Great Food Choices as You Age

Written by Rita Kennen

Practical self-help advice to keep you successfully healthy. The more you know the more fun it is to fuel your body and your health.

"We are finally unraveling the functional substances nature has hidden in her treasure of produce, food that literally speaks to our cells in an intimate way, food that affects your physiological function and manipulates your genetic predisposition to developing disease."       
Kathie Swift, R.D.

Kathie Swift is a master nutritionist at Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires, a health resort in Lenox, Mass. First, Kathie talks about the relationship between aging and nutrition.

Success Television: Are my nutritional needs any different now than they were in my 20s?

Kathie Swift: We need to recognize that chronological age and biological age aren't the same, that as we age, we become more "different" physiologically. Consequently, nutritional needs may vary significantly between two 60-year-olds.

Nutritional needs change as we age. Total calorie need goes down, nutrients and mineral needs go up.
Foods may influence whether or not we get certain diseases.
The term, "biomarkers," describes measures that predict our risk of disease.  

Debate continues among some of the most respected nutrition researchers in the country as they try to formulate age-related nutritional recommendations. So many factors affect nutritional needs and must be considered unique with each aging individual. Those include: activity level, medications, hormone balance, health status/illness, etc. But if I must generalize an answer to your question: Energy (calorie) needs generally decrease as needs for antioxidant protection via many nutrients and minerals, such as calcium for bone health protection, increase.

Success Television: What's meant by the term biomarkers? It comes up frequently in research on nutrition and aging.

Kathie Swift: The term describes biological characteristics that draw meaningful correlations between chronological and functional age. They are the body's early warning indicators of premature aging. Familiar biomarkers include blood pressure, cholesterol, body fat or lean muscle mass, activity and stress level, smoking status, etc.

Longevity medicine today recognizes new biomarkers such as hormone assays, detoxification profiles, bone density and measures of bone absorption and reabsorption, vitamin/mineral analyses, etc., to help predict how well we will age and our risk of developing chronic disease.

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Put Power Food In Your Life

Success Television: Power food is a captivating term. What do you mean by power food?

Symptoms of depression, muscle aches and anxiety may actually be caused by an insufficient amount of magnesium in your diet.
Power foods can help your body ward off disease.
The power food - blueberries - is rich in anti-oxidants that fight disease.  
Kathie Swift: Power Foods is a marketing term I coined years ago to attract our guests at the ranch to a nutrition lecture during the I-know-everything-about-nutrition-era. And it worked out, the lecture was always packed because power is intriguing and captivating.

Kathie Swift: By power foods I am referring simply to healthy foods that have disease-fighting capabilities - foods that serve a purpose and improve your body's functioning. Take, for example, the beautiful blueberry that has the ability to ward off biologically damaging agents called free radicals, which aim to seek and destroy our cells. By eating blueberries, we are harnessing power to defend against biological cellular warfare. The humble blueberry is magnificent in its antioxidant protection.
Success Television: How essential is it to take vitamins every day?

Kathie Swift:  I believe vitamin and mineral supplementation may be VERY IMPORTANT for certain individuals. As an example, we know that folic acid prevents birth defects, but it also has a new role in the aging process along with its B-complex relatives, B6 and B12, in keeping a damaging substance called homocysteine in check. (Editor's note: High homocysteine levels are believed to be implicated in heart disease.)

Magnesium is one of my favorite minerals as it participates in hundreds of biochemical reactions, including neurotransmitter and neuromuscular function. That means that depression, muscle aching and anxiety may actually be magnesium deficiency in disguise.

I could go on and on with respect to this question, but will stress simply that since I took an amazing vitamins and minerals course in graduate school over 20 years ago, I have felt that medicine should elevate the lowly rank of vitamins and minerals in health and disease assessment.

We are finally getting there as better tools in the nutrition assessment trade become available to us allowing us to look through a new lens for optimal health and longevity. But we do need to get smarter about supplementation at many different levels.

(Kathie Swift R.D. M.S., a Nutrition Director for the health resort, Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires, Lenox, MA)

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foods to help you slow agingFive Eating Habits of Healthy Boomers

Success Television: Make it easy for us. What advice do you give people who live on the fast track?
Nutrition Advice
Make each meal include many different colors of fruits and vegetables.
Add some protein-rich food to the plate.
Include fiber-rich carbohydrates like brown rice, sweet potatoes, or winter squash.
Get your fat from healthy sources like nuts, seeds, avocado and olive oil.
Drink enough water to make your urine the color of straw.  
Kathie Swift: I can offer tons of tips for getting all your nutritional needs met. It really depends on the individual's lifestyle. Here's my top five:

1. The simplest way is to include an abundance of colorful vegetables and fruits in your daily diet. Prioritizing plant foods is my number one tip for maximizing nutrition with minimal calories.

2. Pack in some protein rich foods at each meal and diversify your selections.

3. Include fiber-rich carbohydrates at each meal or snack - the key word being fiber-rich! My favorites picks are millet, brown/wild rice, sweet potatoes and winter squashes.

4. Toss in a touch of healthy fats at each meal: nuts, seeds, avocado, extra virgin olive oil or olives.

5. And drink enough water so that the color of your urine is like straw and not lemon-colored. It's one way of making sure you're getting enough water each day.

Here are some more nutritional tips:
  • Eat at home more and sit around the table talking, sharing and enjoying meals.
  • Grow and tend a garden - even if it is on a windowsill.
  • Teach your children about food by letting them experience it. You will learn a lot in the process of shopping smart and cooking wisely. 
  • Be adventurous with food - try a different vegetable or fruit today. 
  • Give up guilt and free yourself from food fear.
  • Appreciate being unique. Your nutritional needs are different than another person's.
    (Kathie Swift M.S., R D is Nutritional Director at Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires, Lenox, MA.)

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