Donna Psiaki Feldman, MS RDN, is a food and nutrition writer and author of “Food Wisdom for Women” and “Feed Your Vegetarian Teen 2nd Edition“. She has been a registered dietitian nutritionist for 40+ years, and holds a Masters Degree in Nutrition and Communications from Cornell University. Before graduate school, she started and ran the first-ever vegetarian cafeteria line at a small New England college. Her eclectic work experiences include private practice, writing, recipe development, food service management, college-level teaching, personal chef, nutrition research, software development and restaurant cooking.
My Food and Nutrition Philosophy
My interest in food and nutrition started way back in high school, when I was on every fad diet imaginable. That might not sound like a good way to start a career, but over time I understood how food and diet affect weight, mood, energy level, skin, digestion and anything else that has to do with physical health.
Vitamin and mineral supplements can be important, especially as we age, but nutrition is primarily about food. When we try to reduce nutrition to nutrients and numbers, we lose the sense that food should be enjoyed. “Nutrition” starts to sound like the enemy of taste, flavor and enjoyment. Eating becomes a dreary math problem, full of negativity.
Eleven years ago, I started the Radio Nutrition blog to give consumers accurate and actionable information about food, diet and nutrition. During those years, I became more focused on plant-based eating as the best choice for health. I also became much more interested in the nutritional issues connected to healthy aging. Healthy aging is important to me both personally and professionally. Result: I’m transitioning from the more general nutrition blog to this one. I’ll be writing about the food, nutrition and diet choices linked to healthy aging.
It’s a very timely topic. The Baby Boomer generation changed youth culture in the 1960s. Now we’re living the change of age culture. We’re not content to accept poor health, frailty and decline as an inevitable part of aging. Longer life span without quality of life is not acceptable. Nutrition is a critical piece of the puzzle for those of us who want to lengthen our health span.
the best diet for healthy aging
There’s no official definition for the fashionable term “plant-based” diet. This leads to consumer confusion. You might see an article about plant-based eating that claims it means vegan — no animal foods whatsoever. Not true. Other people think it means strict vegetarian. Not true. People who don’t want to be vegan or strict vegetarian are turned off by that message. A Mediterranean style diet is plant-based, but do you have to eat Mediterranean-style foods? No.
In my professional opinion, the best diet for healthy aging can be described as “Sometimes Vegetarian“. Meat, fish and chicken are fine foods. Just eat those less frequently and in smaller portions. Most of the foods you eat should be non-animal. This is a huge list of foods. Less processed foods are the best choice: vegetables, fruit, grain-based foods like bread or pasta, legumes (beans), grains. Plenty of less-than-healthy foods are also on the list, such as donuts, potato chips and sugary cereals. It’s actually easy to eat a junky and unhealthy “plant-based” diet.
Why do I think you should still eat some animal-source foods? Meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy foods are important sources of nutrients that become increasingly important as we age. The list includes protein, zinc, calcium, omega-3 fats, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and choline. If you restrict animal-sourced foods, your intake of these and other nutrients goes down, sometimes dramatically. That’s why a diet that’s Sometimes Vegetarian is a good plan. Good for health, good for variety, good for your own enjoyment of food. It makes shopping, cooking and dining out much more convenient.
Many cultures around the globe have been following a sometimes vegetarian diet for centuries. It may be the default diet, due to food availability. Livestock agriculture is limited in many places thanks to climate, geography or cost. Or it may be the custom. Whatever the reason, this type of diet is associated with long lives and healthy aging in many places.
In addition to food and nutrition, I like to talk about other issues related to healthy eating, healthy living and healthy aging. Gardening, exercise, sleep, social activities. All are important parts of my healthy aging strategy. I hope they’ll be part of yours as well.