Food and diet advice is drenched in negativity. Don’t Eat That! Don’t eat this! That food is toxic! That food makes you gain weight! The Main Stream Media knows that fear is great click bait, so this isn’t surprising. But click bait headlines don’t necessarily lead to healthful food choices. Scare tactics are for Halloween, not for everyday food choices.
“Just tell me what to eat.”
This is actually what people want to know — What should I eat? The average person doesn’t want a biochemistry lecture about how carbohydrates may raise insulin, or a finger-wagging diatribe about so-called “bad” foods. This article “6 Foods to Skip After 50” is an example of that kind of thinking. Or course, I was curious. Which bad foods are they talking about? It wasn’t individual foods. Just the usual suspect food groups: fried foods, sugary beverages, yadayadayada. It at least inspired me to think of a pro-active positive message about specific foods you should eat more of, because they support health.
My list is for people 60 and older.
Greens — spinach, chard, dark lettuces, kale, arugula, collards, etc. — have so much going for them. Filling, rich and varied flavors, loaded with fiber/vitamins/minerals, versatile, widely available all year long. Use them in salads or casseroles. One of my go-to uses is in soups or sauces. Any vegetable soup improves with frozen chopped spinach or chopped kale. Add those to risotto just before serving. Chop spinach or lettuce for wraps or burritos. Add arugula or spinach to a vegetable pizza. Load your tossed salads with dark greens. Have a bowl of greens for a mid-afternoon refreshing snack.
As we age, adequate protein and calcium intake become more important for muscle maintenance and bone strength. We also need to include foods with beneficial bacteria to support healthy gut function. Yogurt is an all-in-one package for these important nutrients. My advice: skip the artificially sweetened stuff (please!). If you’re trying to avoid added sugars, buy plain yogurt and add your own honey or fruit. Yogurt is versatile too: eat it as a snack or as part of breakfast or lunch; mix it with your favorite cereal; add to smoothies; use Greek style yogurt ask a substitute for sour cream on potatoes or tacos. Don’t like yogurt? Cheese is a good substitute, although it lacks the beneficial bacteria. Cottage cheese is higher protein.
3. Olive Oil
I attended a webinar recently about omega-3 fats. One important point was that eating too much vegetable oil, high in omega-6 fats, will interfere with omega-3 utilization. One way to by-pass that problem: stick to oils that are low omega-6. Olive oil is the prime example, being very high in monounsaturated fats. Olive oil is great on salads and for cooking. Use it as a dip for bread or even toast in place of butter. The only time olive oil isn’t a good choice is for high heat frying. Use peanut oil for that.
4. Legumes (aka: beans)
Beans have a lot going for them:
- Inexpensive. Use canned beans to make them more convenient.
- B vitamins,
- Minerals: potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium
- Versatile: Use them in soups, salads, casseroles. What would chili or cassoulet be without beans? Use refried beans on burritos and tacos.
Include them in 3-4 meals/week.
The only thing wrong with nuts is this: it’s really easy to eat too many, which means a whole lot of calories. For example, a mere cup of peanuts has over 800 calories; most nuts are in that ballpark. If you want calories, fine. Otherwise use portions control.
Nuts are a great energy food. Easy to pack along for a snack, they don’t melt or need refrigeration. They’ve got quality fats and carbs, protein, fiber, minerals and vitamins. Other benefits: they’re tasty and versatile. Eat them for a snack, add to tossed salads, use in grain-based casseroles, add to wraps, sprinkle on cereal, garnish pasta with chopped nuts (toasted walnuts are a great addition to pasta with marinara sauce), garnish roasted vegetables with toasted nuts (pecans on roasted Brussels sprouts).
And of course nut butters have the same nutritional benefits, but with additional uses: sandwiches, wraps, toast, bagels, salad dressings, dips (ex: hummus) and sauces (Thai peanut sauce, mmmm, yum).
6. Plain Water
Hydration can be a problem for older people. Unless you have a medical condition that necessitates fluid restrictions, plain water should be your go-to beverage. 8 glasses a day isn’t a bad goal, although there isn’t any actual evidence that this is a magical number. Smaller people might be fine with less; bigger people might need more. Hot weather and exercise can increase needs. So does alcohol. I’m not going to badger you to avoid alcohol, but if you do consume it, accompany your cocktail or wine with a side of water.
Plenty of other foods come to mind that support health: broccoli, fresh fruit, tofu, whole grains and so forth. The 6 foods I’ve listed here are a good basis for a healthful diet, whether you’re vegetarian or sometimes vegetarian.