Foods That Improve Memory and Concentration

Diet affects brain function. Find out how foods rich in choline, iodine, and vitamin B12 improve memory and concentration throughout life.

How choline builds and maintains the brain

Choline is part of every cell.

Choline is an essential nutrient. That means you need choline from food or supplements to meet your needs.

Studies show that choline is key to brain development during pregnancy and early life.

Choline is linked to a lower risk for neural tube defects. The neural tube develops into a baby’s brain, spine, and spinal cord.

Choline also plays a role in the development of the hippocampus, the brain’s “memory center.” As a result, choline may help preserve and improve memory.  The hippocampus is one of the only areas in the brain that produces cells into late adulthood.

Some studies show a link between better memory in people with higher choline intakes.  And, people with Alzheimer’s disease have lower levels of a compound that allows the brain to use choline.

How to include enough choline

More than 90% of U.S. adults don’t consume enough choline, including pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Here’s how much choline you need every day:

Adults, ages 19-50 (not pregnant):

Female: 425 milligrams; Males: 550 milligrams

Pregnant: 450 milligrams

Breastfeeding: 550 milligrams

Choline is found in a variety of foods. However, animal foods, such as eggs, meat, and seafood, have the most choline. For example, one large egg or 3/4 cup roasted soybeans supply about 30% of your daily choline intake.

You may not get enough choline if you limit or avoid animal foods. As a result, you may need a choline supplement.

The amount of choline in foods can be found in the Nutrient Facts panel. The panel is on food and supplement labels. The Daily Value for choline is 550 milligrams.

Most multivitamins and prenatal pills do not contain much choline.  You may need an additional choline pill, especially if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. However, limit choline intake to 3,500 milligrams daily.

 Coffee, walnuts, and berries for brain health

Iodine and brain health

The thyroid gland contains nearly all the iodine in the body. It stores iodine to make hormones for brain development and growth, and to produce energy.

How iodine builds and maintains the brain

During pregnancy, the body needs thyroid hormones to make myelin.  Myelin helps nerve and brains cells to communicate.

Iodine helps baby’s brain develop properly. Severe iodine deficiency in mom’s diet can lead to mental retardation and Attention Deficit Disorder.

How to include enough iodine in your diet

Iodine needs increase during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, women in their childbearing years may not get enough iodine.

The Nutrient Facts panel doesn’t list iodine, and that makes it hard to know how much iodine is in packaged foods.

Here’s how much iodine you need every day:

Adults, ages 19-50 (not pregnant):

Males and females: 150 micrograms/day

Pregnancy: 220 micrograms

Breastfeeding: 290 micrograms

All salt is not created equal

People who avoid iodized table salt, seafood, and dairy may be at risk for an iodine deficiency.

Dairy milk has iodine. However, many people avoid dairy foods. As a result, they may be missing out on iodine.

Seafood and sea vegetables supply iodine. Experts suggest eating at least eight ounces of seafood weekly. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should eat eight to 12 ounces of seafood weekly.

Salt with added iodine, called iodized salt, is a reliable iodine source. However, the same isn’t true of salty packaged foods.

Most of our salt intake comes from processed foods, but food companies almost always use plain salt.

Experts suggests pregnant and breastfeeding women take 150 micrograms of potassium iodine as a supplement daily. That advice also applies to women who may become pregnant. 

The body absorbs potassium iodide well. Taking more iodine is not better for you.

How vitamin B12 helps the brain

During pregnancy, the brain needs vitamin B12 for proper development and growth.  The brain also needs vitamin B12 throughout life. 

Vitamin B12 is part of the myelin sheath surrounding nerve cells. The myelin sheath allows cells to “talk” with each other.

Vitamin B12 helps produce neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters help nerve cells communicate.

Foods with vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is found naturally in animal products, including seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, and milk. It is not present naturally in plant foods. However, fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals and other grains and nutritional yeast, have vitamin B12.

It’s possible to be low in vitamin B12 if you avoid animal products. You can get enough vitamin B12 with fortified foods and dietary supplements.

Exclusively breastfed infants of women who eat no animal products may develop vitamin B12 deficiency within months of birth. Untreated vitamin B12 deficiency can result in severe nerve damage.

How much vitamin B12 you need

Vitamin B12 deficiency is more common than you think.

Up to 15% of the general population doesn’t get enough vitamin B12. Poor memory, confusion, depression, and dementia are symptoms of too little vitamin B12 in the diet.

You need 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 daily after age 14.

During pregnancy, the daily suggested intake is 2.6 micrograms, and it’s 2.8 micrograms daily during breastfeeding.

Why you may need more vitamin B12

People with celiac disease and Crohn’s disease and those who have had weight loss surgery may absorb less vitamin B12.

Common medications affect how your body processes vitamin B12, too.

Ask you doctor about the medication you take. You may need extra vitamin B12.

Age also affects vitamin B12. The body absorbs less natural vitamin B12 after age 50. As a result, experts say people over age 50 should get most of their vitamin B12 in the synthetic form.

Synthetic vitamin B12 is added to foods such as breakfast cereal and other grains and dietary supplements. Added vitamin B12 does not require stomach acid for digestion. As a result, the body can use it easily.

In conclusion: How to have a better brain

Eating right helps the body and brain develop properly and supports it throughout life. Include foods rich in choline, iodine, and vitamin B12 in a balanced diet. If you don’t, consider taking a daily multivitamin and a choline supplement to meet your needs.

How to Make the Best Smoothie

Peach Melba Smoothie is a riff on the classic dessert.

Smoothies run the gamut, so how do you make the best beverage?

Smoothies can be sugary, low-nutrient drinks, or healthy enough to serve as a meal or hearty snack. They can be bone-building beverages, particularly kid-friendly, or both! Smoothies supply fluid, and they can be healthier than soda and other sugary soft drinks.

I asked my nutritionist friends for their favorite drink recipes and they sent me these mouthwatering recipes! No two of these smoothies are the same. Explore all the links below, no matter what your goal.

