April 22, 2022
Let’s face it, maintaining a healthy diet is not the easiest thing in the world. Particularly as we age and the rules change.
Even guys that practice proper nutrition can struggle with challenges like finding a healthy snack that doesn’t take a whole lot of preparation, or balancing a decreased demand for calories while getting the proper nutrients. Then there’s the advertising that purports to offer us healthy choices that may not turn out to be the case.
Successful diets are easily understood and relatively simple to follow. Complication reduces compliance and is the quickest way to derail your efforts. That’s why last August I highlighted the flexibility of the Mediterranean Diet. It guides my meal selection and offers what I consider, reasonable options. But there’s so much more. A guy’s got to cover breakfast, lunch and dinner – not to mention those in between times that can threaten a healthy lifestyle.
So, what’s a man to do? Let’s start with the basics and work through the principles that form the road map to health and happiness.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds us that older guys cannot eat like they're in their 20s if they want to keep the right weight. When you hit 50, the rules change. The number of calories you need is linked to your activity and metabolism.
If you're consistently active, 2,400 to 2,800 calories per day can meet your requirements. This drops to 2,200 to 2,400 calories with moderate activity, and lower to 2,000 to 2,200 if you are not active. These targets show the impact of physical activity on your daily caloric intake. The more active, the more you can (and need) to eat.
For aging men that it’s not just fewer calories, but also the same or even higher amounts of nutrients. Translated, the calories we consume have to also meet our nutritional demands. They need to be the right kinds of calories found in nutrient-dense foods.
In its recommendations for men over 50, the Cleveland Clinic pinpoints the foods that can help men meet this mark and reduce the risks of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and some forms of cancer. Their list of nutrient-dense foods includes: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy, along with lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts. When it comes to managing your weight, the Cleveland Clinic advises that your food choices should be low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt and added sugars.
Personally, I’m a big fan of nuts. They are a major go-to for my between-meal hunger. While peanuts and cashews are tempting, almonds and walnuts are considered to be better choices.
Further proving the importance of looking beyond the caloric value of foods are studies cited by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health that examine the quality of foods and challenge the notion that "a calorie is a calorie." Nutritional researchers point to a 20-year study of healthy men and women showing a connection between weight gain and potato chips, sugar-sweetened beverages and red meats. Other contributing factors included foods high in starch, refined grains, fats and sugars.
To offer more guidance, Harvard experts created the healthy eating plate, which suggests you fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with whole grains like whole wheat pasta or brown rice, and the another quarter with a protein like fish, poultry or beans. Beans and nuts in salads count towards that protein total, but the recommending is to limit red meats, and avoid processed meats like bacon and sausage.
Dietary Guidelines published by the U.S. from the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, describes the nutritional circumstances unique to older Americans. In particular, the report cites the underconsumption of protein and vitamin B12, and a lack of proper hydration as areas of special concern. Protein prevents the loss of muscle mass, and a person's ability to absorb vitamin B12 can decline with age and due to some medications.
The good news is that the foods within the protein subgroups are a good source of B12. They include many of those cited above; seafood, meats, poultry, eggs, nuts and soy products. The alternative to these sub-groups is vitamin B12 supplements. The experts suggest that you talk to your doctor if this option is appealing.
The National Institute on Aging says meal planning is a great way to take the guesswork out of eating while meeting nutritional requirements. Their advice includes a well-organized shopping list, and a consideration of prep time and conditions. Cooking for special occasions with friends is much different than whipping up a quick lunch for yourself.
For specific recommendations on daily meal planning there are a number of sources. The Mayo Clinic offers heart-healthy menus that emphasize vegetables, fruits and whole grains and limits high-fat foods like red meat, cheese and baked goods, and high-sodium foods, like canned or processed foods.
Now here’s the real test of your dietary commitment. The federal dietary guidelines I cited earlier do not recommend alcohol consumption for any reason, and further note that drinking less is better than drinking more. For those who do choose to partake, the guidelines define moderate consumption as two drinks per day for men, and one for women. Some organizations push the two-drink benchmark to one when men hit 65.
What all the experts seem to agree on is that diet and nutrition is a very personal proposition that should be tailored to your individual circumstances; time, resources and medical profile. Decisions should also be discussed with your physician.
The process doesn’t have to be a chore. In fact, the more you are immersed, the more likely you are to develop a liking to your dietary practices. Equally important, with consistency come the health benefits.
These outcomes, coupled with new dietary habits and the socialization of your cooking and meal planning represent the winning strategy that will keep you in the game of healthy behavior for years to come. Bon appetite.
Louis Bezich, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50." Read more from Louis on his website.