- Written by Karen Lentner, MA, RD, LDN
Are you looking for ways to improve your health and brain function, prevent disease, and control your weight? You may want to consider the Mediterranean diet, still honored as the number one overall diet in America by U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking. The Mediterranean diet is not necessarily about cutting calories. It is a way of life that encourages eating a variety of whole and nourishing foods with family and friends, and also having a more active lifestyle. After years of popularity, studies continue to conclude that the Mediterranean diet may reduce your risk of cardiac disease, cancer, stroke, inflammation, and Alzheimer’s disease, and in older populations may improve overall brain function.
The Mediterranean diet is a well-balanced healthy eating plan that incorporates several plant–based foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and healthy fats such as olive oil. It encourages using herbs and spices to flavor foods instead of salt, eating fish and poultry at least twice per week, small amounts of dairy including low fat yogurt and cheese, and limiting processed foods, sweets, and meat. Consider seasonal and fresh foods whenever possible. These foods are the foundation of traditional cooking styles in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea including Italy, Spain and Greece.
Traditional whole grains in the Mediterranean region include brown, red, or black rice; barley; farro; quinoa; and whole grain breads eaten plain or dipped in olive oil instead of butter. Consider oatmeal with fruit for breakfast, or hummus with raw vegetables for a snack. Look for the term “whole grain” on labels, in bread, pasta, or rice, limiting white and refined grains and bread. Extra fiber also helps you feel full for longer periods of time, which is beneficial for weight control.
Fruits and vegetables are encouraged in the Mediterranean diet. They are rich in nutrients or “nutrient-dense,” low in calories, high in fiber, and contain beneficial compounds such as antioxidants that help protect against free radicals, which may cause cancer, heart disease, stroke, and other diseases of aging. Research consistently shows that consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of chronic disease. Farmers’ markets, grocery stores, and community gardens are still harvesting many fresh fruits and vegetables this time of year. Make it a goal to fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits.
Healthy fats including olive oil, avocados, nuts, and fish such as salmon and sardines (rich in omega-3 fatty acids), are encouraged. Cook with olive oil instead of butter, in moderation if watching your weight. Try using olive oil in salad dressings and for roasting vegetables.
In order to fully benefit from the Mediterranean diet, also consider lifestyle changes. Cooking and sharing your food with family and friends provides social support and a sense of community. Look for ways to exercise and become more active. Consider walking with a friend for at least 30 minutes daily or try a yoga or tai chi class to improve balance and strength. Remember to drink plenty of fluids, especially water.
Try healthier choices for meals and snacks. Instead of hamburgers, substitute a salmon or veggie burger; quinoa instead of white rice; carrot, celery, or cucumber sticks instead of chips or crackers; yogurt instead of ice cream; whole grain bread instead of a white roll; and hummus spread instead of mayonnaise on a sandwich or wrap. Consider tomato, cucumber, and green lettuce sprinkled with olive oil, lemon, and oregano or basil to create a wonderful blend of flavors!
The principles of the Mediterranean lifestyle are important to remember, but equally important is creating a realistic eating plan that works for you. Many cultures incorporate similar foods that may be included in your eating plan. For example, Asian stir-fries and Indian vegetable curries are highlighted in other parts of the world, and contain many of the same healthy ingredients. You may incorporate other nutritious ingredients or spices and reap the benefits of healthy eating. As you begin, consider increasing the number of servings of fruits and vegetables or whole grains into your diet while adding daily physical activity. As time goes on, gradually increase the healthy foods and exercise.
Keep it simple and affordable. Here are some shopping tips to consider:
- Choose more fruits and vegetables. Consider fresh in-season, or try frozen fruits and vegetables, or fruits canned in juice.
- Select breads with whole grain or whole wheat as the first ingredient on the label. Focus on 4 or more grams of fiber per serving.
- Choose extra virgin olive oil over butter.
- Try whole grain pasta or brown rice.
- Substitute legumes (dried or canned) such as beans and lentils; nuts; seafood; tofu; and eggs for meat.
- If fresh fish is too expensive, try fresh-caught frozen. Canned fish, such as salmon or tuna, are also good alternatives.
