Those in the business of promoting active aging find themselves seeking sound nutrition and exercise sources to share with clients. In the cluttered world of sensational headlines and click bait, how can you evaluate information to ensure that you are providing helpful information to those who look to you for advice?
As co-author of the consumer book, Food & Fitness After 50, I give some guidelines for choosing healthy eating plans and evaluating exercise programs. Along with co-author and exercise physiologist, Bob Murray, we hope to steer people away from fad diets, exercise crazes, and a one-size-fits all approach to serving those in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond. This post will focus on eating well.
When evaluating diet plans, ask these four questions (hint, the answer should be yes to each question):
- Does the plan include all the energy-containing nutrients of carbohydrate, protein, and fat?
- Does the plan focus on nutrient-rich foods?
- Does the plan recognize that older adults have a higher risk for chronic diseases that can be managed with diet?
- Does the plan promote enjoyment of eating and mealtime?
Healthy eating patterns include carbohydrate, protein, and fat. We don't advocate for a low-this or high-that eating plan; but we suggest a balance of all nutrients. Many adults, and maybe you, too, are carb-phobic. Often the first thing I hear when talking to groups of older adults about nutrition is, "I've been told to quit eating bread." My response, is why and by whom? Many well-meaning friends, family, and neighbors give dietary advice that is not relevant for everyone. Maybe Aunt Sally was diagnosed with Celiac disease and has a medical reason to choose gluten-free foods, but that doesn't mean that everyone should give up wheat foods that contain gluten. Carbohydrates, and bread, provide needed nutrients for older adults. In a recent study1 all grain foods provided about 14% of total calories (or about 285 calories per day) in the adult diet. Consider that a medium soda fountain soft drink (22-ounces) has 285 calories, yet provides no fiber, vitamins, or minerals. Grain foods, on the other hand, are nutrient-rich and provided meaningful contributions to the shortfall nutrients of fiber, folate, magnesium, and calcium.
Protein intake should be increased to about 30 grams per meal and spreading protein throughout the day "feeds" muscles to build and maintain mass. Researchers use the term "anabolic resistance" to describe a decrease in muscle sensitivity to small amounts of protein in the diet.2 Meal plans should include quality protein and help adults understand what 30-grams of protein looks like. For example, each of these meals provides about 30 grams of protein:
- 2 scrambled eggs with 1 ounce of cheese and handful of spinach, 6 ounces soy milk, and 1 slice of toast
- 3 ounces of tuna mixed with celery, onion, and mayo on 2 slices of whole wheat bread
- 1 cup of pasta with 3-ounces of turkey or beef meatballs, green salad with balsamic vinegar dressing, and a slice of garlic bread
Helping clients to translate grams of protein into portion sizes helps clear confusion. It is obvious from the examples above that it is easy to get protein from foods, even for those who choose a plant-based diet, and that protein powders are not necessary.
Fat rounds out the dietary pattern, with olive oil and canola oil being the preferred added fats for cooking, salad dressings, and marinades.
While we often promote physical activity to stave off aging, a recent study3 in 1,000 adults found that a high-quality diet throughout adulthood was associated with better physical function in older ages. This study showed that it is never too late to improve diet quality and that it could reap big rewards in healthier aging.
It is our hope that Food & Fitness After 50 provides active, older adults with sound information in an easy to read manner and that answers their questions on eating well, moving well, and being well after 50. For additional information to share with your clients, including recipes and infographics, visit here.
1Papanikolaou Y & Fulgoni VL. Grain foods are meaningful contributors of nutrient density of American adults and help close nutrient recommendation gaps: Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2009-2012. Nutrients. 2017: Aug 14;9(8). pii: E873. doi: 10.3390/nu9080873
2Burd NA, Gorissen SH, van Loon LJ. Anabolic resistance of muscle protein synthesis with aging. Exer Sport Sci Rev. 2013;41:1690173.
3Robinson MS, et al. Adult lifetime diet quality and physical performance in older age: findings from a British cohort. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci, 2017 Oct 13. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glx179. [Epub ahead of print].
Christine Rosenbloom, PhD, RDN, FAND, is a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University in Atlanta. She consults with health organizations and the food industry to promote healthy, active living, and she is member of The Ginger Network, a marketing and communications firm. Her book, Food & Fitness After 50 (with co-author Bob Murray, PhD, FASCM) was published in October 2017 by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.