So perhaps you really are what you eat

August 31, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

As people age, their bodies need fewer calories but the same amount of nutrients, meaning that people 50 years old and older need to trim the fat, so to speak, from their diets.

"What you have to do is eliminate all those empty calories," said Lisa H. McCoy, a nutritionist with the Washington County Health Department who works with the Commission on Aging.

With age comes slower metabolism and other bodily changes that require modifications to what older people consume, according to McCoy and Cynthia A. Held. Both hold master's degrees and are licensed nutritionists and registered dietitians in Hagerstown.

"The fountain of youth is within each of us, despite our chronological age," said Held, who said she believes that one's attitude directly correlates to one's health.


"Being healthy or trying to achieve optimal health has to be a commitment, not a fleeting desire," she said.

Healthful eating, she said, is a key to "successful eating," which she said means a person has a lower risk of disease, higher mental and physical function and an active engagement in life.

Held estimated that 40 percent or more of her patients are age 55 or older. Most are women and many are overweight, she said.

Exercise - gardening counts - is important since it helps prevent weight gain and can help to prevent falling.

A proper diet and exercise can help a person combat poor posture, bone loss, loss of muscle mass, loss of strength and reduced flexibility, as well as help to maintain independence.

Those who are overweight or who gain weight as they age face an increased possibility of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and some types of cancers, Held said.

A football of fat

Held keeps a few objects in her office to show her clients.

A box contains replicas of portion sizes; many people comment that portions are smaller than they believed.

She also has a plate that shows how a person's lunch or dinner plate should look. In general, half of the plate should consist of fruits and vegetables, one-fourth should be made up of starches, preferably the whole-grain variety, and the remaining one-fourth should be meat and dairy products.

Perhaps the most eye-opening prop is a rubber replica of what 5 pounds of excess body fat looks like - it's bigger than a football.

McCoy said that most mature adults need to eat 1,600 calories a day, which can done by eating six servings of grain with three of them being whole grains - a serving is one slice of bread or half a cup of pasta or rice, or popcorn, pretzels, cereal or oatmeal; three servings of vegetables, with a serving being one cup raw or half a cup cooked; two servings of fruit; two servings of dairy products, with a serving consisting of 8 ounces; and two serving of protein, with a serving being 5 ounces.

Try these ideas

Eating whole grains is recommended and grocery store shelves usually are stocked with whole-grain breads, rice and pasta. If needed, mix whole grain pasta or rice with white pasta or rice at first to ease the transition, McCoy said.

She also recommended:

· Drinking skim or 1 percent milk.

· Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables.

· Eating fish, which can benefit heart health. Eating different types of fish can ease concerns about its mercury content.

· Reducing saturated fat consumption. This can be done by buying lean hamburger and removing the skin from chicken.

· Monitoring sodium intake, even if you don't have high blood pressure. Avoiding processed foods can help reduce sodium intake.

· Consuming more fiber. Eat an orange instead of drinking orange juice

Additional resources

Stress and depression can play a role in one's health. Many overweight people, regardless of age, are depressed and Held said she believes people today suffer from too much stress.

Always busy because of work or family, too many people do not sit down to plan their meals, relying instead on meals eaten on the go.

"I think people just have to say no sometimes and think more of themselves," she said, adding that people need to allow themselves some "quiet time" every day and ensure they get enough sleep each night.

Held said she has recommended the DASH diet to some clients, who have found it to be successful. The diet can lower hypertension, cholesterol, blood pressure and weight. In general it is a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy, while being light in meat.

More information about the diet can be found on-line.

Another resource is the government's Web site. On that site people can enter their age, gender and physical activity level to receive a recommendation on how much grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy and protein servings they should eat each day, Held said.

She also said people might want to consider paying $7.99 for a small paperback book titled "Calories Fat & Carbohydrate Counter." It lists the amount of calories in foods, including in many fast-food dishes.

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