Start your healthy lifestyle journey to better health today!
- Written by Karen Lentner, MA, RD, LDN
When you’re feeling stressed, or after having a bad day, do you ever find yourself mindlessly eating chips out of the bag, ice cream from the container, or a very large piece of chocolate? You may have experienced this kind of stress eating, but do you think there’s a connection between your food and your mood? You may reach for foods that you think will provide comfort, but do they actually make you feel better or worse?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have had feelings of isolation and anxiety. We’ve been concerned about our physical health, but our mental and emotional health are equally as important. Studies have shown that the foods we eat may positively affect our mood and impact the way we feel, similar to how we feel after exercise and socializing with friends or family. Eating the right foods may also increase our energy levels, improve the quality of our sleep, and help us think more clearly.
A Mediterranean-style diet may help lower your risk of depression and protect your mental health. It is a well-balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, olive oil, and lean protein, and discourages red meat, processed foods, and unhealthy fats. Instead of focusing on subtracting items from your diet, try adding an extra fruit or vegetable or some of these healthier items every day.
How do we manage our mood with food?
1. Eat regularly. When your blood sugar drops, you may feel irritable, tired, or depressed. Eating regularly will keep your blood sugars stable. Avoid skipping meals including breakfast, and try eating smaller portions throughout the day. Whole grain bread with peanut butter, an egg or cheese, nuts, or low fat yogurt with berries, are good places to start. Eating well-balanced meals or snacks such as these helps keep your blood sugars stable throughout the day, and your brain functioning at its best.
2. Avoid food containing primarily sugar that will make your blood sugar rise and fall quickly, also known as a “sugar crash.” Avoid items such as soda, juice, donuts, pastries, or candy.
3. Get sufficient protein. Protein contains amino acids that play an important role in the production of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters may help improve your mood and decrease anxiety and depression. Aim for at least 45 grams or 6 or more ounces of lean protein each day such as poultry, fish, tofu, and legumes (beans and lentils). A serving of chicken the size of your fist is approximately 3 ounces. Limit your intake of red meat.
4. Take care of your gut microbiome. Research has shown the link between gut health and mental health. An unhealthy gut may be associated with anxiety and depression. The gut microbiome contains trillions of micro-organisms living in the GI tract that play a critical role in our health. Foods containing prebiotics and probiotics feed and support your gut microbiome. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and legumes (prebiotics), and fermented foods such as yogurt, kombucha, kefir, and kimchi (probiotics). For healthy digestion, you need plenty of fiber, fluid, and regular exercise.
5. Increase intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and healthy fats. These are found in fish, walnuts, almonds, flaxseed, chia seeds, olive oil, sunflower oil, and avocados, and help fight off feelings of depression.
6. Have your vitamin D levels checked. Low levels of vitamin D or nutrients including iron, zinc, folate, and magnesium may be associated with depression and mood disorders. Sources of vitamin D and these nutrients are from foods such as fatty fish including salmon, leafy greens, egg yolks, and fortified foods, as well as sunshine.
7. Maintain adequate hydration. Drink a minimum of 6–8 cups of fluid daily, limiting caffeine and alcohol. Being adequately hydrated may help your concentration, mood, and cognition.
8. Avoid processed foods. Chronic inflammation may result from a diet containing large amounts of processed foods, causing depression and anxiety. Adding green leafy vegetables, high fiber, and fermented foods, teas, and herbs and spices including turmeric, curry, ginger, and garlic may all help fight inflammation.
By better understanding how food and mood interact and affect one another, it will assist you in making improved food choices and hopefully limit emotional eating. Be mindful of when, what, and how much you are eating. By incorporating a healthy balance and a variety of nutrient-rich foods into your life, you will feel better physically and mentally.
- Written by Karen Lentner, MA, RD, LDN
March is National Nutrition Month, a campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to focus attention on healthful eating and developing long-term, sound eating and physical activity habits. This year’s theme for National Nutrition Month is “Celebrate a World of Flavors.” It encourages us to celebrate flavors and cultures from around the world and to appreciate our diversity. We can learn to build a healthy plate incorporating our own traditions and heritage, as well as by incorporating cultural foods and traditions from around the world.
