Published in Parade Magazine
Good for you for reaching for the vitamin C-rich citrus and calcium-fortified cereals. You may even pop a fish oil supplement every day. But if you’re like the average woman, especially those 50-plus, you still may be missing some crucial nutrients in your everyday diet: vitamins and minerals that offer protection from cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes, to name a few. And while a multivitamin is a good idea, it might not contain high enough amounts of these six nutrients. Here’s what you need to round out your diet—and how to get more of each one.
Why it matters: Only 1 percent of women consume enough potassium, a mineral that helps cut your risk for heart disease and stroke by lowering blood pressure. In fact, one analysis of nearly 250,000 adults found that increasing potassium intake by just 1,600mg per day slashed stroke risk by 21 percent. The good news? “Most fresh fruits and vegetables have 300mg to 400mg potassium per serving,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, author of Eating in Color (Stewart, Tabori and Chang).
How much you need: 4,700mg daily
Best food sources: Swiss chard, lima beans, sweet potatoes, bananas and cantaloupe
Why it matters: Consider it brain food. New research suggests that vitamin E may protect against what are called white matter lesions—small clumps of dead cells—that are linked to heightened Alzheimer’s risk. The vitamin is mostly found in foods high in fat, though, which means you could be missing out if you’ve reduced your intake of even healthy fats. To make room for more E-rich foods, focus on cutting out sources of empty calories in your diet instead, such as added sugars often found in packaged foods, Largeman-Roth says.
How much you need: 15mg daily
Best food sources: Sunflower seeds, almond butter and hazelnuts
Why it matters: An essential micronutrient, choline supports the liver’s natural detoxification process (no juice cleanse necessary!). Some research also suggests that getting enough choline could reduce your risk for breast cancer. But unfortunately, most women over age 50 take in only half their daily quota.
How much you need: 425mg daily
Best food sources: Eggs (particularly the yolks), salmon and Brussels sprouts
Why it matters: B12 keeps your central nervous system in working order, which is why too little can lead to numbness, weakness and anemia. But adults over 50, as well as those with digestive disorders such as celiac disease, tend to have trouble absorbing the vitamin, Largeman-Roth says. Because it’s found mostly in animal-based foods, vegetarians and vegans also could fall short.
How much you need: 2.4mcg daily
Best food sources: Yogurt, shrimp and chicken or, for vegan options, fortified breakfast cereals and nondairy milks
Why it matters: “More than 300 of the body’s biochemical reactions require magnesium,” says Tina Ruggiero, RD, author of The Truly Healthy Family Cookbook (Page Street Publishing). For instance, magnesium helps reduce your chances of hip fracture, keeps your immune system in fighting form and plays a role in staving off diseases such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Still, research suggests that nearly half of all adults may be deficient—particularly those who eat a gluten-free diet, as whole grains are a significant magnesium source.
How much you need: 320mg daily
Best food sources: Spinach, cashews, avocado, brown rice and black beans
Why it matters: Vitamin D works with calcium to keep your bones strong and reduce your chances of developing osteoporosis. There’s some evidence that it may help prevent depression and cognitive decline, particularly in older adults. But because it’s only found in a few foods, most of us don’t get nearly as much as we should, says Ruggiero.
How much you need: 600IU daily
Best food sources: Salmon, eggs, fortified milk (dairy and nondairy), fortified yogurt and fortified orange juice
Do You Need MORE Protein?
As we age, our bodies are less efficient at processing protein’s amino acids, so we may need more protein to promote healthy muscles, Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, says. A 150-pound woman should get around 68g per day from a mix of lean animal sources, such as chicken or turkey (four ounces has 35g), and plant sources, such as beans (most varieties are 15g per cup).
Inflammation, compromised immunity, increased disease risk, weight gain. These are just a few of the issues confronting us with age. While data indicates Baby Boomers spare no expense on prescription drugs, OTC remedies and a myriad of preventative therapies and treatments, the most powerful anti-aging elixir may be in your pantry. I’m talking about tea.
For thousands of years, tea has been enjoyed for its medicinal properties yet, here in America, our caffeine-driven lives are predominantly fueled by lattes, espresso, café au lait or the simple but ubiquitous cup of joe.
