut Allergy Trial or LEAP. (The link takes you to the original study published in the New England Journal of Medicine; within this link is a short video that explains the study, so if you are interested, it is worth a click). The researchers studied two groups of infants; one group was at low risk of developing a peanut allergy, based on skin prick testing. In this group, almost 14% of infants who were not given peanuts developed an allergy, compared to less than 2% in the group that got peanuts. Another group of infants, determined to be a higher risk of developing allergies based on testing, had similar results. Thirty-five percent of the high-risk infants who did not get peanuts developed peanut allergy, compared to 10% in the group that got peanuts.

The American Academy of Pediatrics supports early introduction of peanuts

Currently, over a dozen international and national health organizations have developed consensus statements about preventing peanut allergy with early introduction. This includes the American Academy of Pediatrics and for more information, check out their Healthy Children website.

Tips to get started

protein powderSo, how do peanuts get introduced to infants? First, most babies fall into a low risk category, but if the infant has an egg allergy or severe eczema, talk to your pediatrician about the best way to introduce peanuts. For all others, which includes most babies, introduce peanut foods around 6 months of age, after they begin eating solid foods. Here are some tips to introduce peanut foods to the little peanuts!

  • Thin 2 teaspoons of peanut butter with a few teaspoons of hot water. Let it cool down before serving.
  • Stir in 2 teaspoons of powdered peanut butter into 2 Tablespoons of a food the baby has previously tolerated, like pureed fruit or veggies.
  • Blend 2 teaspoons of peanut butter into 2-3 Tablespoons of foods such as infant cereal, applesauce, yogurt, pureed chicken, or other foods the baby is tolerating.

Older infants who are teething might like a homemade peanut butter teething biscuit, a recipe from the National Peanut Board. And, of course, never give whole peanuts to kids under the age of 5 years or let them suck a lump of peanut butter off of a spoon.

Peanut butter teething biscuit (from National Peanut Board)

For more great tips and recipes, check out the information from the National Peanut Board.

And, for my last tip for grandparents, don’t meddle in feeding practices of your grandchildren once you tell your adult children about the peanut allergy thing!

Disclosure: I received a packet of information, including the peanut powder shown in this post, from the National Peanut Board, as an educational tool sent to registered dietitians. I was not asked to write this post, nor was I compensated to do so. I am gifting the contents of the package to my nephew and niece-in-law to help them introduce peanut foods to their new twin baby girls! I heard the researcher of the LEAP study present his data at a conference a couple of years ago and was fascinated by the research, so I am happy to have the opportunity to pass it along my newest great nieces!

For more information to keep yourself eating well, moving well, and being well, check out Food & Fitness After 50, available at Amazon.

Food & Fitness After 50: It is OK to rest

fit bitIt’s early afternoon and my Fit Bit shows less than 2,000 steps today. By this time of day, I have reached my goal of 10,000+ steps. To be clear, 10,000 steps (equivalent to about 5 miles of walking) isn’t a one-way ticket to good health, but using a tracker helps me stay active and activity is one part of the equation for good health.

But, for the past 3 days, I’ve had this deep pain in my neck muscle and activity makes it worse. It started a few weeks ago as a minor ache. I attributed to carrying my overweight, bloated purse on my shoulder, like many women do. I changed that habit, but the pain stayed with me. Then, on Saturday, after an exercise class and an hour of pulling weeds, the pain got deeper, sharper, and more persistent. The only thing that helped was rest and ice. Even little things caused pain, like folding laundry,  vacuuming the layer of dog hair off the carpet, or emptying the dishwasher.

It is hard for an active person to rest when injury strikes. We think we’re being lazy, that we’ll get out shape, that we’ll lose all the benefits we’ve accrued by exercise, and maybe  that we will like rest so much we’ll stay inactive forever! shoulderpain

But, common sense eventually prevails as it dawns on us that resting is good for injury recovery. As someone who is constantly on the go, it is hard to sit down and rest, but if rest means less pain, then I’ll stick with it for a few more days.

