As I get older, I’m less interested in meal-making — at my own peril, I have come to realize.
I plan less and spend more when I grocery shop. I admit that on many days of the week I am frequently drawn to eat high-salt or high-fat convenience or processed foods rather than a vegetable-laden spinach salad. Sugary snacks have started to call my name — loudly and on a daily basis.
Full disclosure. Since retirement, I’ve observed the numbers on the bathroom scale going up rather dramatically — when I gather the courage to step on it. Apparently I’m not alone.
Research shows that “among Americans 60-plus years of age, nearly 74 percent of women (and 77 percent of men) are overweight or obese.”
That reality increases our risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes. It means we may be more likely to have cardiac conditions. “Visceral fat” is associated with an increased risk of stroke and cancer. Extra weight puts pressure on knees and joints and negatively affects our mobility. Extra weight is fatiguing. I could go on, but you know all this — so do I.
What does it take to go beyond “knowing” to some form of action? Research perhaps? A study by the National Institutes of Health found that the heavier you are, the worse your chance of having a “healthy survival.” Maybe action is spurred by a full-length mirror? A caring friend’s honest comments? A doctor’s warning? A recognition that your later-in-life cost of health care may be directly related to your waist circumference.
See what I mean about peril? So, before the holiday eating extravaganza descends, I am looking for ways to rethink my food intake and our household’s meal planning. I want to go beyond the obvious recommendations to “eat less and move more.” I intend to try that, of course. But I also want to put a little sparkle in our meal planning; do something to “set my taste buds ablaze.” As a related aside, aging taste buds tend to lose their potency, which may be why some of us eat more.
Consider this idea. Ask yourself questions like these: What is the most interesting food I have eaten this week? What was the most colorful food eaten for breakfast, or for dinner? Ask yourself, “Did I experiment with salt-replacements such as ginger and turmeric? Did I eat things that were in season?"
Michael Pollan, author of the lovely little book “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual,” says it well: “Eat plants, mostly leaves; Eat animals that have themselves eaten well; Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle; Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks.”
Or how about this reminder that is attributed to his Italian grandmother, “It’s better to pay the grocer than the doctor.”
I think my personal action plan is going to be centered around my currently favorite food rule: “Did I eat any food today that was pretending to be something else?” The questions may have the answer.
— Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor. Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.