Turmeric, a yellow spice used in many Asian cuisines, is known to have many health benefits including decreasing inflammation, improving heart health, and preventing cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
The foods we eat are often a reflection of our own traditions and culture. The United States has a history of welcoming people from around the world, and our foods, recipes, and ingredients often represent a variety of flavors. You may prefer to eat certain foods because they are familiar to you or they remind you of your childhood and foods you ate growing up. Food may have been the focus or center of family gatherings. Familiarity is important, but perhaps trying new flavors and spices may make healthful foods taste even better!
Many cuisines include foods from each food group, making it possible to plan meals that are well-balanced, nutritious, and flavorful. Choosing a variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups including protein, fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy will help you get all the nutrients you need for good health. When creating healthy meals, try to limit added sugar and salt, saturated fats, and calories. Try to avoid foods that are deep fried, if possible. Lastly, think about portion sizes. Italian culture, for example, may include pasta at both lunch and supper. If you limit your portion size, this can be a healthy choice too. Remember the “My Plate” guidelines by filling half your plate with vegetables and fruit, and the other half with your protein, grains and dairy.
Let’s take a look at a few cultures and cuisines we may be familiar with and build a healthy plate utilizing foods from around the world.
Asian food, including Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indian, etc., has become increasingly popular. Asian food may symbolize longevity and prosperity, and nutritious food choices are plentiful. Consider miso soup as a starter. Miso, made from soybean paste, is a good protein source and is linked to a variety of health benefits including boosting your immunity and improving digestion. It contains probiotics, the good bacteria that supports a healthy gut. Kimchi, Korean fermented cabbage, is also an excellent source of probiotics.
For your main meal, consider entrees that are stir-fried or steamed. Stir-fried dishes are cooked using a small amount of oil and are often loaded with a variety of healthy vegetables and low fat protein sources including chicken, fish, and tofu. Stir-fried dishes are a much healthier choice than deep-fried chicken fingers, crab rangoon, fried rice, or egg rolls, as the latter are much higher in fat and calories. Stir-fried meals are often seasoned with fresh ginger root, a flavorful ingredient rich in antioxidants that reduces inflammation and nausea. Enjoy it in your meals or add it to your tea.
Thai curries and dishes such as pad thai may contain coconut milk, noodles, or oil, which add calories, however they’re also rich with nutrient-dense vegetables and lean proteins, the building blocks of a healthy plate. Traditional Indian food often features yogurt, lentils or dal for protein, Sambar (a spicy lentil and vegetable stew), and kebabs consisting of chicken and vegetables. Turmeric, a yellow spice used in many Asian cuisines, is known to have many health benefits including decreasing inflammation, improving heart health, and preventing cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
Eastern European cuisine is also familiar to many of us. A healthy plate may include boiled pierogies filled with potato or cheese, cabbage stuffed with lean beef and rice, hearty sourdough breads with seeds, fresh cabbage, lightly seasoned salads, fermented beetroot soups including borscht, and alternative grains such as buckwheat and barley. Traditional foods may include sausage or kielbasa but should be limited due to their processing, fat, and added sodium.
Mediterranean cuisine includes the traditional cooking styles of Italy, Spain, and Greece. The Mediterranean diet is a well-balanced eating plan that incorporates plenty of plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, fish, and healthy fats such as olive oil and avocados. Traditional grains include quinoa, faro, and barley. Pasta, including whole grain pasta, is a way of life in Italy, yet it is often made with a few fresh ingredients, including spices, legumes, and vegetables. Adopting a Mediterranean style diet may reduce your risk of cardiac disease and cancer, and improve overall brain function, which is why it is often encouraged due to its health benefits. To fully benefit from the Mediterranean diet or other cuisines, consider lifestyle modifications including exercise, becoming more active, and cooking and sharing your food with family and friends.
This journey may bring some of the many cultures and flavors of the world to mind. During Nutrition Month, I encourage you to embrace global cultures and try new foods and flavors. Add a new exercise to your day. Experiment with seasonal fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and add at least one new seasoning to your spice cabinet. May it bring you one step closer to better health!