Hydrating Smoothie Recipes

Every smoothie supplies fluid, but some have more than others. These picks are super refreshing, especially on hot days.

Carrot, Mandarin, and Cayenne Smoothie looks like sunshine in a glass!

Carrot Mandarin and Cayenne Smoothie from Patricia Bannan, MS, RD

Pineapple Ginger Smoothie from Nourishing Plate

Vegan Energy Boosting Smoothie from The Foodie Dietitian

Strawberry Lime Watermelon Smoothie is a delicious alternative to sugary soft drinks.

Strawberry Lime Watermelon Smoothie from Smart Nutrition

Mexican Chocolate Banana Almond Shake from Spicy RD

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Smoothie from Your Choice Nutrition

Orange Strawberry Layered Smoothie from Amy Gorin Nutrition

Vegan Energy Boosting Smoothie from The Foodie Dietitian

Frozen Mochaccino from Amy Gorin Nutrition

Peanut Butter Breakfast Shake from Real Mom Nutrition

Blueberry Cheesecake Smoothie from Triad to Wellness

Here’s how to make a post-workout smoothie.

Kid-Friendly Smoothie Recipes

Kids crave smoothies, and they love to make up their own flavor combinations. Start with these recipes, and let children and teens create their own sippers.

Strawberry Beet Smoothie is pretty in pink!

Strawberry Beet Smoothie from The Crowded Table

Purple Power Smoothie from Eat Real Live Well

Basic Green Smoothie from Curing Vision

Orange Strawberry Layered Smoothie from Amy Gorin Nutrition

Mama’s Berry Smoothie from Toby Amidor Nutrition

Mexican Chocolate Banana Almond Breakfast Shake from Spicy RD

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Smoothie from Your Choice Nutrition

Grape Juice Avocado Energizing Smoothie from Amy Gorin Nutrition

Easy Summer Smoothie for the Busy Mama from Crystal Karges Nutrition

PB-Breakfast-Shake-Text

Entice your kids with this peanut butter breakfast shake. Adults love it, too!

Peanut Butter Breakfast Shake from Real Mom Nutrition

Blueberry Cheesecake Smoothie from Triad to Wellness

Pear and Pomegranate Green Smoothie from Patricia Bannan, MS, RD

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie from Triad to Wellness

Smoothies for Snacks

Think of snacks as nutritious mini-meals, not meal wreckers. These recipes supply fruit, vegetables, and protein, so you won’t have to worry if you, or your child, eats less at the next meal.

Arugula meets apple in this smoothie and it’s spectacular!

Arugula Apple Smoothie from Snacking in Sneakers

Creamy Chocolate Cannellini Bean and Cinnamon Smoothie from Patricia Bannan, MS, RD

Wild Blueberry Beet Smoothie from Kroll’s Korner

Mama’s Berry Smoothie from Toby Amidor Nutrition

Chocolate Chunk Blueberry Smoothie from Patricia Bannan, MS, RD

Bone-Building Beverages

Smoothies are perfect for including the nutrients to make and maintain a strong skeleton, such as protein, calcium, and vitamin D.

Frozen Mochaccino has no added sugar, unlike most coffee-shop drinks that may contain more than a day’s allowance.

Frozen Mochaccino from Amy Gorin Nutrition

Chocolate Chunk Blueberry Smoothie from Patricia Bannan, MS, RD

Mama’s Berry Smoothie from Toby Amidor Nutrition

Wild Blueberry Pancake Smoothie from Snacking in Sneakers

Blueberry Cheesecake Smoothie from Triad to Wellness

St. Patrick’s Day Green Smoothie from Foods with Judes

Creamy Chocolate Cannellini Bean and Cinnamon Smoothie from Patricia Bannan, MS, RD

No-Bake Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Do you love cookies as much as I do? There’s nothing wrong with treats as part of a balanced diet. However, if you want to eat cookies more often, you should get more than calories, sugar, and fat in the bargain.  No-bake oatmeal raisin cookies can help you do that!

Better-for-you cookies

My idea of a delicious cookie recipe is a no-bake combination of oats, peanut butter, raisins, and pure vanilla extract. These cookies are ready in less than 10 minutes and one batch is enough to last the week.

No-bake oatmeal raisin cookies are vegan and gluten-free (especially if you use gluten-free oats). In addition, you can prepare them with no added sugar, if desired.

Can you eat cookies for breakfast?

We usually think of cookies as dessert, but they work for the morning meal, too! You eat breakfast for dinner, so why not?

Don’t like cereal, eggs, or yogurt for breakfast, or you don’t have time to eat these nutritious foods?  One no-bake oatmeal raisin cookie paired with milk or a carton of yogurt and a piece of fruit is a nutritious morning meal.

No-Bake Oatmeal Raisin Breakfast Cookies

Makes 10 cookies.

2 cups raisins

1 cup chunky or creamy peanut butter (use natural peanut butter for no added sugar)

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 cups quick oats, toasted*

Place raisins, peanut butter, and vanilla extract in food processor. Blend on HIGH until well combined, about 45 seconds.  The mixture will resemble a paste. Place the raisin mixture in a medium bowl. Add oatmeal and combine well, using your hands, if necessary.  Form into 10 cookies or balls. Store in airtight container.

*Toasting oatmeal makes it taste even better in no-bake recipes. (You can skip this step if want.) To toast oats, preheat oven to 350˚F. Spread the oats evenly on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes before using.

Per serving: 292 calories; 8 grams protein; 39 grams carbohydrate; 5 grams fiber; 14 grams fat (2 grams saturated fat); 0 milligrams cholesterol; 164 milligrams sodium; 60 milligrams calcium.

How to Make Better Pasta Salad

Whole wheat pasta and chickpeas provide fiber and other nutrients to support health.

Pasta salad is a staple at summertime picnics and BBQs across America, and it’s often enjoyed all year long, too. While this perennial favorite gets gobbled up by the ton every year, I cannot say that I am a fan of the classic pasta salad recipe. That’s why I came up with how to make better pasta salad.