In the same way yoga, Pilates and spas have influenced our culture, tea is following suit. And that’s a good thing. Research shows that green tea may support heart health when combined with a diet low in fat, cholesterol and saturated fats. In a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine and conducted on men and women with moderately high cholesterol levels, those who drank tea for 12 weeks showed an 11 percent decrease in total cholesterol and a 16 percent decrease in LDL or “bad” cholesterol.
Keep in mind, the participants weren’t gulping down bottled green tea “beverages,” powdered tea mixes, green tea smoothies or bubble tea drinks. They were drinking simple, loose leaf tea.
Now, this doesn’t mean you need to find a tea emporium that sells fair trade, organic, single-estate-grown tea for 30 dollars a pound. Simple, loose leaf tea will do.
In general, loose leaf tea is higher quality than what you might find in bagged teas. That’s because loose tea include whole leaves, not crushed or broken pieces, so they retain more of their health-supportive plant chemicals and essential oils.
All you need to enjoy loose leaf tea are the tea leaves of your choice, an infuser, hot water and a mug. Be sure to steep the tea for at least three minutes to reap the most benefit, and you’ll be one step closer to health.
The science supporting tea and its cancer-fighting abilities are many and fascinating. Hundreds of studies have been published indicating teas can inhibit tumor growth and development. In fact, researchers have noted in green tea-drinking countries like Japan, breast cancer is not as common as in countries where tea isn’t regularly consumed. Other studies have shown that drinking two or more cups of tea daily may help ward off ovarian, lung and prostate cancers.
Tea scores high again, when it comes to antioxidants. A polyphenol in white, green and (in lesser amounts) black tea called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is nearly 100 times greater than vitamin C, a well-known antioxidant. That said, EGCG may markedly prevent or slow oxidative damage to cells.
When combined with caffeine, EGCG stimulates the body’s production of energy, potentially making tea an effective weapon in every dieter’s arsenal.
If you’re taking blood thinners or blood pressure medicine, talk with your doctor before starting a tea-drinking regimen; some teas may inhibit these prescription drugs. Otherwise, tea is absolutely worth exploring for both its physical and cognitive benefits.
William Shakespeare said the eyes are the window to the soul, and there’s some truth to that, but why give significance to just the eyes? I believe that the skin is the mirror of your health.
When I worked in a clinical setting, I became adept at gauging an individual’s health by simply looking at them. This very basic, objective assessment was always revealing.
Dermatological changes or abnormalities such as depigmentation, an ashen pallor or excessive dryness all indicate nutrient deficiencies, and this makes sense, when you think about it; the skin’s function and appearance is reliant on a sufficient and steady supply of essential nutrients.
It’s not surprising that the anti-aging skincare products on store shelves are chock full of vitamins, carotenoids and other plant extracts – and consumer spending on anti-aging products is expected to soar to nearly $300 billion dollars by next year. Everyone is on a quest to look younger.
Multi-purpose products that are natural save time and provide more than just one benefit have become incredibly popular. Products that offer both hydration and antioxidants are great examples, but drinking water and eating leafy greens are more likely to help you achieve a youthful appearance than the slew of lotions, creams, gels and serums touting that very benefit. What you put in your body, not on it, really does shine through.
This skin is the body’s largest organ, covering about 22 square feet. It works with our other organs, being responsible for regulating temperature, protecting us from germs, ridding the body of toxins, working with the nervous system to transmit signals about sensation and, most important, skin holds us together.
As we age, both intrinsic (our DNA) and extrinsic factors (the sun) take their toll. Skin becomes dull, patchy, spotted and wrinkled. Yes, dermal fillers and peels can help, but at the end of the day, what you eat wields more potent results than a laser. A strategic diet, healthy lifestyle and routine skin care can make you look years younger.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a known anti-inflammatory. They may help reduce dryness (from atopic dermatitis and psoriasis) and may even reduce the risk of skin cancer. In food, these fatty acids are found in salmon, tuna, sardines and cod. Eat eight to 12 ounces weekly.
The antioxidant vitamins A, C and E are also powerhouse sources for skin nutrition. Vitamin A, found in carrots, squash, milk and leafy greens, helps the skin rebuild tissue; vitamin C, abundant in citrus fruit, stimulates collagen production, and vitamin E, found in olives, seeds and nuts, helps combat free radicals. Enjoy five or more servings of colorful fruit and vegetables daily.
