Sept 13 middle age eating

September 12, 2000

What to eat, what to avoid in middle age

By KEVIN CLAPP / Staff Writer

Middle-agers should adjust portions to compensate for decreased physical activity. There are some foods that should raise red flags as we age. Others are worth taking another look at. Here are a few:

Bad stuff


* Refined white flour products such as pasta, white bread and white rice.

* Whole milk

* Foods made with white sugars

Good stuff


* Water

* Whole-wheat products

* Fortified breakfast cereals

* Fatty fish such as tuna and salmon


* Whole-grain rice

* Peas (for folic acid)

* Strawberries (for folic acid)

* Granola

Everyone needs to eat; it's the fuel that keeps the human engine purring.

However, entering middle age means re-evaluating what you feed on, since older bodies require more maintenance than younger ones.


"You have to adjust expectations," says Dr. Pamela Peeke, who is based in Bethesda, Md. "People expect to be the same way as at 30 years old - eat the same way, exercise the same way."

But just as exercise habits must change with advancing age, so must diet. Peeke, author of "Fight Fat After 40," says exercise and diet should be linked, and levels of activity will dictate what you eat.

"When we were young, we would down a bag of Doritos and then run out and play soccer. We don't do that today," she says. "We don't have the physical activity to match that."

Decreased activity should also mean decreased portion sizes on dinner plates. Unfortunately, according to Peeke and Bolivar, W.Va., physician Rosemarie Cannarella, diet doesn't change the way it should.

In ways large and small, people can make dietary changes that will positively impact their health as they age.

"You tend to lose a lot of water when you get older," Cannarella says. "We drink Coke, we drink juice, we drink coffee and tea. We don't drink water. ... It's a major problem in older people."

Proper nutrition can help prevent or manage diseases, including osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and sarcopinia, the age-related loss of muscle mass.

"The whole idea is to make people aware of problems they otherwise would not be aware of. It's important because many changes take place as we age," says Rajen Anand, executive director of the United States Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition, Policy and Promotion.

USDA is sponsoring a symposium Thursday, Sept. 28, "Nutrition and Aging: Leading A Healthy, Active Life."

The free event can be a valuable tool for those who attend, Anand said.

According to Anand, 21 percent of older people are healthy eaters, compared to 12 percent of the whole population. Though older Americans eat better, there is more they can do.

"The problem is what we eat in young age will affect old age," he says. "Our idea is not only should people be able to live longer, they should have healthy, active lives."

Fiber, grains

Fiber and grains are important, but that does not mean eating a pound of prunes every day after not having them for your first 50 years.

Because your body doesn't work quite as well as it once did, smart dietary choices mean forgoing heavy doses of white sugars and flours - pasta, white rice, white bread and potatoes - for their unrefined counterparts.

Peeke says white sugars and flours tend to stress the pancreas and contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.

"A piece of birthday cake won't kill your pancreas; 10 pieces of white bread a day will," she says.

Another tip Peeke has is to consume most food before 5 p.m. every day, and avoid starches such as bread and pasta in the evenings. Instead of having a small breakfast, medium lunch and large dinner, she recommends a big breakfast, medium lunch and small dinner.

"Starches are the easiest to overeat, think about it. Here comes the breadbasket at the restaurant," Peeke says. "(In middle age) carbohydrates are now a treat, not a staple. You'll find you lose weight and feel happy and healthier if dinner looks like a salad and 3- or 4-ounces of meat.

"What's missing? You guessed it," she says. "The breads and starches. You will not feel hungry."

And though eating habits are developed during a lifetime of menu choices, doctors agree it is never too late to begin watching what you eat.

"Is there benefit to starting when you're 40? Yes, but you don't try to overdose, and you follow your food pyramid," Cannarella says.

"If you reverse your rotten health habits, the body is unbelievably forgiving," Peeke adds. "I've seen people coming in here looking like train wrecks and they can turn that baby around. Is it a challenge? Yeah. Do I see it happen? Yes, all the time."

The Herald-Mail Articles