While I like the idea of a cold pasta dish, I don’t go for combining overcooked pasta with a mayonnaise-based dressing and a smattering of chopped celery and bell pepper. To be fair, while this is the most common way, it’s not the only way to make pasta salad. There are dozens of recipes out there with all kinds of interesting ingredients.

Pasta salad can be served as a side dish or made into a meal.

Pasta salad is no “guilty pleasure” that should be relegated to the warmer months. Cooked and cooled pasta is a source of resistant starch, a type of fiber that feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut that help prevent colon cancer and to support overall health. Legumes, and cooked and cooled potatoes, also provide resistant starch. Foods rich in fiber can help prevent, and manage, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

I like a hearty pasta salad that’s more than a side dish.  Here’s how I build a better pasta salad to enjoy as a meatless meal or side dish all year long.

Whole wheat pasta. Whole wheat pasta is a great way to include at least three servings a day of whole grains, which, generally speaking, have more nutrients than refined grains. I like the slightly nutty taste of whole wheat pasta, which is higher in fiber than the regular kind. I favor shapes such as rotini because the ridges hold onto the dressing.

Whole wheat pasta is brimming with manganese, a mineral you need for strong bones and cartilage, and for many other bodily functions.

Why carbohydrates are so good for you

Legumes. Chickpeas and pasta are a satisfying combo that you can really sink your teeth into.  Legumes supply protein, and fiber, which helps to better regulate your energy levels. Legumes are also packed with iron, folate, and plant compounds that protect your cells from damage.

Cottage cheese. I like cheese in my pasta salad for the taste, as well as the protein and calcium. Using low fat cottage cheese in place of some of the feta cheese cuts down on calories and saturated fat.

Low fat cottage cheese has 11 times less saturated fat than feta cheese, but is lower in calcium.

Whole Wheat Pasta and Chickpea Salad

Makes 12 servings.

16 ounces (dry) whole wheat rotini pasta

1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained

2 ½ cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half

1 cup chopped parsley

½ cup diced red onion

½ cup low fat cottage cheese

½ cup crumbled feta cheese

Dressing:

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, diced

½ teaspoon salt, or more, if desired

Fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Cook pasta until just about done (al dente). Drain well and place pasta in a large serving bowl. Add the beans, tomatoes, parsley, onion, cottage cheese, and feta cheese. Combine well.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and black pepper. Add the dressing to the pasta mixture and toss until well combined. Serve chilled.

Per serving: 253 calories; 10 grams protein; 40 grams carbohydrate; 6 grams fiber; 7 grams fat (2 grams saturated fat); 6 milligrams cholesterol; 284 milligrams sodium; 80 milligrams calcium.

Add more vegetables, such as chopped yellow bell pepper, and serve over a bed of greens to make Whole Wheat Pasta and Chickpea salad into a delicious, meatless meal.

Why Carbohydrates Are Important

Is it me, or do those cookies look slightly evil?

Confused about carbs? Before you go cutting them out of your life, read on to find out why carbohydrates are important to health.

Clearing up carbohydrate confusion

A 2018 survey found that Americans blame carbohydrates for weight gain, which is probably why low-carb diets are so attractive. Yet, eating a more plant-based diet is linked to better weight control and other health benefits.

What’s more, the Mediterranean diet is considered one of the healthiest ways to eat. It’s rich in vegetables and whole grains, and is anything but low in carbohydrates.

It’s time we stopped loving to hate carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates give you energy 

The body prefers carbohydrates as an energy source because they are easily converted to glucose, the fuel that cells use.

Carbohydrates are found in foods such as milk, yogurt, fruit, vegetables, legumes (beans), bread, cereals, pasta, rice, and in cookies, cakes, and other sweets.

With the exception of fiber, carbs provide four calories per gram. Fiber is mostly indigestible, but more on that later.

Carbohydrates are classified as “simple,” and “complex.”

Simple carbohydrates, found in foods including maple syrup, honey, table sugar, and white bread, pasta, and rice, and milk, are digested quickly.

The starch and other complex carbohydrates found in foods such as whole grain bread, vegetables, and legumes (beans), take longer for the body to digest, making for a slower and steadier energy release into the bloodstream.

When levels of glucose dip in the bloodstream, your mental and physical energy drops, too.

Feeling “hangry” is a real thing

What happens when you eat a low carbohydrate diet 

A very low-carbohydrate intake forces the body to use protein and fat for energy, which isn’t ideal. That’s because protein is meant to help build and maintain lean tissue, including muscle, and to make enzymes, hormones, and cells to support life. When protein is used for energy, it cannot do its job to the fullest.

When the body breaks down fat for energy, it produces ketones. Blood levels of ketones remain elevated on a very low-carb diet.  Experts aren’t sure about the effects of high ketones on health, but they do know that excessive ketones can be life-threatening in people with diabetes.

A low-carb diet may shorten your life

Cut carbs and you cut calories, which may be the reason for weight loss.

Why low-carb diets work for weight loss

You will probably lose weight on a very low-carb eating plan, such as the ketogenic diet.

It’s no mystery why, though. Cutting carbs means cutting calories, which encourages weight loss.

If you don’t want to drastically cut carbs to shed pounds, take heart. Research shows that low fat diets work just as well as low carb diets for weight loss.

How eating carbohydrate helps you have a healthy baby 

Maple syrup and honey may be “natural,” but they are sources of added sugar.

Why carbohydrates are good for your gut microbiome 

Fiber, found only in plant foods, including whole wheat pasta, brown rice, and beans, protects against diabetes, heart disease, and colon cancer. Your gut cannot fully digest fiber, but the bacteria that live in  you gut can.

Bacteria in the colon ferment, or feed on, the fiber in food, producing short chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFA protect the lining of your gut and defend it against colon cancer, help to control blood glucose, reduce inflammation, and strengthen your immune system.

Fiber helps to keep you fuller longer, which is beneficial when trying to control your weight. It also plays a role in lowering blood cholesterol levels, keeping blood glucose levels in a normal range, and preventing constipation.