In Food & Fitness After 50, the last chapter is devoted to food and fitness strategies for illness and injury because we know that stuff is going to happen as we age…even for those of us who eat and move well. After hip replacement surgery, I gave up running but found enjoyment in cycling, low impact aerobics, and swimming. So, patience, and rest, is a virtue that I will practice for a few more days until I figure this out. Well, that and a trip to the doctor.

I know this rest is temporary because I exercise in a group setting; I will miss my 8 AM YMCA friends too much to let this go on forever! See you all soon!

“You know you’re getting old when all the names in your black book have M.D. after them.”  Arnold Palmer, U.S. Professional Golfer



Food & Fitness After 50: One Size Does Not Fit All

“It is good to be open-minded, but not so open-minded that your brain falls out.”

Health500I first heard that line at a lecture early in my career, from the late physician, Victor Herbert. Dr. Herbert was an internationally known hematologist and nutrition scientist who was outspoken about nutrition nonsense. His book, Nutrition Cultism: Facts and Fictions, was published in 1984, long before the current wave of nutrition and wellness mania had taken hold.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that so many people are trying to eat healthfully and get fit. However, many people have taken it to an extreme and have turned food and fitness into a moral issue. To be clear, you are not a bad person if you ate ice cream last night and you are not necessarily a good person if you ate a kale salad. And, in this era of wellness, people are falling for crazy (and expense) stuff to enhance their wellness. I recently read about a rose quartz comb, selling for $160, claiming to clear away negative energy. (For a funny, scathing review of the rose quartz comb, see the SciBabe’s post. (Warning, explicit language alert, so if you are easily offended by rough language, you might want to skip it.)

Since writing Food & Fitness After 50, I’ve had many interesting and sometimes head-scratching conversations with people about nutrition. One person told me she was prepared not to believe anything in my book because she had her own “nutrition philosophy.” What ran through my mind was to tell her that nutrition was a science, not a philosophy, but I kept that thought to myself. It also made me wonder why someone with no training or formal education in nutrition science would say something like that to person who taught nutrition at a university for 30 years and has been a registered dietitian for more than 40 years? I think it gets to the point that people are taking great interest in health, which is a very good thing, but they think their path is not only the right path, but the only path.  And, to top it off there is a certain smugness to the way they inform you of their beliefs. It’s like the joke, “How do you know if someone is vegan? Don’t worry, they will tell you within the first 2 minutes of meeting them.”

Nutrition is a science, but it isn’t black and white. Like all science, it evolves as we learn more about the connection of food to health. There is no “best” diet, but there are a lot of “good” diets, and that is the point we make in our book. If you prefer vegetarianism or a Mediterranean-style diet, either can be right for you, but neither is “best.” Another consideration is your state of health. There is solid research to support the DASH eating plan for those with high blood pressure, for example.  There are national guidelines for treating obesity. A dietitian, who is trained in medical nutrition therapy, can help steer a person toward a plan that is tailored for their health. If you broke your leg chances are you wouldn’t Google “broken leg” and treat it with information you found on the Internet. But, when it comes to something as important as nutrition, people are willing to ask Google, talk to their neighbor, or listen to a celebrity and believe whatever they are told.

Sustainability is a hot issue for most people, but they may not think of sustainability when it comes to their diet. For a healthy eating plan to be successful it should be something you can sustain for a lifetime. When the book, Wheat Belly, was popular, I know people who followed the plan, shunning wheat as an evil food. (How do you know if someone was following the Wheat Belly diet? Don’t worry, they will tell you in the first 2 minutes). But, giving up wheat for life isn’t sustainable, and it isn’t necessary either.

One of my daily reads is ConscienHealth. It is a smart, thought-provoking blog that puts nutrition, specifically focused on obesity, into perspective. The latest post on the dangers of moral certitude summarizes the issue:

 “In the final analysis, a dose of humility might be best. Nobody has perfect dietary advice to offer. Nobody has cures for obesity. But plenty of smart people have good ideas to share. Moral certitude is not as persuasive as good science for deflecting weak ideas and weeding out the hucksters.”



