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Nutrition Notes: Healthy Eating Resolutions

Karen Lentner, MA, RD, LDN, LifePath NutritionistKaren Lentner, MA, RD, LDN, LifePath NutritionistOnce 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

a bowl of lentil soupTo 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.