Perspective | Why I eat smarter now that I’m older

Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I ate what so many other kids ate canned ravioli, frozen dinners, things we now properly call junk food. My strict diet means eating whatever I want.

Young adulthood was a little better, but in the 1980s I became a father twice over and it dawned on me that I should try to eat better. However, I’m not perfect. I still ate and drank regularly until my stomach was so stretched that it wanted to explode.

As I approached 50, my body began whispering warnings to me: I had back pain and hernias, my belly grew, which deeply offended my vanity. Thanks to such insults to the system, I took a cue and changed my diet. Today, at the age of 71, I am happy to have made the change.

Susan B. Roberts, associate dean for basic research at Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine, says the elephant in the room is that older adults need much fewer calories. We exercise less, our metabolism slows, and our sense of taste decreases. Every five or 10 years, we should ask ourselves: How can I continue to enjoy healthy foods even when I eat less?

She added: “As you get older, something has to give. Now is the time to change your habits and reduce your risk of chronic disease.

A 2021 meta-analysis titled Nutrition Issues for Healthy Aging: Start Early and Screen Regularly, in which Roberts was lead author, concluded: found that a healthy diet and weight control can not only reliably delay the onset of most diseases. typical diseases and loss of function with aging, but also prevents progression and severity, and even aids in remission of some conditions.

The study recommends routine screening for age-related conditions that can be treated with nutritional prescriptions. It notes that a healthy diet and weight are linked to preventing aging diseases such as dementia, osteoporosis, urinary incontinence, sleep apnea and constipation.

During the aging process, diet may play a surprisingly important role in a person’s vitality and longevity, even more so than genetics, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care reports after the discovery eating habits in communities where people live the longest. The common denominator between food and consumer philosophies points to the intriguing idea that food and diet can be a panacea for longevity.

Those common denominators include eating plant-based meals, nuts, and whole, unprocessed foods. In general, researchers recommend eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, plus lean protein sources such as seafood, dairy and fortified soy alternatives (beans, peas and lentils), while cutting back on saturated fat, sugar and salt.

Rachel Stahl, a registered dietitian at Weill Cornell Medicine, says there is no one-size-fits-all eating pattern that works for everyone as they age. For example, some people may find that they need to eat smaller meals more often.

A study led by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health tracked changes in the diet and lifestyle of about 74,000 people over 12 years. They followed mostly people over 60 and published their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Bottom line: Small, gradual improvements in food choices have led to more nutritious diets, which can reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure, blood sugar, and inflammation. Research shows it’s never too late to start eating smart.

However, the Cleveland Clinic reports that, as a person ages, especially after age 65, eating healthy can become more difficult and can lead to weight gain. Slower metabolism, fluctuating hormones, reduced physical activity and digestive problems are among the reasons.

Kathryn N. Porter Starr, a registered dietitian and associate professor of medicine at Duke University School of Medicine, says it can be difficult to change eating habits on your own. Some key nutrients, such as fiber, are important to prioritize as we age.

She recommends consulting with a registered dietitian who can translate the science of nutrition into practical solutions for you.

And choose small goals that are achievable and maintainable, she adds.

Since turning 50, I’ve taken small steps to eat smarter and now choose my foods more selectively: more fresh vegetables (spinach, carrots, cabbage), more fruits and vegetables. more fruit (apples, blueberries, bananas), more fish (salmon, tuna, sardines) and only whole grain bread. I only eat red meat once or twice a month, skip most sweets and often snack on yogurt and nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds). My wife, who is always up-to-date on dietary practices, has been a great help.

I also trained myself to stop eating well before I faced the risk of spontaneous combustion and loss of self-esteem. I eat more slowly. I divide dinner into two courses, take a 15 to 30 minute break to let my stomach signal fullness (and prolong the feeling of pleasure). I learned a valuable lesson from my father. He ate very quickly, eating almost before anyone else did, only to become severely overweight by age 50 and die of a massive heart attack at age 70.

On the other hand I have also improved. Now I axiomatically eat less and less throughout the day, like a prince at breakfast, a peasant at lunch and a beggar at dinner. I calibrate my consumption to sync with my energy needs at a given hour. I eat meals early in the day and on time (usually around 8 a.m., noon and 7 p.m.) and limit my wine and beer intake to moderate levels, no longer drinking hard liquor.

My diet philosophy is basic. Think of food as fuel for practical activity, as medicine but also as pleasure and don’t be too strict with it.

These days, I feel good. I’m only about 10 pounds heavier than I was in high school. Despite my high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which required me to take daily medication, I remained energized.

So embrace your desire for change. Hey, if I can do it then trust me, you can too.

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