It’s next to impossible to get the fiber you need on a very low-carbohydrate eating plan. As a result, you will starve the good bacteria in your gut that support your overall health.

Some carbohydrate choices are better than others, but you can still have treats! 

How to eat more good carbohydrates 

When it comes to choosing carbs, quality counts. It’s a good idea to consider the company that carbohydrates keep rather than taking them off your menu.

Foods rich in added sugars, such as regular soft drinks, granola bars, and candy, typically offer little besides calories. Limit your intake of foods with added sugars, but know that you don’t have to completely avoid them. Find out what your daily added sugar allowance is here.

Why it’s OK to eat refined grains

Choose high-carb, nutrient-rich foods more often to support your health.

Fruits and vegetables, and plain milk and yogurt, contain naturally-occurring simple sugars. They are not on the list of sweeter foods experts advise us to limit, however.

Foods with naturally-occurring sugar, as well as starchy foods such as whole and enriched grains, potatoes, and rice, are desirable because they supply vitamins, minerals, water, fiber, and phytonutrients, beneficial plant compounds that protect your cells.

Fortified grains supply additional nutrients, such as iron and folic acid, which are often in short supply in women of childbearing age.

The downside of going gluten-free

Bread made with enriched grains provides vitamins and minerals that often go missing in our diets.

How much carbohydrate and fiber should you eat?

Suggested daily carbohydrate and fiber intakes are based on calorie requirements.

Experts recommend consuming 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories as carbohydrate. That amounts to:

  • 248 to 358 grams on a 2,200-calorie eating plan
  • 225 and 325 grams on a 2,000-calorie eating plan
  • 202 to 293 grams on an 1,800-calorie eating plan

Just for reference, popular low-carb diets suggest far less carbohydrate than nutrition experts.  For example, the ketogenic way of eating recommends no more than 50 grams daily, about the amount found in a three-ounce egg bagel.

Fruit is full of water, and can help you meet your daily fluid needs.

Check this list for the carbohydrate content of foods. 

Suggested fiber intakes are easier to figure:

• For every 1,000 calories consumed, eat at least 14 grams of fiber from food.

• For example, on a 2,000-calorie eating plan, include a minimum of 28 grams of food fiber daily.

Beans supply a type of fiber that help beneficial gut bacteria thrive!

How to get the fiber you need every day

It’s easier to include enough fiber and other carbohydrates when you eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables (which includes beans) and at least three servings a day of whole grains.

Don’t be concerned about eating refined grains. As long as they are fortified, such as bread, cereal, pasta, and rice, they can be part of a balanced diet.

For packaged foods, check the Nutrition Facts panel on food labels for fiber content.

Here are some common fiber sources, listed in grams:

Navy beans, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 10

Lentils, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 8

Black beans, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 8

Garbanzo beans, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 8

Whole wheat bread, 2 ounces: 6

White beans, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 6

Pear, 1 medium: 6

Avocado, 1⁄2 cup: 5

Soybeans, 1⁄2 cup, cooked or roasted: 5

Peas, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 4

Chia seeds, 1 tablespoon: 4

Apple, medium, with skin:  4

Raspberries, 1⁄2 cup: 4

Potato, medium, with skin, baked: 4

Sweet potato, medium, flesh only, baked: 4

Almonds, 1 ounce: 4

Broccoli, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 3

Orange, 1 medium: 3

Banana, 1 medium: 3

Quinoa, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 3

Fiber fights high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol 

Conclusion: The truth about carbohydrates

Most foods rich in carbohydrate also contain important nutrients that cannot be found in other foods.

Like any calorie-containing component of food, including protein, fat, and alcohol, too much carbohydrate may end up as stored body fat because of the excess calories it provides.

Eating much less than the recommended amount of carbohydrate is not a good idea, either, because it may have many negative effects on your health.

Including more plant foods and plain dairy products in a balanced eating plan is your best bet for getting enough “good” carbs.  Added sugar can also be part of a healthy diet for most people, including those with diabetes. (Check with your dietitian about your daily carbohydrate “budget.”)

 

Stay Fit and Fabulous After 50

Can we talk? I am not aging well, and by well, I mean I have a hard time accepting how getting older is affecting my body. Judging by all the ads on TV for Botox, body “sculpting,” and drugs to boost bone density, I can see that am not alone in my struggle to stay fit and fabulous after 50.

I’m always on the hunt for ways to preserve my health, and that’s exactly what I found in talking with my friend Christine Rosenbloom, PhD, RD, co-author of Food and Fitness After 50: Eat Well, Move Well, Be Well. I may not like what’s happening to me as the years pass, but I’m not going down without a fight, either. Take that, Mother Nature!

I scoured Chris’ book for tips, but I still had some questions. Here’s what Chris told me when I quizzed her.

Chris Rosenbloom and co-author Bob Murray.

Q. Maybe it’s me, but it’s tough to fight flab with age because it can seem like you’re doing a lot to control your weight with little reward. What is “weight creep,” why does it happen, and what can we do about it?

A. Weight creep is that insidious, small weight gain that doesn’t seem like a big deal. And, a pound or two at a time isn’t a big deal until 20 years later when you’re saddled with an additional 20, 30 or 40 pounds.

Nobody gains 20 pounds overnight; it’s a small, steady increase until one day it hits you that you’re much heavier than you were. I think it happens because we just don’t pay attention. We don’t monitor our weight or pay attention to how our clothes fit. We might get weighed at the doctor’s office (how many of us say, “that scale is way off?”), but rarely does a doctor say anything about weight once we step off the scale.

I also think the rise of Athleisure wear is bad news for aging women. I only wear yoga pants when I do yoga! I wear jeans when working at home, so I have some feedback from the pants that tell me how they fit. While I recommend aiming for health, and not a number on the scale, it may be helpful to weigh yourself often, and possibly daily, to get a sense of an upward trend in your body weight. Don’t worry about fluctuating a couple of pounds every day, because that’s usually just water weight.  If there is an uptick in weight overall, ask yourself what you might be doing to cause the numbers to go up. (Note: If you’ve struggled with disordered eating in the past, it may not be a good idea to weigh yourself daily.)

