Real Food Is Better Than A Supplement

Nutrition: Liquid supplements are just empty calories for healthy people. Eat - you'll feel better, for many reasons.

Senior Life


The woman was puzzled. At age 65, she had gained 15 pounds in six months. Her eating habits hadn't changed, except that she had added a daily nutrition supplement drink, advertised on TV, to give her more energy.

That, of course, was the problem. In nutrition-speak, "energy" is another word for "calories," and she was getting plenty -- an extra 350 per can. On top of an adequate diet, that's enough to cause a one-pound weight gain every 10 days!

True, these products can be life savers when you're too sick to eat, recovering from surgery, or coping with chemotherapy or radiation. That's what they were designed for.

But when you're well, liquid meals offer no nutritional benefit. Here's why:

* Eating real food exercises your digestive tract.

With age, all our body's systems are on the "use it or lose it" system. Jaws need to chew, your stomach needs to digest, and your intestines need to absorb nutrients and expel waste to stay in tiptop condition. Liquid meals can contribute to your digestive tract's getting lazy and out of condition.

* Eating real food provides hidden nutrients.

Researchers are constantly discovering nutrients in food that protect you against disease. Lycopene in tomatoes fights prostate and cervical cancer. Lutein in spinach lowers your risk for blindness from macular degeneration. Antioxidants in blueberries, strawberries, raisins and prunes lower heart disease and stroke risks. Rely on liquids and you won't know what you're missing. But your body will.

* Eating real food provides variety and taste, as well as convenience.

Drinking your lunch because it's easy? Try this instead, for the same 350 calories. In a zip top bag, mix 3/4 cup high-fiber cereal (mini-wheats or bran chex) with four pieces of dried fruit (choose among apricots, dates, figs and prunes), and 2 tablespoons of your favorite raw nuts (toasted if you like). Needs no refrigeration and tastes a lot better. Grab a bottle of water and you're good to go.

Add a glass of milk or carton of yogurt and a slice of bread to any meal. What could be easier!

* Eating real food provides fiber and fluid.

With age, your digestive tract needs all the help it can get, and that means getting plenty of fiber. If you're pushing 70, you may need more -- 20 grams a day instead of 15, according to the Tufts University Pyramid for People 70 and older. And along with that you'll need plenty of fluids, six to eight cups a day. Together they help ward off constipation and diverticulitis.

To bulk up your meal plan, choose fresh, canned or frozen vegetables (especially dark green, orange and yellow ones), bagged salads and fresh fruit. Add whole wheat, rye or pumpernickel bread instead of white. Choose bran cereal for breakfast, and beans instead of meat twice a week.

You'll get fluid from your fruits and vegetables, but deliberately add water, too. Your thirst warning may not work the way it used to, so dehydration -- with headache, lightheadedness and fatigue -- is a risk. Count those extra pit stops as part of your exercise. Your digestive system needs that, too.

Weak spots in diets

Older adults have the same nutritional needs as younger adults, but their energy needs have decreased with age. The challenge is to choose foods wisely to get enough vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein without gaining weight.

Here's where seniors are at particular risk:

* Fluids. Seniors need 6 to 8 cups of fluids a day. Adding any liquid or semi-liquid foods -- including ice cream, Jell-O and pudding -- to the diet will help.

* Fiber. Switching from white bread to whole wheat (not just "wheat") will help. So will eating more whole-grain cereal, such as oatmeal, and fruits and vegetables.

* Calcium. As women's estrogen levels decrease in their 50s, it is important that their calcium consumption hits the recommended daily allowance of 1,200 milligrams a day. The best source of calcium is dairy products such as milk, yogurt, ice milk and cheese. Pudding and calcium- fortified orange juice also are excellent sources. Seniors need two glasses of milk, two yogurts or the equivalent daily.

* Protein. Seniors need two to three servings of high-protein foods daily, but meat is just one option. They can choose lower-fat cheeses, beans and nuts.

* Fruits and vegetables. Seniors don't eat nearly enough. Put fruit in pancakes and make stir-fries with softer frozen vegetables.

-- Knight Ridder/Tribune

Adding nutrients

Here are some easy ways for seniors to get more nutrients into their diets:

* Top toast with ricotta cheese instead of butter, and sprinkle raisins on top.

* Top baked potatoes with shredded cheese and sprinkle with sunflower seeds.

* Top angel food cake with sliced strawberries.

* Keep frozen blueberries on hand to add to pancake batter. No need to thaw.

* Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over salads.

* Add a handful of frozen vegetables to scrambled eggs for egg sandwiches; blot the cooked eggs with paper towels to decrease the fat.

* Make instant pudding with skim or 1 percent milk instead of 2 percent or whole milk. Or buy low-fat pudding cups.

* Drink orange juice fortified with calcium.

* Choose high-fiber cereal and top it with fruit.

* Treat yourself to flavored gelatin instead of pastries or candies.

-- Knight Ridder/Tribune

Pub Date: 06/06/99

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