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Nutrition Notes

Karen Lentner, MA, RD, LDNKaren Lentner, MA, RD, LDNDuring the coronavirus, do you find yourself looking for ways to keep yourself healthy? Currently there’s not a vaccine or food that is guaranteed to protect you from coronavirus, but there are ways to keep your immune system working optimally to help you stay healthy during these times. We’ve heard about washing our hands, avoiding contact with sick individuals, managing stress, getting enough sleep, and being physically active; but good nutrition is also critical for good health. A healthful, balanced diet is necessary to keep our immune system strong, and eating a variety of foods is the key to good nutrition.

We’ve heard about washing our hands, avoiding contact with sick individuals, managing stress, getting enough sleep, and being physically active; but good nutrition is also critical for good health.

The nutrients your body needs include protein, to build and preserve body tissues and strength and to fight viruses or infections.  Protein sources include lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, and yogurt. Consider plant-based sources, especially if you’re finding meat to be more limited at this time. Nuts and nut butters, beans, lentils, tofu, hummus, and quinoa are excellent options. Try to incorporate protein sources into each meal or snack throughout the day.

Antioxidants, vitamins and minerals can also boost immune function. Beta carotene helps antibodies fight toxins and reduce inflammation. Sources include green leafy vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and cantaloupe.

Vitamin C and E are antioxidants that protect your cells and support immune response. Sources include oranges, grapefruit, red and green peppers, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and strawberries. 

Vitamin D may help reduce your risk for viral and respiratory infections. The best source of natural vitamin D is obtained outdoors in the sunshine. Food sources include egg yolks, cheese, mushrooms, tofu, salmon and fortified milk, soymilk, orange juice, and cereals. 

Probiotics and prebiotics help boost the health of our microbiome (our gut). They help digest food, destroy disease causing microorganisms, and keep your immune system healthy. Food sources of probiotics include yogurt, kefir, fermented pickles and sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, and sourdough bread.  Prebiotic rich foods include asparagus, garlic, apple cider vinegar, onions, berries, bananas, and whole grains. 

Zinc is a mineral that has been helpful in shortening the duration of the common cold and boosting immunity. Sources include beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, nuts, seeds, beef, pork, and yogurt. 

Other foods that have shown benefits in boosting the immune system include blueberries, ginger, turmeric, garlic, elderberry, and green tea. 

With summer approaching, consider buying many of the foods listed at a local farmers market. Find a farmers market near you at massfarmersmarkets.org

Remember to stay hydrated! Water, fruits, and soups all provide necessary fluids to stay hydrated and healthy.  Try to consume at least 6 to 8 cups of fluid every day.

If you find yourself craving comfort foods at this time, especially those with high sugar or fat content, try to limit the amounts, if you feel able. Be mindful of the foods you are eating and limit those that provide mostly calories and limited nutritional value.

In these uncertain times, take care of yourself. Plan your meals and snacks using foods listed above, try to maintain a healthy weight, and enjoy the bounty of the season. Consider Grab and Go meals from one of our dining centers or call LifePath to set up Meals on Wheels at 413-773-5555.

Karen Lentner, MA, RD, LDNKaren Lentner, MA, RD, LDNProcessed Foods: How Bad Are They?

Do you ever hear people say they want to stop eating “processed foods”? Do you know what this actually means? Have you decided you can’t eliminate processed foods since fresh foods may be too expensive? Let’s take a look at what they are and what are the best choices.

What are processed foods? Processed foods have been altered in some way prior to buying or preparing the foods. This includes food that has been canned, frozen, cooked, preserved, and fortified with added flavors or vitamins. Once we’ve cooked or prepared our food, we are processing it. There is a huge range from minimally processed to heavily processed foods. Of course unprocessed foods directly from the farm are ideal, but this may not be possible for many of us.

It is not necessary to avoid minimally processed foods as the processing may be done to lock in freshness and nutritional quality while the food is at its ideal ripeness and nutritional content. 

It is not necessary to avoid minimally processed foods as the processing may be done to lock in freshness and nutritional quality while the food is at its ideal ripeness and nutritional content. In other words, vegetables may be canned or frozen at the peak of harvest season, or bagged or cut at a farm just prior to selling. Ground coffee, bagged vegetables, nuts, and seeds may be minimally processed at the perfect time for your benefit and ease. Other examples of beneficial processing may be fortified milk or juices with vitamin C, D, and calcium; or added fiber to breads; or cereals with added whole grains and seeds. When fresh fruit is not available or expensive, canned fruit packed in its own juice or water is an excellent alternative. Canned fruit with added sugars, corn syrup, and preservatives, on the other hand, are more processed and should be limited. 

