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Nutrition Notes

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 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.

Probiotics and their effect on health

Karen Lentner head shotNutritionist Karen Lentner

Have you ever heard that a healthy gut is the key to a healthy body?

Bacteria live throughout our bodies, and the millions of bacteria that live in our digestive system play an enormous role in our overall health. They help our digestion and absorption of food and nutrients, our brain health, and they also regulate our immune system and help fight infection. The mix of good and bad bacteria in our gut is different for everyone and may be affected by the types of food we eat, by stress, illness, lack of sleep, environmental factors, and medications, including antibiotics.

What can I do to keep my gut healthy?

Research has shown that a healthy gut has a balance of good and bad bacteria, and having several diverse bacteria is a good thing. Probiotics are beneficial, active, and live microorganisms that may help replace the good bacteria lost after taking antibiotics (why your doctor may tell you to eat yogurt while taking antibiotics) or consuming too much sugar. The term probiotic means “for life,” and probiotics are the good bacteria that help keep your body working the way it should.

Foods containing probiotics include:

  • Yogurt, buttermilk, and aged cheeses such as gouda, and bleu
  • Kefir, a fermented drink similar to a drink-style yogurt
  • Raw sauerkraut must be fermented with lactic acid bacteria; check the label as many do not contain probiotics
  • Kimchi, a fermented Korean side dish of vegetables, mostly cabbage, and a variety of spices
  • Kombucha, a flavored beverage produced by fermenting sweet tea with yeast and bacteria
  • Pickles, fermented with a salty brine, not vinegar; check labels for probiotics
  • Sourdough bread starter that contains Lactobacillus and wild yeast strains, making gluten more digestible
  • Miso, a paste made from fermented soybeans that may be added to soups, marinades, and dressings
  • Tempeh, fermented soybeans in a cake form, often used in stir fries, curries, or sandwiches

Most common probiotics include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium - look for live active cultures on food labels!

What about prebiotics?

In addition to probiotics, our bodies need prebiotics to help promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut. Prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber that feed and nourish the good bacteria in our gut and can reduce bloating and improve digestion and regularity.

Foods containing prebiotics include:
  • asparagus
  • garlic
  • raw apple cider vinegar
  • onions
  • legumes
  • apples
  • leeks
  • bananas
  • oats
  • barley
  • wheat bran
  • flax seeds

Try eating prebiotics and probiotics at the same time to create an environment where the good bacteria will survive. They may help treat conditions including diarrhea, constipation, IBS, eczema, symptoms of lactose intolerance, and allergies.

What about supplements?

If possible, eat a mixture of foods before taking a supplement. Supplements aren’t regulated as medications are, so quality and ingredients vary.

Keep your gut healthy!

Exercise regularly and focus on eating a healthy diet rich in probiotics and prebiotics daily or at least three times weekly!

Find more Nutrition Notes articles.

The Nutrition Department at LifePath manages the Meals on Wheels program and operates dining centers and luncheon clubs across Franklin County and the North Quabbin.

Cooking for one or two - simple strategies to make it work!

Karen Lentner head shotNutritionist Karen LentnerDo you ever find yourself thinking about preparing a meal and end up having cheese and crackers or a cup of tea with a bowl of cereal for dinner? Does it hardly seem worth the effort to plan and cook a meal for one person? Do you find yourself snacking your way through the day or eating whatever is easy and available? It doesn’t have to be difficult to cook nutritious, tasty meals for one or two people if you take a little time and plan ahead!

In order to stay healthy, we all need a variety of foods. Although cooking for one may be a challenge, it can also be fun. Plan your meals before you do your shopping. Look at grocery store flyers to see what’s on sale this week; look at cookbooks, magazines, or search online for recipes that are appealing. Check your kitchen to see what you already have on hand. Consider a small roast or chicken one day, utilizing leftovers for a sandwich or additional meals later in the week. Keep it simple, be flexible. Once you’ve planned your meals, a grocery list easily falls into place. Try shopping with family or a friend, purchasing items together (eggs, seasonings, meat, or packaged produce) to share the amount and cost. Convenience foods may be expensive and high in salt; keep this in mind when planning. Limit frozen dinner entrees, read labels, and add fresh or frozen fruits or vegetables to increase nutritional value. Cook a meal to share with a friend, and next time have your friend cook the meal.

Stocking your refrigerator and pantry helps you avoid having nothing to eat. Items may include rice, pasta, beans (dried or canned), eggs, canned tomatoes and sauce, canned tuna, chicken pieces, meatballs, pizza dough, peanut butter, hummus, and frozen vegetables in bags. Many of these items allow you to use just what you need. If making a stew or soup, prepare a recipe and freeze the remainder in small plastic containers (dated) and reheat at another time. Add leftover frozen fruit (bought in season or on sale) to pancake batter or muffins; add vegetables, cheese, meat/chicken or beans to stews, soups, salads, or eggs.

Sept 2018 Nutrition Notes Cooking for one photo WEBLifePath's Healthy Eating for Successful Living workshop is a program for people who want to learn more about nutrition and healthy heart and bone strategies. The next workshop starts in October. Learn more by contacting the Healthy Living Program.

Consider following a weekly meal outline to help you plan:

  • Sunday – traditional meat, potato/rice, vegetable
  • Monday – breakfast for dinner
  • Tuesday – casserole or sandwich made with Sunday leftovers
  • Wednesday – pasta/meatless
  • Thursday – eat from the freezer
  • Friday – stir fry or tacos
  • Saturday – soup/stew, sandwiches, or salad

Once a week, prepare and freeze extra portions of at least one main dish.

A quick and easy meal may include:

  • English muffin pizza topped with tomato sauce, vegetables, cheese
  • Microwaved baked potato topped with meat, chili, vegetables, and/or cheese
  • Pasta/rice with ground beef or legumes, vegetables, and sauce

It’s easier than you think – cook ahead and freeze what you can!

Consider Meals on Wheels or joining friends for a meal at your local senior center. For more information, contact us.

Read more Nutrition Notes articles.