Food & Fitness After 50: Beat the heat hydration tips

This post was written by Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50, and hydration and exercise expert.

satchel-paige-angie-villegasFamed baseball player Satchel Paige’s career spanned from 1924 to 1966, incredible longevity for any athlete.  In addition to being an amazing pitcher, Satchel’s unique perspective on life produced many memorable quotes, including “Age is a question of mind over matter.  If you don’t mind, it don’t  matter.”  Also, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”  Both quotes speak to the importance of maintaining an optimistic, positive attitude about aging, although our bodies naturally change as we age.  Some of those changes influence our ability to stay well hydrated, especially so during the hot summer weather.

What does staying hydrated mean?

It is important to point out that staying hydrated—drinking enough each day to prevent significant dehydration and its consequences—is usually not a problem for the vast majority of older adults.  Although it is true that our thirst mechanism becomes less sensitive as we age, that change does not typically increase the risk of dehydration.  That may sound counterintuitive but it turns out that humans of any age do not rely solely on thirst as the primary gauge for when to drink.

Drinking at meals accounts for most of our daily fluid intake, along with the spontaneous drinking that occurs throughout the day—stopping at the water fountain and drinking coffee, tea, bottled water, and soft drinks at work or while watching TV are examples of spontaneous drinking.  The fact is that thirst plays a minor role in our daily fluid intake and that is especially true for those older adults who are inactive.  For those reasons, the reduced thirst sensitivity that occurs as we age does not have a major influence on our day-to-day hydration.  However, as with all things in life, there are exceptions.water

The dangers of dehydration

When older adults fall ill, suffer immobilizing injuries, or fight diseases, the loss of thirst sensitivity can contribute to dehydration because normal drinking at meals and spontaneously throughout the day is completely disrupted.  Age-related loss of thirst sensitivity can also be a problem during heat waves or with prolonged sweating during endurance exercise, long hikes, and yard work when sweating results in dehydration.

Periodic heat waves cause a disproportionate number of deaths among adults over age 50, deaths that occur mostly from heart failure, not from heat stroke.  Prolonged exposure to the heat creates enormous strain on the heart and blood vessels to deliver much more blood to the skin to aid in heat loss. Dehydration makes matters worse because the sweating and inadequate drinking that lead to dehydration reduce the total volume of blood, placing even greater strain on the heart.  For those with preexisting heart, lung, or kidney disease, that strain can simply be too much to handle, resulting in death.  Older adults who are ill, out of shape, lack air conditioning, and have limited access to fluids are at greatest risk during heat waves.

         On June 8, 1982, Leroy “Satchel” Paige died of heart failure and emphysema at age 75.  Satchel’s death occurred after a power failure at his home in Kansas City.  Although there was no heat wave at that time in Kansas City, the maximum temperature that day was 86 and the maximum relative humidity was 93%, a combination that would make it feel like 108.

Aging not only reduces our thirst sensitivity and prolongs the time it takes us to fully rehydrate after we become dehydrated as a result of physical activity or heat exposure, we also sweat less, our heart’s capacity to pump blood is less, we deliver less blood to the skin, and we are less able to divert blood from our internal organs into the main circulation, all of which makes it tougher to cope with the heat.

How to win at hydration

While that may sound like uniformly bad news, we can avoid the dire consequences by staying physically fit, acclimating to the heat, and reminding ourselves of the importance of drinking more, particularly whenever we sweat.  Getting outdoors in warm weather may initially feel uncomfortable, but our bodies will gradually acclimate over time.  That acclimation improves our sweating and our hydration because acclimation prompts us to drink more throughout the day.

Additional good news is that for maintaining hydration, virtually all fluids count.  Okay, that advice does not include shots of tequila or other liquors, but mixed drinks do count toward daily hydration, as do coffee, tea, colas, energy drinks, beer, and wine.  As with food, consuming a wide variety of fluids during the day is important for overall nutrition and for hydration, both of which are vital for good health. Summer fruits and veggies are high in water content, so snacking on grapes, watermelon, cantaloupe, berries, summer squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers deliver both water and nutrients.

For more on the importance of hydration and a guide to finding your individual hydration needs, see Dr. Murray’s chapter on hydration in Food & Fitness After 50.