Instead of asking if a food is processed, ask how and how much it is processed. One way of checking if foods are more heavily processed is to read food labels. Minimally processed fruits, vegetables, and meats would be packaged exclusively as the fruit or vegetable, without added ingredients. Additional processing includes the addition of sugar, salt, sauces, artificial color, flavorings, antibiotics, nitrates, chemical fillers, and other preservatives. If the ingredient list is long and you cannot identify them, it’s probably heavily processed and should be limited.

Sugars may be added to foods to improve flavor, color, or consistency. Ingredients are listed on products in order of quantity. Tomatoes may be listed first on the ketchup label, then distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, salt, and artificial flavoring. If you’re watching your intake of sugar or salt, this should be limited.

What you eat affects your health. Decrease your intake of highly processed food and reduce your risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Do your own cooking, include whole foods with limited additives such as vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Choose fresh meats, limit prepared and processed meals, meats, hot dogs, canned soups, and frozen pizza. For a nutritious meal, consider joining us at one of our dining centers (find a complete list on LifePathMa.org) or call LifePath to set up Meals on Wheels at 413-773-5555, X1230; or 978-544-2259, X1230.

Karen LentnerKaren Lentner, MA, RD, LDNThere are often many conversations surrounding diets and weight loss, but what about the person that struggles to gain weight? Many people say, “I wish I had that problem,” but for those who struggle to gain a pound, the problem is challenging and often difficult to overcome. For older people, weight loss may be an issue due to a variety of reasons including increased difficulty preparing meals or lack of desire to cook, limited resources, conditions such as cancer or depression, or decreased appetite related to taste changes or difficulty chewing or swallowing. These factors may all contribute to why someone might not be able to consume enough calories to maintain or gain weight. Obesity may be a risk factor for diseases such as diabetes or heart conditions, but being underweight can contribute to a weakened immune system, malnutrition, and weakness, making it harder to perform daily tasks and recover from illness.

For older people, weight loss may be an issue due to a variety of reasons including increased difficulty preparing meals or lack of desire to cook, limited resources, conditions such as cancer or depression, or decreased appetite related to taste changes or difficulty chewing or swallowing.

There isn’t a one size fits all plan to gain weight, but the goal is to consume more calories than you burn. To gain a pound a week, this may mean consuming approximately 500 extra calories each day.

Consider these tips for gaining or maintaining weight:

*Make the most of each bite and select foods that are nutrient dense or rich in calories and nutrients instead of foods that are empty calories with limited nutrients. Instead of soda, candy or convenience foods, consider nuts, nut butters, avocados, and full fat milk products including cheese, milk, yogurt, pudding, and cream soups. Serve cream sauces with vegetables or pasta, and add cheese, cream and butter to potatoes. Add beans to soups or stews; peanut butter, cheese, ice cream, or cream cheese to baked goods or smoothies; or avocado slices to sandwiches. Choose nutritious carbohydrates such as whole grain breads, pasta, or cereal with nutrient rich toppings for extra calories.

*Eat small frequent snacks and/or meals. Try to eat or drink every hour or two, especially if you have a poor appetite. Eating smaller amounts throughout the day and gradually increasing amounts consumed each time, increases your total daily caloric intake, ultimately helping you gain weight. Aim for at least 5 or 6 small meals each day. Consider a nutritious shake, smoothie, or milk as a supplement, perhaps a few ounces at a time instead of an entire bottle at once. Include snacks such as protein bars or drinks, peanut butter, cheese or hummus with crackers, nuts, eggs, or pasta salad with added meat or cheese.

*Consider your beverages. Drinking a lot of water or soda may fill you up without much benefit – select shakes, milk, or smoothies instead. When a recipe calls for water, add whole milk or cream if appropriate.

*Select foods high in protein such as eggs, fish, beans, nuts, and higher fat meats for added calories. Consider ground meats with sauces and extra cheese or cream if whole meats are harder to prepare or eat.

Consider joining us for a nutritious meal at one of our dining centers (find a complete list on LifePathMA.org) or call LifePath to set up Meals on Wheels at 413-773-5555. If weight gain continues to be a challenge, speak with your physician and consider a nutrition consult with a dietitian.

Karen LentnerNutritionist Karen Lentner Have you ever thought about protein and how much you need as you age? What is protein and why does your body need it? What foods should you eat to get enough protein?

Proteins are complex molecules or amino acids that play a critical role in our body. Protein is needed to make and repair cells and muscles. We need a constant supply of protein for overall health, muscle strength, balance and preventing falls, and to help recover from illness. It is especially important to eat enough protein as we age as our bodies may not use it as efficiently to maintain muscle mass and strength, including bone strength. If you lose muscle in your legs, for example, this may lead to weakness and feeling tired when walking.