Should you weigh yourself every day?

Building and preserving muscle goes a long way in your later years. Start now to reap the benefits.

Q. It’s so important for people to understand the importance of muscle as it relates to strength, metabolism, and overall health. Can you describe what happens to muscle tissue as we age?

A. Between the ages of 20 and 90, it’s possible to lose more than 50% of our muscle mass due to sarcopenia (literally meaning “vanishing flesh”) that’s the result of a sedentary lifestyle. And, for women, the effect is even greater, as we have less muscle mass by nature. Add an illness or injury and the picture gets worse; you can lose 1% muscle mass each day after surgery or during an illness!

We lose not only muscle mass, but also muscle strength as we age and that can lead to a decrease in functional fitness, that is, the ability to continue to do the things that help us live independently. Climbing stairs, shopping and carrying groceries, cleaning the house, working in the garden…all of things we take for granted when we are younger can get harder if we lose a significant amount of muscle mass and strength.

The good news is that muscle is very responsive and adaptive to strength training, and we can regain mass and strength by doing progressive, resistance exercise twice a week. You don’t even have to go to the gym. Resistance exercise can be done at home with hand weights or exercise bands. Bob and I like Fitness Blender for online app-based fitness programs, and Go4Life from the National Institute for Aging for easy, free exercise programs.

An eating plan rich in plant foods is good for your heart, and the rest of you, at any age.

Q. Would you explain how menopause influences body weight, muscle mass, bones, and the heart?

A. After menopause, the gradual loss of estrogen affects a woman’s health in many ways, and none of them are positive. Body composition can change, and you may have more visceral fat (the dreaded “belly fat”), an increase in the fat content in muscle, and in your heart and liver, and an overall increase in body weight until about age 70.

Muscle mass is affected, as mentioned before, but most the changes in muscle are related to lack of physical activity that builds and maintains muscle by stressing it. Bone loss begins at about age 30, but after menopause there is a rapid decline in bone mass for the first five years. Bone losses level off after that, but bone density is not as good as before menopause. Dietitians stress the importance of a healthy eating plan, including calcium and vitamin D, during adolescence, a prime bone-building time of life, right up to menopause (and afterwards) so that you have the strongest bones possible before calcium losses occur.

The heart is also affected by reduced estrogen levels.  Before menopause, women tend to have more “good” cholesterol in their bloodstream, and are considered at a lower risk for heart disease than men. That estrogen protection starts to wane with menopause.  But, as dire as it sounds, women can now live almost half of their lives after menopause, and exercise, both aerobic and strength training, help promote a healthy body weight, bone health, heart health, and muscle health. So, instead of looking for a superfood, magic supplements, or prescription drug, start eating right and moving more today, because it is never too late!

Find exercise that you enjoy. Doing different types prevent boredom.

Q. Starting an exercise program, increasing exercise frequency, and changing the type of exercise you do can be daunting. What is your advice to help us stay fit and fabulous after 50?

A. There is no “best” exercise. Find something you like to do, start slow, and just do it.   In my community, I’ve seen older adults go crazy for pickleball, and people who haven’t exercised in 20 years are showing up to play this fun sport. It might also be helpful to join a YMCA or a gym that caters to older adults; many people get free or reduced YMCA membership with their Medicare supplemental insurance but never take advantage of it. And, if that doesn’t work, find a friend or a fitness buddy to walk with.

Q. How important is maintaining strength and agility as we age with regards to independence and quality of life?

I can’t say it enough: Keeping our muscles strong, and staying flexible and agile can help prevent falls, fractures, and metabolic diseases (like diabetes). My goals include traveling, and being able to lift my suitcase to get it into the overhead bin on a plane! I also plan to be able to haul a 50-pound bag of dog food into my shopping cart, my car, and into the house to feed my two big dogs! Those tasks define functional fitness for me at age 66!  I am also realistic and I know things can happen to my body. When an injury or illness comes along,  chances are, you will recover faster and easier if you are fit!

Yogurt is a convenient, versatile, protein-packed food, and it also promotes a healthy digestive system and strong bones to help you stay fit and fabulous after 50.

Q. Protein is getting a lot of attention these days.  Should older people eat more protein than the current suggested intake?

A. Researchers have identified something called “age-related anabolic resistance,” thought to be caused by less sensitive signaling pathways that lead to a slower muscle-making ability. So, older adults who are strength training need more protein than the current recommendation, and protein should be distributed throughout the day to maintain or build muscle. While protein needs vary, I think an easy way to look at it is to recommend about 30 grams of protein per meal (a smaller person might need less 20-25, and a larger person trying to build muscle might need more, 30-40 grams) every day. I would also suggest a nighttime snack with protein, such as a half-cup of cottage cheese, two one-ounce string cheeses, or a small bowl of cereal and milk to “feed” your muscles while sleeping.

How to Reduce Food Waste

I throw away perfectly good food on a regular basis, even though I was raised by a mom who used up all the food. She knew how to reduce food waste, and I want to be better at it.

Food waste is a big problem

The U.S. wastes about 30% of the food available to eat, and most of it is tossed at home. A family of four throws away an average of  $2,200.00-worth of food every year. In addition to wasting money, tossing edible food drives up prices. As a result, people with limited budgets may not get the nutritious food they need.

Why food waste is bad for the planet

Food is the single largest part of trash in landfills, where it produces methane, a global-warming gas.

If food waste was a country, it would be the planet’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, right behind China and the United States.

What’s more, wasting food wastes resources. For example, 25% of all freshwater in the U.S. is used to produce food that we never eat.

Zero-waste snacking tips

How to reduce food waste at home

Managing food wisely takes time and creativity.

The amount of food tossed in my household is directly related to my level of motivation to manage it. That includes  planning meals, shopping, and using up leftovers. The busier I get, the more food I throw away.