Food & Fitness After 50: Run for your life!

Cheryl and Nancy
Cheryl, Nancy, and the rising sun in Atlanta

An alternate title for this post could be, “When Nancy met Cheryl.” It was not only the start of a running partnership, but also a lifelong friendship. Nancy was newly married when she moved into Cheryl’s neighborhood and they met when Cheryl, with her toddler in tow, delivered the community newsletter to her house. Cheryl invited Nancy to join her and another neighbor on a morning run. Cheryl is mom to three children (ages 22 to 29) and Nancy has five children, ages 17 to 24. Cheryl recalls how they “ran through Nancy’s five pregnancies and my next two! I always knew when she was pregnant because she couldn’t keep up our usual running pace!” Eventually the running group dwindled to just the two of them, and 25 years later, they are still running. And, that toddler that tagged along with Cheryl on her delivery route? He is a 29-year old lawyer!

Welcome to the neighborhood

“There was no better way to be welcomed to the neighborhood than joining a running group,” recalls Nancy. “We ran at 6am Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and over the years our morning run has crept up earlier to 5:15 am and we now run daily, but my one partner, Cheryl, has stayed constant. She absolutely won’t run in the rain, but she does do cold…we just layer from head to toe! Our distance is about 4.5 miles, it’s a 45-minute run door to door.”

Benefits of early morning exercise

They preferred morning runs because they can get in their exercise before work; Cheryl is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator who works for Laureate Medical Group (self-disclosure, Cheryl was a former student of mine at Georgia State. She switched careers from dental hygienist to dietitian, making her a mature student who was inquisitive, motivated, and super smart!) Nancy works for Lactation Consultants of Atlanta, helping new moms at a crucial time in their lives to promote good health for both moms and babies. Morning exercise also gave them more time in the evening to prepare healthy meals and spend time with their families.

Physical and Mental Health Benefits

The dynamic duo also do spin and body sculpt classes on the weekend, and occasionally do longer runs at the river. “Yes, we exercise every day,” emphasizes Cheryl,” we need it both physically and mentally.” Cheryl says that the “morning runs are just not a run. We talk about everything from family, to the meaning of life, and even politics. We always have something to talk about.  We are each other’s therapist. My morning run with Nancy helps set me up for a good day. It’s a daily practice that grounds me. Even when I’m at a conference or on vacation; I start my day with exercise. It’s particularly important for me now that I am in my early 60s, as most of my work day involves sitting.”

Nancy agrees, “running is our savior, both mentally and physically. When life is good…it’s great, but when life gets a bit challenging, one needs that daily ‘check in’ with a friend! At a time when suicide rates are on the rise I would stress the importance of everyone checking in with someone. I love starting my day with exercise and a friend.”

Challenges for older runners

Cheryl, who is 7 years older than Nancy, admits there are challenges with aging. “I have knee pain with higher mileage, so I stick to 10-K distances (the annual Peachtree Road race is a must, and occasionally a 15-K, but no more half marathons!). I do some cross training, but plan to do more when I retire.”

Nancy adds, “It’s more important than ever to be mindful of your daily routines in life and never, ever underestimate your abilities, no matter your chronological age. I’ve had an ACL repair from skiing and a few other health issues, but staying positive, and having a friend like Cheryl makes a big difference. I also encourage folks to try new exercises, like kick boxing, spinning, barre workouts, or Zumba, it a good way to challenge your body and mind.”

I hope we can check in with Cheryl and Nancy many years from now and find they are still running; or at the very least, fast walking!

Find out more about the benefits of exercise and social support in Food & Fitness After 50, available at Amazon.


Food & Fitness After 50: Are you eating enough fruits & veggies?

Plate faceAre you eating enough fruits & veggies? Probably not, according to a new report from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention on fruit and vegetable consumption in the U.S. 