Many older adults do not eat enough protein due to impaired taste, reduced appetite, dental or swallowing problems, limited finances, or you may no longer enjoy the taste of meat. Studies have shown that if you consume an adequate amount of protein, you are more apt to maintain basic bodily functions including your ability to walk and climb stairs, or to get dressed.

How much protein do I need?

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein for healthy adults (age 19 and older) is 56 grams for men and 46 grams for women. This translates to approximately 7 ounces of protein per day for men and approximately 6.5 ounces of protein for women. If you are malnourished, or have a chronic disease, your protein requirements may be higher (possibly 70+ grams per day). Another way to determine your protein needs is to calculate approximate .8 to 1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for healthy adults.

Studies have shown that if you consume an adequate amount of protein, you are more apt to maintain basic bodily functions including your ability to walk and climb stairs, or to get dressed.

Good protein sources and how much protein is in food

Approximately 3 ounces of cooked meat, poultry, or fish contain 21 grams of protein.

  • Cheese, 1 ounce = 7 grams of protein
  • Peanut butter, 2 tablespoons = 7 grams
  • Tofu, ½ cup = 10 grams
  • Yogurt, ½ cup = 6 grams
  • Greek yogurt, ½ cup = 12 grams
  • Quinoa, 1 cup cooked = 8 grams
  • Tuna, 4 ounces drained = 22 grams
  • Egg, 1 large = 6 grams
  • Almonds, 1 ounce or 23 almonds = 6 grams
  • Milk, 1 cup = 8 grams
  • Beans (e.g., kidney beans, black beans, lentils), ½ cup = 8 grams

A good way to meet your protein needs is to select a variety of foods from the list above and spread it out throughout the day. To help you get the protein you need, consider joining us for a meal at one of our dining centers (find a complete list here) or call LifePath to set up Meals on Wheels at 413-773-5555. Protein is essential for healing, building, and repairing your cells and body tissue. Eating enough protein every day will help you maintain your health and independence.

Karen Lentner head shotNutritionist Karen LentnerDid you know that inflammation is more than a swollen ankle or a cut finger after a fall or injury? Inflammation, especially chronic inflammation, can be far more serious and may be the cause of serious health issues including cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and more.

There are two types of inflammation, acute and chronic:

Acute inflammation

Acute inflammation often occurs after an infection or injury, such as a sprained ankle or redness in the skin caused by a scrape or cut. It’s a healthy, natural process that helps your body heal.

Chronic inflammation

Chronic inflammation is long-term and persistent, often occurring in conditions including arthritis, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disease. Foods, stress, and chemicals may also be a cause of inflammation.

What are signs of chronic inflammation?
Signs of chronic inflammation include:
  • chronic fatigue
  • high blood glucose levels
  • gum disease
  • allergies
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • joint pain or stiffness
  • reddened, blotchy skin associated with eczema or psoriasis
  • digestive problems including gas, bloating, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or constipation

Obesity or excess fat around your waist may be a sign of inflammation in your gut.

Since chronic inflammation can contribute to health issues, what can we do to decrease it?

One of the most powerful ways to fight inflammation is by DIET – avoiding common inflammatory foods, and adding anti-inflammatory foods rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and nutrients. These foods help fight inflammation and nourish your body to keep you healthy.

Foods that fight inflammation – INCLUDE plenty of these in your diet:
  • Green leafy vegetables: spinach, kale, chard, and cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower.
  • Fruits: including berries, oranges, cherries.
  • Fatty fish: salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines
  • Healthy fats: including olive oil, coconut, walnut and hazelnut oils, and avocado.
  • High fiber foods: whole grains, nuts, seeds, and beans (legumes).
  • Probiotics and fermented foods: including yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, and miso. Check labels to make sure they contain live organisms that help restore gut health and reduce inflammation.
  • Teas: including white, green, and oolong, which have antioxidants that may reduce inflammation.
  • Herbs and spices: including turmeric, curry, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, basil, rosemary, and thyme: use these seasonings generously.
Foods to avoid that may promote inflammation – try to AVOID:
  • Refined carbohydrates, sugars: including white bread, pastries, donuts; and for some people, avoiding gluten is helpful.
  • Processed meats: hot dogs, sausage, kielbasa, and red meat (burgers, steaks).
  • Soda, other sugar sweetened beverages.
  • Fried foods, lard, shortening.

For an overall healthy diet that helps reduce inflammation, consider the Mediterranean diet as it’s rich in fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and healthy oils. Consider eating less processed and more natural foods as these may improve your physical and emotional health and your overall quality of life. Exercise daily, get enough sleep, consider yoga or mindfulness to reduce stress, and maintain a healthy weight.

Consider joining us for a healthy meal at one of our dining centers or call LifePath to set up Meals on Wheels at 413-773-5555 or 978-544-2259.