- Written by Karen Lentner, MA, RD, LDN, LifePath Nutritionist
Once again the holidays are upon us, the days are getting shorter and colder, and comfort comes to mind. For many, winter brings thoughts of how to stay safe and warm, what comfort foods to buy or prepare, and catching up on projects, books to read, or movies to watch. After the holidays do you also find yourself thinking about New Year’s resolutions? Are they often short-lived because they were never realistic to begin with?
Once the holidays are over, we may have the best of intentions. Maybe you want to lose the 10 pounds you gained last year, exercise or sleep more, cook foods that are better for you, or reduce stress. Often it feels harder to get motivated when it’s dark and cold outside. It’s easier to think about getting in shape when the weather is warm and you have more energy.
If your goal is to maintain or build your strength and improve your health, eating enough protein every day is critical.
Making realistic, clearly-defined goals or resolutions that include a timeline and accountability are more likely to be successful than just saying “I want to eat healthy.” A suggestion for a resolution might be to eat healthier to increase or maintain your strength, to build muscle, and/or to decrease fat. Building or maintaining muscle mass helps support strength and balance and reduces your risk of falls and fractures.
Muscle mass can start to decrease at as early as 30 years of age. Illness, medications, stress, smoking, alcohol, and lack of activity may cause muscle to break down. To maintain muscle mass and strength, it is important to eat enough protein and nutrient-rich calories each day. Engaging in physical activity or exercising regularly is also critical for maintaining muscle mass.
So let’s get back to that resolution. If your goal is to maintain or build your strength and improve your health, eating enough protein every day is critical.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that older adults should strive to get at least 5-6 ½ ounces of protein per day (depending on your size and calorie needs). This is equivalent to approximately 45 or more grams of protein daily. If you are malnourished, or have a specific chronic disease, your protein requirements may be higher, possibly 70 grams per day. Another way to determine your protein needs is to calculate approximately 0.8 to 1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for healthy adults.
How do you get enough protein and what are good sources?
Approximately 3 ounces of cooked poultry, fish, or other meat = 21 grams of protein
Tofu, ½ cup = 10 grams of protein
Cheese, 1 ounce = 7 grams of protein
Yogurt, ½ cup = 6 grams of protein
Greek yogurt, ½ cup = 12 grams of protein
Milk, 1 cup = 8 grams of protein
Beans, ½ cup kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc. = average 8 grams of protein
Peanut butter, 2 tablespoons = 8 grams of protein
Quinoa, 1 cup cooked = 8 grams of protein
Brown rice, ½ cup = 5 grams of protein
Egg, 1 large = 6 grams of protein
Almonds, ¼ cup = 6 grams of protein
To meet your protein needs, try to select a variety of foods from the list above and spread it throughout the day in meals and snacks.
Another excellent resolution for the New Year is maintaining or increasing your physical activity. Although we may feel like hibernating, regular exercise is the key to building muscle, good health, and maintaining your independence. It also helps to reduce your risk of chronic health conditions. In order for this goal to be realistic, look for activities you enjoy so that you’re more likely to stick with them. Walking, swimming, yoga (in-person or virtually), chair exercises, dancing, resistance bands, and lifting weights are activities that can be done year round. To help you to be accountable so you stay on track, try to do at least one activity a week with a friend. Consider shopping together in a large grocery store or at the mall, where you can walk freely during the winter months.
Instead of saying you’ll eat healthier or exercise more, be specific. You might start your resolution by saying you will eat at least 6 ounces of protein daily, will consume one serving of fruit and vegetables every day, and will walk for 30 minutes at least 3 times a week. Your goals need to be realistic for you. Make a timeline and try keeping a log or journal to measure your progress until you have successfully met your goals.
Let January be the start of realistic resolutions, where you can see gradual positive and healthy changes. Making better food choices and staying physically active will help you feel healthier and more energetic, and will help keep you motivated to continue building healthy habits into your routine.