We can’t keep all the food out of the trash heap, but I think it’s safe to say we can do better.

I asked my dietitian colleagues for their best food-saving tips. I divided their advice, and my own, into three levels of difficulty. Managing food is hard, so pick the tips that best fit your lifestyle.

Simple tips to save food and money

  • “Before going to the grocery store, look in the fridge and cabinets to see what you have, and what needs to be used up first. If there is something that I know I won’t eat before it goes bad, into the freezer it goes (either cooked or not, depending on the food). Then I use what’s in the freezer when I’m planning my meals.” – Kaleigh McMordie
  • “You don’t need a complicated recipe to make a meal, snack or side dish. Take a look at what you have, and be confident. Most leftovers combine nicely for a soup, casserole or stir-fry.”- Pat Baird

  • Overeating is technically a form of food waste, because we are consuming more food than our bodies need. This form of food waste can lead to chronic diseases, too. Choose smaller plates and glasses.  A smaller plate helps encourage proper portions and reduces overeating.  – Chris Vogliano
  • Get kids involved! Make preserving food a family effort and encourage children to think of ways to waste less.

Check out 10 Ways to Get Kids to Waste Less Food

  • “Use fresh produce in smoothies. I keep bulk Greek yogurt in the fridge and make smoothies as a grab and go breakfast.” – Mary Emerson
  • Purchase plain frozen fruits and vegetables. That way, you will use only what you need at the time and minimize waste.
  • Embrace imperfection. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables with odd shapes, sizes, or colors. They taste the same, and slightly bruised produce is OK to eat if you cut away the damaged areas. Avoid produce with any cuts.

See what happened when Dana Angelo White challenged herself to reduce her family’s food waste

  • After grocery shopping, get perishables into the fridge or freezer ASAP. If you’re making stops before heading home from the super­ market, bring a cooler bag with you in the car for dairy, meat, and produce.
  • Avoid resealing fresh fruits and vegetables in airtight plastic storage bags or containers because they trap moisture that promotes faster decay. Purchase perforated plastic bags for produce or make your own by poking tiny holes in resealable plastic bags.
  • “Write the date a food was opened when you open a container of shelf stable food like broth or canned beans to avoid having to guess whether it’s still good or not when you can’t remember how long it’s been in the fridge.” – Courtney Stinson
  • “Consider a meal delivery service. I found food waste challenging when we went from a family of three to a family of two. Using the Hello Fresh for a few meals a week is helpful. We get just the right amount of ingredients and the meals-for-two are actually dinner-for-two and lunch-for-one.” – Shelley Real

How to reduce food waste and save even more money 

  • Plan meals and snacks for at least five days of the week and shop for the ingredients. Meal planning helps to save money and food waste, and prepping meals on the weekend saves time Monday through Friday.

  • “Reorganize your fridge. Crisper drawers actually have a purpose! Reconsidering how you organize your fridge can keep your food fresh longer by reducing spoilage.  This will save money and fight food waste.  Check out this fridge storage infographic for more information.– Chris Vogliano
  • “I cook vegetables within a day or two of purchase and refrigerate them in airtight container if I know I will not be eating them that day. This allows me to eat them before they have a chance to wilt in the fridge.” – Barbara Baron
  • “Have a family fix it yourself leftovers night. We do this when we’re too lazy or tired to make a meal. We try to eat all the leftover food and what that is close to expiring. Nobody eats the same thing, but we can still usually each find a pretty balanced meal.” – Courtney Stinson

Here’s how to makeover your leftovers

  • “I use extra vegetables and grains to make pasta dishes and rice bowls.” – Rebecca Clyde
  • “When I’m feeling ambitious, I portion out foods like fruit, veggies, beans, and grains into see-through containers, typically in ½-cup or 1-cup portions. As a result, instead of the blueberries getting pushed to the back of the refrigerator and forgotten, someone can easily grab a portion to eat.” -Wendy Kaplan
  • “Build a layered vegetable salad in order of the food’s ability to withstand moisture, and it’ll keep in your refrigerator longer. Starting at the bottom of the bowl, use sturdy vegetables like peppers and carrots. Then use vegetables that can withstand some moisture, like mushrooms and beans. Follow with a layer of whole grains. Finish with a top layer of herbs and lettuce. Add dressing on individual plates, right before serving.” – Tamar Rothenberg

Cook more often to reduce food waste

  • “I keep a bag of vegetable scraps in my freezer to make stock. When I get enough, I toss the vegetables in with bones and cook overnight.” –Wendy Jo Peterson

  • “Eat root-to-stem! For example, if you’re a fan of broccoli, sauté the leaves, which tastes similar to kale, and turn the stem into broccoli rice in the food processor.”  – Jessica Spiro 
  • Use ice cube trays to preserve leftover wine, remaining tomato paste, milk, yogurt, and 100% fruit or vegetable juice. Use in recipes later.

Check out Jessica Elyse’s ways to reduce food waste

  • “Use up parts of veggies you wouldn’t normally eat, or veggies that have lost their texture (ex: softened carrots) by making your own vegetable broth. Compost the veggie scraps after you’ve gotten flavor and nutrients out of them.” – Kelly Jones
  • Make food fresh again. Perk up wilted kale, Swiss chard, spinach, and other greens by placing them in ice water for 30 minutes. Cook and eat or freeze. To freshen up nuts, toast them on a baking sheet in a 350 ̊F oven for 10 minutes.

A year of less food waste by Moms Kitchen Handbook

  • “I make an Egg Bake with my leftover food–nearly anything can be mixed with eggs, some onions and a little cheese (even cottage cheese–one of my favorites).” – Kitty Broihier
  • “Search for recipes based on what you need to use up.  Also, when I realize I made too much of something, I’ll find a friend or neighbor to share it with. -Kacie Barnes

Cooking Down: Minimize Waste and Make Easy Real Food

  • “Dry fruits and vegetables in the oven or a dehydrator. Purée veggies and tomatoes for marinara sauce. Make soup. Make croutons with extra bread.” -Aimee Sarchet
  • “I evaluate the fridge before going to the store each Sunday. Then I make a meal with leftovers, such as a frittata with leftover veggies and cheese.  I also make dishes like grain salad for lunches with cooked whole grains, salad greens, veggies and meat, or a soup. I always freeze leftover canned goods.”‪ – Jessica Ivey

Judy Barbe’s Roasted Cauliflower Fettucini uses cauliflower stems! 