Drinking eight glasses of water daily will keep your skin hydrated, and enjoying an active lifestyle should be a prescription from every dermatologist; a “natural glow” doesn’t come in a tube. It’s called circulation. Take every opportunity to get the blood flowing. Walk, swim, stretch, golf and be active. Exercise is a cheap and very effective weapon in the war on ageing.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that less is more. In my home, quality trumps quantity every time, and that’s no exception during the holidays, from the gifts we exchange to the food that graces our table.
I’ve also learned that tradition is what you make it. When I was little and my grandmother was still alive, the holidays seemed to stretch for months; guests were a constant stream, and each recipe prepared was heirloom, all from Italy and passed through the generations.
I even recall my mother preparing her “Viennese Table” of desserts. There were no less than 17 different types of sweets on that buffet, from cookies and tarts to pies, cakes, pastry and soufflés. Each dessert was elegantly plated on special china or service ware or displayed on a warming table, if the dessert could not possibly be enjoyed at room temperature.
Looking back, I’m humbled by the skill, planning, time, effort and energy that went into orchestrating the monumental feat that was holiday entertaining at the Ruggiero’s.
While I do my best to keep family traditions alive by preparing some of those incredible meals, times have changed along with everyone’s tastes and priorities. The rich, decadent recipes we used to make are now taboo. Some family members are watching their weight, others are following special diets and still others have gone vegetarian. Health is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, so I’ve had to redefine the sumptuous holiday table.
Doing so wasn’t as difficult as I thought. I hold fast to my rule of quality – selecting the finest ingredients I can find – and I bring out the richness of dishes by using herbs, sauces and wines when cooking. This was the inspiration for my book, The Truly Healthy Family Cookbook. Family and friends are thankful for the guilt-free indulgences I serve, and I can’t say anyone misses the food coma. Of course, I still prepare a few recipes from Grandma’s treasure trove, but incorporating something old and something new on my holiday table has become our modern day tradition and one that’s embraced wholeheartedly.
This holiday season, take comfort in the familiar rituals of the past, but establish and celebrate modern traditions of your very own. They will add joy and magic to the season, uniting family and building memories that last a lifetime.
Merry Christmas, happy holidays and a healthy New Year!
When the season or occasion calls for hot chocolate, I make mine from scratch. It’s really quite simple.
Nothing beats the taste of dark chocolate or the mouthfeel of smooth and creamy milk. Of course, you can make this cocoa with any milk alternative, from hemp and goat to almond and soy, but I like cow’s milk with my cocoa, for a few reasons.
Milk is a great source of choline, a nutrient that’s important for memory, muscle movement and sleep (Warm milk before bed, anyone?). It’s also a source of potassium of which high intakes are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Milk also offers b-vitamins, calcium, vitamin A and magnesium, and milk is a wonderful source of protein. As for my choice of antioxidant–rich dark chocolate, once you make your cocoa with it, you’ll never have it any other way!
Last, but not least, the Amaretto puts the cocoa over the top. Sure, you can omit it, but when I’m looking for something festive to serve friends or just enjoy myself as a reward for wrapping, shopping, cleaning and cooking, that splash of liqueur does the trick.
The following recipe can be made using an espresso machine or by hand. I provide both methods. The cocoa is 288 calories per serving and looks extra festive when garnished with a chocolate-covered pretzel stick.
Yield: 1 (6 oz.) hot chocolate
Time: 2 minutes
¾ cup 1% or 2% milk
1 oz. 70% cocoa dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1 oz. Amaretto
1 tsp. toasted slivered almonds
1 dark chocolate covered pretzel stick (optional)
If you have an espresso machine, use the steamer wand. Place the milk and chocolate in the steamer, steam as you would for a cappuccino. As the milk starts to get hot, stop steaming and stir the chocolate to help it to melt into the milk. Continue steaming until frothy and hot. Pour in the Amaretto, then pour into a mug. Top with slivered almonds and garnish with the pretzel stick.
If you don’t have an espresso machine, place milk and chocolate in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Whisk until hot and the chocolate is completely melted (it should be completely homogeneous and not at all speckled). Remove from heat and whisk heartily to make froth or use an electric milk frother. Pour in the Amaretto, then pour into a mug. Top with slivered almonds and garnish with the pretzel stick.