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January: dry and meatless?

January: dry and meatless?

I’m starting to think January should be renamed Virtuary. Long the month of weight guilt and calorie counting, January is now also about giving up stuff, sort of like Lent for foodies. We have:

Dry January. Who knew: this is a trademarked activity, started over 10 years ago. It’s morphed into a “challenge” with rules, that appeal to the so-called “sober-curious”. It’s sounding very cult-like to me. But maybe people who drink excessively find the cult experience more motivating than just saying “stop drinking so much!” And certainly some people drink excessively all the time, which isn’t good for weight, judgement or health. In which case, a permanent reduction in alcohol intake is advisable, not just Dry January.

Veganuary. Oh no, it has it’s own website. And asks for donations. I wonder what they do with your money? Giving up meat and dairy (high protein foods loaded with important nutrients) sounds like another environmental sustainability guilt trip. Vegan meals can be fine, but some of the publicity for this is even more cult-like than Dry January. For the record, I do not recommend a vegan diet for older adults who have enhanced nutrient needs, reduced appetite and poorer digestive function.

If you’re in a diet improvement frame of mind…

Here are five simple, actionable and beneficial changes, not just for January but for the whole year:

  1. Ditch the artificial sweeteners. Not only do these additives train your taste buds to expect extreme sweetness in foods, they may be having unexpected effects on your gut, and increase risk for depression. They serve no useful purpose, other than making you dependent on sweet tastes.
  2. More Vegetables! 2-3 generous servings of vegetables a day minimum. They can be raw or cooked. You don’t need fancy recipes. But definitely vegetables.
  3. Healthy Fats, not low fat. I heard a talk today about consumer food trends and beliefs. Apparently older adults think “low fat” means a food is healthy. No. Fat gives meals satiety, which can help control appetite. Fats are metabolically important. Include olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil or flavorful nut oils in your recipes and meals. I’ll have more to say about this important and changing topic in coming weeks. Meanwhile use healthy fats to sauté those vegetables.
  4. Keep It Simple. Yes a diet full of ultra processed foods (UPFs) can be bad news (except how do we define those?). The best way to avoid UPFs is to stick to simple whole foods, which means most meals are simple: a protein food, some vegetables or salad, perhaps a whole grain or perhaps not.
  5. Include fermented/probiotic foods frequently. Yogurt (NO artificial sweeteners!), kefir, kombucha, fermented pickles or kimchi. We have plenty of options in fermented food; you don’t need to take probiotic supplements. Our understanding about the importance of gut health to brain function, immunity and general health is growing, but don’t wait for definitive research. Get the gut health habit now.

Finally: stop stressing about foods you should give up. Instead focus on including simple healthful whole foods in your daily meals. There will be less room for poor choices. Although I do recommend the occasional treat.