Most of us know that fruits and vegetables are good for us, offering protection against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and even some cancers. Yet, only 12% of adults meet the recommended fruit intake (1.5-2 cups/day) and we do even worse with veggies; 9% get the suggested amount (2.5-3.5

Why are our eating habits so dismal when it comes to eating the good stuff? Many of us perceive that cooking and preparation is time consuming and difficult, so unless we slice a banana on our cereal or eat a serving of veggies with dinner, we don’t make much of an effort.

Many of you know that I don’t develop recipes like a lot of my dietitian friends. I’m more likely to assemble meals. So here are my ideas for getting more fruits and veggies into your meals. And, I welcome your ideas that might help others sneak in an extra serving or two (or three) of produce.

  • Never eat cereal, either hot or cold, without adding fresh or frozen berries.
  • Toss spinach and peppers into scrambled eggs or omelets.
  • Use fruit that is starting to get overripe in smoothies. Toss in fruit, add plain or vanilla Greek yogurt or milk and blend.
  • Salsa is a vegetable and is not just for tortilla chips. Add salsa to a baked potato, grilled fish or chicken, or on top of scrambled eggs.
  • Make protein-rich salads with canned black, kidney, or other starch beans or peas. Drain your favorite beans, add diced tomatoes, onions, peppers, and cilantro and toss with a little oil and vinegar or Italian bottled salad dressing.
  • When you can’t get fresh veggies or fruits, don’t overlook frozen or canned. Today’s processing takes produce at it’s peak of ripeness and freezes or cans it quickly to preserve nutrients and taste.
  • Veggies - CopyTry a meatless pasta primavera
    • Saute broccoli, green, red, or yellow peppers, and onions in olive oil and serve over protein-enriched pasta (Barilla Protein-Plus Angel Hair pasta is my favorite); drizzle with olive oil and top with shaved Parmesan cheese.
  • Roast vegetables in the oven
    • Cut up broccoli, cauliflower, or use whole fresh Brussels sprouts and spread on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, a little salt and pepper, and roast in the oven at 400 degrees F for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and shake the pan or use tongs to flip the pieces and continue baking for another 10 minutes or until golden brown. And, you can also try this on the grill.Grilled Brussels Sprouts
  • Grill fruit this summer
    • Thread watermelon cubes and shrimp on metal or wooden skewers; brush lightly with canola oil and grill for a few minutes on each side (grilling brings out a sweet, smoky taste to fruit).
    • Grill peaches by cutting a fresh peach in half, removing the pit, and brush lightly with canola oil. Place cut-side down on grill for a few minutes until lightly charred. Serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt or goat cheese.
  • Break out the wok, or a large frying pan 
    • Heat oil (I like to use peanut oil in the wok, it has a high smoke point so withstands the high temperatures for wok cooking) and toss in cut up pieces of chicken, cook until the chicken turns white and remove. Toss in all the bits and pieces of veggies in your vegetable bin. I like broccoli, carrots, celery, summer squash, onions, and peppers. Saute until cooked, but still crunchy, and add the chicken back into the pan. Season with chili paste to give it some kick, or reduced sodium soy sauce (or both!). Serve over brown rice.
  •  Bring veggies to summer parties
    • One of my favorites is caprese salad on a stick. Thread cherry or grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella pearls, and fresh basil leaves on a skewer. Drizzle with olive oil (I like Tuscan-herb infused olive oil for this appetizer) and you have a tasty, healthy, colorful dish. (You can find mozzarella pearls in the “fancy” cheese section of grocery stores and Walmart).
    • Steam edamame (immature soybeans in the pods) and lightly salt. Serve in the pods with small dish of soy sauce. Kids love to squeeze the beans out of the pod and into their mouths!
  • Let the kids help Hannah helps with Thanksgiving
    • Kids are more likely to eat fruits and veggies if they have a hand in the preparation. A few years ago my great niece, Hannah, helped me make this “turkey” veggie tray for Thanksgiving. She was so proud of the creation and she couldn’t wait to serve it to the family, and eat some veggies herself. Pinterest is great for easy ideas like this one.
  • Visit Fruits and Veggies More Matters for hundreds of other great ideas and everything you could ever want to know about fruits and veggies.

For more ideas on how to get more fruits and vegetables in your diet, see Food & Fitness After 50.