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Richard’s almanac: Health is wealth

March is National Nutrition Month.

As we age, I believe that we become more aware of our diets. Are we getting enough of one vitamin or mineral and not enough of another? Are we eating too many trans fats and not enough fresh fruits and vegetables? Are we drinking beverages with too much caffeine or alcohol?

These questions that were never on my mind when I was younger now seem tremendously important as I attempt to keep myself in good running condition.

Having just learned that March is “National Nutrition Month,” I thought I’d explore some behaviors that will help us eat right. And I suppose that there are some of us out there who never enjoyed a hot dog smothered in sauerkraut and mustard or a hot pastrami sandwich on rye with mustard and a huge pickle on the side because they were not the healthiest of foods. Or never sat down with a Big Mac, fries and large Coke because we’ve heard how bad they are for our systems.

Well, I am one of those who never paid attention to food other than whether or not it tasted good. I have eaten loads of meat and mashed potatoes covered with gravy with plenty of salt and pepper on top. I am getting hungry as I write this.

But when we reach a certain age our bodies have ways of telling us that these foods are not the best for us. It has been shown that eating fewer trans fats, saturated fats and sodium may help reduce our risk for hypertension and heart disease.

The FDA has required labeling on all food packages listing the serving size, the calories, the percentage daily value of total fats, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates and proteins. Listed below those figures are percentage daily values of vitamins and minerals.

I always make a point of looking at the percentage of the daily recommendation for sodium and avoid foods with high numbers. Canned soups are notorious for having high sodium values so I decided to try reduced-sodium soups. I felt like I had to add salt to make it palatable. Oh, well. So I just stay away from canned soups and packaged noodle soups. My blood pressure doesn’t need a sodium-induced spike.

So how do we know the best diet for ourselves?

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “eating right for older adults doesn’t have to be complicated.” Seniors should choose foods that provide nutrients without too many calories.

“Build a healthy plate with foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein foods,” the Academy urges.

I personally have trouble with low-fat dairy, particularly in my coffee. It’s really the only time I drink milk and I must have whole milk or half-and-half in my coffee. The low-fat stuff just seems too watery to me.

The following tips are recommended to help seniors get started on “your way to eating right.”

1. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. The darker the green the better. And canned vegetables count if you choose reduced sodium or those with no salt added. Fruits can be fresh, dried, frozen or canned in water or 100% juice, no added sugars, please.

 2. Make at least half your grains whole. 100% whole grain breads, cereals, crackers, pasta and brown rice. Fiber-rich cereals help us stay regular. Irregularity can be a problem for older folk.

3. Make the switch to fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese. We need that calcium and vitamin D to keep our bones healthy.

4. Limit sodium, solid fats and added sugars. Watch out for too much saturated fat in pizza, baked goods, sausages, full-fat cheese and hot dogs. Drink water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.

5. Be mindful of your portion sizes. Do not overeat. 

6. Keep physically active in your own way. If you have never been rock climbing, don’t start at 70. Do what you are used to doing. If you have been going to the gym since you were 25 and are now 75, just keep going if you like it. 

And I think that nothing’s better than a daily dose of fresh air. And our Island has some of the best and non-polluted air around. Enjoy it!