Kara Lydon Evancho has compiled 25 delicious, creative recipes to use up leftovers

When is it OK to throw food away?

I feel guilty every time I throw food away, but sometimes I have to. Never freeze, cook, or eat any food that smells funny.

For safety’s sake, toss the following:

  • Odd­-smelling food
  • Food left out for more than two hours, or one hour if the air temperature is 90 ̊F or above
  • If the power has been out for at least four hours and you haven’t opened the refrigerator or freezer; sooner if you have raw animal foods, dairy, and leftovers
  • If cans have rusted or they’re leaking, deeply dented, or bulging
  • Moldy food (except for cheese; you can cut that part away)

What the dates on food packages mean

You may pitch food because you want to eat only the freshest and safest items, but throwing away perfectly good items contributes to food waste.

Some of the dates on food packages are more about quality than anything.

• “Sell by” dates are used for fresh, perishable foods, such as meats and dairy products. It’s the last possible day the store can sell the product, and it’s a date you should take seriously for safety’s sake. However, if the date passes while you have the product at home, the food should still be safe if handled properly.

• The “Use By” and “Best If Used By” dates have more wiggle room, as they refer to perceived food quality, not food safety. For example, the “best if used by” is the last date recommended for the customer’s use of a product at its peak quality.

• Set your refrigerator between 35 ̊F and 40 ̊F, and your freezer at 0 ̊F or below, to keep food fresher for longer. Don’t stuff the refrigerator and freezer. That reduces cooling efficiency and speeds up food spoilage.

To see how long food is still good past these dates, visit stilltasty.com.

Slow-Cooker Beef and Mushroom Stew

The episode of This Is Us where Jack dies because of a fire caused by a slow cooker has not scared me off this handy appliance, especially because I use it to make Slow-Cooker Beef and Mushroom Stew, one of 60 recipes included in Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, and After Pregnancy.

I love knowing this stew is ready to eat for dinner on a chilly evening, and for lunch the next day.

Whole grain cornbread is delicious with the stew. 

You don’t need to give up meat to eat a plant-based diet, and this recipe proves it, as one portion supplies a full serving of vegetables, along with protein, iron, and about 25% of your daily requirement for choline, a nutrient every cell in your body requires, and is especially necessary for developing brains during pregnancy and early life.

This burger recipe is a beef and mushroom blend

The stew is rich in mushrooms, which take the place of some of the beef. Mushrooms are the only product in the fruit and vegetable section with vitamin D, and they have many other beneficial properties, too.

Mushrooms provide umami, a taste sensation that brings a savory flavor to dishes.

Vary this recipe with a mixture of mushrooms, such as white button and shiitake, if you like.

Slow Cooker Beef and Mushroom Stew

Makes 6 servings.

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cups baby carrots

16 ounces sliced baby bella mushrooms

1 can (15-ounce) no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained

11/2 cups reduced-sodium beef broth

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dried marjoram

1 pound stew meat, such as chuck, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 cup fresh or frozen peas

Freshly ground black pepper to taste (optional)

Place all the ingredients except the beef, peas, and pepper in a slow cooker. Combine well. Add the beef. Cover and cook on the low setting for 8 hours, or on high for 4 hours. Just before serving, add the peas and season with pepper, if desired. Stir well. Cover and cook for 5 more minutes.

Per serving: 

Calories: 238

Protein: 27 grams

Total fat: 5 grams

Saturated fat: 2 grams

Cholesterol: 54 milligrams

Sodium: 470 milligrams

Carbohydrate: 22 grams

Dietary fiber: 4 grams

Calcium: 39 milligrams

Iron: 3 milligrams

Choline: 111 milligrams

No-Bake Vegan Bean and Peanut Butter Treats

I don’t know about you, but for me, Valentine’s Day is all about the candy. As a dietitian, and lover of sweets, these no-bake vegan bean and peanut butter treats check all the boxes for me. And, there is no cooking required!

No-bake vegan Valentine’s day treats

The best thing about vegan recipes is that your family and all of your friends can enjoy them!

No-Bake Bean and Peanut Butter Treats are perfect for everyone because they’re delicious, energizing, and heart-healthy.  And, if made with certified gluten-free oats, these treats are gluten-free, too.

Get kids involved in the kitchen. Children can help form the dough into hearts. Or, if it’s easier, form dough into balls.

Check out this flourless recipe for Easy Black Bean Brownies! 

 

No-Bake Vegan Bean and Peanut Butter Treats

Peanut butter, white beans, and oatmeal combine to make a delicious sweet vegan treat that can be gluten-free, too. 
Prep Time30 mins
Total Time30 mins
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: beans, glutenfree, peanutbutter, ValentinesDay, vegan
Servings: 18
Calories: 124kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 cup oatmeal, uncooked
  • 1 15-oz. can white beans or chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips (vegan and gluten-free, if desired)
  • 3 Tbsp. finely chopped peanuts

Instructions

  • Place all the ingredients except the chocolate chips and peanuts in a food processor.  Blend until the mixture is well-combined, about 3 minutes, pausing to scrape down the sides of the processor.  Leave the dough in the food processor and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
    Place the dough on a large cutting board and press into a 9-inch square that’s about 1/2-inch thick. Use a medium heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut the dough into hearts.*  
    Combine the remaining dough and press into a 1/2-inch thick piece. Cut dough into hearts until you have 18, and place hearts on a wire cooling rack on top of a cutting board.
    To decorate, melt the chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler and  drizzle on the hearts. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and allow the chocolate to harden before eating. Refrigerate leftovers.