- Written by Karen Lentner, MA, RD, LDN
Personalize Your Plate
National Nutrition Month is an annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, celebrated in March every year. Its focus is on the benefits and importance of making informed food choices and healthful eating habits. This year’s theme for National Nutrition Month is “Personalize Your Plate.” The goal is for all of us to create a healthy eating plan based on our needs and preferences, and one that is realistic for each of us as individuals. We may know what we should eat and understand the importance of exercise, but how do we make it happen? Start by taking one realistic step at a time!
Eating healthy doesn’t need to be complicated.
Eating healthy doesn’t need to be complicated. Plan and build your meals with a variety of foods, colors, and flavors. As we age, we often think we don’t need as much fluid, protein, or calories as we did when we were young. We may need less calories, however when it comes to fluids, fiber, or other nutrients, our bodies may actually need more. Eating a variety of foods from all food groups helps meet those needs.
Try making half your plate fruits and vegetables as they add nutrients, texture and fiber to your diet. Set a goal of eating 2 or more cups of both fruits and vegetables every day. Select fruits that are fresh, dried, frozen or canned in 100% juice. Add fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables to main dishes, sides, or salads and choose colorful varieties prepared in healthful ways including steaming, roasting with olive oil, sautéeing, or eating them raw. If half your plate is fruits and vegetables, the other half should include lean protein and grains.
Protein is critical for muscle strength and cell repair, balance and preventing falls, and to help you recover from illness. Older adults need at least 6 to 8 ounces of protein daily, ideally from a variety of sources including fish, poultry, eggs, legumes, lean meats, dairy, and nuts. Many protein foods also contain vitamin B12, another necessary nutrient that may be absorbed less due to age or medications.
Pay attention to portion sizes. Whether you’re overweight or underweight, portion sizes matter. Personalize your plate and portion sizes based on what your needs are, with a goal of maintaining a healthy weight. Consider eating small frequent meals throughout the day instead of 3 large meals.
Make at least half your grains whole grains by choosing breads, cereals, and pasta made with 100% whole grains. On food labels, look for 3 or more grams of fiber per serving. Excellent choices include whole grain bread and cereals, oatmeal, brown rice, popcorn, barley, lentils, and quinoa.
Select foods low in sugar and salt. Foods and drinks with added sugars or corn syrup solids add calories and minimal nutrients. Processed or pre-made foods are often higher in sugar and salt. Try preparing your own foods without added sugar and salt, using spices or herbs instead.
Stay hydrated! Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, especially water and unsweetened beverages. Set a goal of 6 to 8 cups of fluid daily to prevent dehydration. If you’re feeling thirsty, you may already be dehydrated.
Balance the food you eat with physical activity. Taking a walk or moving your body after a meal helps maintain a healthy weight and aids digestion.
Experiment with plant-based or vegetarian meals. Meatless meals are often flavorful and budget-friendly. Replace the meat or poultry in a recipe with beans, vegetables, and lentils, or other grains. Start with at least one meatless meal per week.
IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO IMPROVE YOUR DIET! As we age, healthful eating has many benefits including increased energy and resistance to illness, decreased stress, and helping you look and feel your best both mentally and physically so you can better enjoy your life. Whether you want to gain or lose weight, lower your disease risk, or manage a chronic disease, speak with your doctor and consider a referral to a dietitian or nutritionist for help.
For information regarding Grab and Go Meals or Home Delivered Meals, contact LifePath at 413-773-5555.
RECIPE FOR ROASTED VEGETABLES
*1 small onion, sliced
*1 sweet potato, small new potatoes, or combination of potatoes, leave skin on, cut into even-sized pieces, approx. an inch each
*2 carrots, peeled, cut up
*1 large beet, scrubbed and cut
*Brussels sprouts, cut in half
*Cauliflower cut into small pieces
*Broccoli cut into small pieces
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 tsp mixed dried herbs, such as rosemary, oregano, parsley, thyme, pepper, or garlic powder
Preheat oven to 375 degrees, lightly grease a baking sheet. Cut all vegetables into even-sized pieces, about an inch each. *Add or remove vegetables listed above, based on what you have available. Toss root vegetables with olive oil and herbs (salt and pepper optional). Spread in an evenly-spaced layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring and flipping vegetables twice. Cook until tender.