Nutrition Information: Per serving: 124 calories; 5 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat); 0 cholesterol; 82 milligrams sodium; 16 grams carbohydrate; 3 grams fiber; 4 grams protein.

    Notes

    *Note: You can also shape the dough into 18 balls. Dip half of each ball into the melted chocolate and coat with peanuts. Place on wax paper to harden.
    Melted dark chocolate provides just enough to satisfy a chocolate craving without excessive sugar.
    www.betteristhenewperfect.com

    How to Eat to Beat Digestive Problems

    Today’s topic: gut health. I know, I know, kind of gross, and not something you bring up in polite conversation. Well, maybe it should be. If you’re among the millions of Americans who suffer with uncomfortable gastrointestinal (GI) tract symptoms on a regular basis, you’ll want to know how to eat to beat digestive problems. See what Kate Scarlata, RDN, LDN, the co-author of The Low-FODMAP Diet Step by Step, A Personalized Plan to Relieve the Symptoms of IBS and Other Digestive Disorders, has to say about getting relief.

    Irritable bowel syndrome and the low FODMAP diet

    One in four of us have tummy trouble on a regular basis, and an estimated 25 to 45 million Americans suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).  

    IBS causes gas, bloating, cramping, pain and altered bowel function.

    The low-FODMAP way of eating is based on an approach created by researchers at Monash University in Australia. According to Scarlata, research shows that up to 75% of people with IBS can get relief from their symptoms by following a low-FODMAP diet.

    A low-FODMAP eating plan may also benefit those with other GI conditions, such as celiac disease (along with a gluten-free eating plan.)

    One in four Americans suffer from tummy trouble.

    The authors know about digestion problems

    When it comes to digestive woes, the authors know what they are talking about. In addition to providing the latest research about personalizing a FODMAP plan and 130 delicious recipes, Kate and her co-author and recipe developer Dede Wilson, discuss their own experiences in the book. Kate had a major intestinal resection nearly 23 years ago that resulted in debilitating digestive symptoms.  Dede was diagnosed with IBS in 1990.  Both have successfully used the low-FODMAP diet to manage their issues.

    Here’s more from my interview with Kate.

    What are FODMAPS?

    FODMAPs are a group of certain carbohydrates (sugars and fibers) found in higher levels in many everyday foods, such as apples, garlic, traditional yogurt (not Greek), and products made with wheat. Because some people can’t properly digest them, FODMAPS can pull water into the small intestine, and they are rapidly consumed by gut microbes (the bacteria present in the gut), which results in excessive gas production. If you have a sensitive gut, water and gas can contribute to symptoms of bloating, alteration in bowel habits, and pain.  Additionally, the microbes that feed on FODMAPs create compounds that may also play a role in the symptoms of digestive distress.

    Peanuts and walnuts are on the low-FODMAP food list.

    Why did you write this book? 

    I co-wrote the The Low-FODMAP Diet Step by Step because I wanted IBS patients to have an easy-to-understand approach to following the low FODMAP diet.  I have created ways to make the approach less daunting and realistic through my work with thousands of patients to implement the low-FODMAP diet.

    What do you want people to know about a low FODMAP way of eating?

    The most important point about the low-FODMAP approach is that is it a three-part nutritional intervention. The first part is a two to six-week elimination phase where high-FODMAP foods are taken out of the diet.  The second part is the challenge, or reintroduction, phase. During this phase, FODMAPs are systematically added back to the diet to help you identify which FODMAP sources trigger symptoms, and which FODMAPs do not. The third phase is the integration phase, when tolerated FODMAP foods are slowly added back to the diet.

    The goal of the low-FODMAP approach is to eat the most varied and enjoyable diet as possible while maintaining good symptom control. However, balance is important. Cutting out too many foods on the low-FODMAP diet may also reduce some healthy microbes in the gut.  We encourage the challenge and integration phases of the low-FODMAP diet so that you can follow an eating plan with as much variety as possible to maintain symptom relief and keep your gut healthy.

    Yes, Chocolate Chunk Cookies are on the low-FODMAP diet menu! You’ll find the recipe in book.

    You mention in the book that digestive disorders are on the rise. What are your thoughts on why this is happening?

    In my opinion, we are seeing an increase in digestive issues due to a a variety of reasons including the use of antibiotics and antimicrobial soaps, high fructose corn syrup (a concentrated source of FODMAPs) and food additives. For example, emulsifiers in highly processed foods such as ice cream, salad dressing, and mayonnaise, cause gut inflammation and altered gut microbes in animal studies.

    Pollution, stress, and other factors also alter and disturb the balance of microbes that inhabit our gut and support health.

    What your gut bacteria say about your health

    Do you think it’s difficult for people to be properly diagnosed with IBS and other digestive disorders? 

    In America, talking about gut health is often viewed as taboo. Although our views on talking about it is slowly changing for the better, many patients would rather suffer in silence than address their symptoms. A recent study found that primary care doctors fail to ask about GI symptoms quite often as well during physical exams, which further compounds the problem.

    How to talk to your doctor about digestive issues

    On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best), how exciting is the evidence about the effects of what you eat on digestive health and overall wellbeing? 

    I would say we are at about a 10+ in this area! The evidence continues to mount daily that the gut is the window to health.

    What we eat impacts the trillions of microbes that live in our intestine. We know these microbes affect our chances for chronic diseases including diabetes, obesity, non alcoholic liver disease, and depression.

    It’s a very exciting time to be a dietitian interested in gut health. I truly believe all dietitians should be watching the research closely so that they can best communicate findings to patients and other consumers.

    How else can we eat to beat digestive problems? What’s on the horizon?

    There are so many new studies looking at how FODMAPs may affect health. A 2017 study showed that when breastfeeding moms of infants with colic decreased their FODMAP intake, the infants’ colic symptoms decreased.

    While more research is needed about the effect of mom’s diet on colic, the study offers hope to parents. Another interesting study looked at how the low-FODMAP diet may help reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation can give rise to chronic conditions including heart disease and cancer.

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