Staying Healthy and Fit at 73 Part 1: Diet

Updated: Apr 20



Having reached the age of 73, I thought it might be helpful to readers to see how I personally deal with my own health and aging. This post will deal with my diet and eating patterns. I will make subsequent posts that focus on movement (exercise), stress management, and social relationships as they pertain to my own efforts to foster wellness. I hope they will be helpful to you, as well.


You can subscribe to my site at Transform Your Life.


My Strategy


My strategy has been to anticipate mental and physical states that accompany aging and develop countermeasures that may help alleviate or mitigate them. I’m thinking of such condition as high blood pressure, muscle and bone loss, diabetes, arthritis, dementia, grief, social isolation, depression, and even some cancers. We can’t stop aging. But it may be possible to offset some of the more painful symptoms that cause so much suffering.


It’s never too late to transform your life. Living the typical American life-style may be comfortable but it can lead to the many degenerative diseases I mentioned above. The standard American diet (SAD) of processed food, a sedentary lifestyle, high stress living, and social isolation all contribute to a slow and sometimes not so slow deterioration of our physical and mental health, a shortened lifespan, and unnecessary suffering.


I hope this series, of which this is the first, will help you to decide to forge a new path. A path of nutritious natural foods, regular physical activity, relaxing stress management behaviors, and close and intimate relationships.


I would really enjoy your reactions, comments, and questions about this post. Just email me at healingactions@gmail.com or leave a comment below.


My Philosophy


I take a comprehensive or holistic approach to health and fitness. I was raised in a time when health was broken down into or reduced to isolated pieces. There was bodily health, mental health, spiritual health, etc. All were considered separate domains. Even to this day, the separateness of these health aspects dominate our thinking.


The more we learn, the more it is apparent that our human experience is a dynamic, interdependent, organic flow.

I see all these aspects as interconnected patterns that are dependent on one another for full, optimal functioning. Mental and physical health are not separate entities. They comprise an integrated human system not unlike all other realities in nature. Each is dependent on the other for reaching peak expression. For example, mental health is supported by the food we eat, the activities we indulge in, the social relations we are connected to, and the manner in which we manage stress. The same can be said of what we consider physical health.


The more we learn, the more it is apparent that our human experience is a dynamic, interdependent, organic flow. Mind influences body. Body influences mind. There is no human mind without a human body as there is no human body without a human mind.


The Plan


Before laying out my health and fitness diet, it may help to briefly give some insight as to how I arrived at my present approach.

I was fortunate to grow up in a household (I’m talking 1950’s and 60’s) in which my father took a keen interest in fitness. He always had a gym somewhere in the house, depending on where we lived. As a teenager I had access to a gym right in my parent’s basement. Much of the equipment there was constructed by my dad.

Diet wise, we would experiment with what we called super drinks. We would find the recipes for these drinks in the bodybuilding magazines my dad would have all over the house. I learned a great deal about health and fitness from these mags. The drinks themselves were a mix of whole milk, bananas, a primitive protein powder (ugh), and raw eggs (yes, raw). We would drink them all day long with the hope of gaining muscle and strength.


To augment this health project, my mom would buy copious amounts of fruits, vegetables, and meat that we would devour at a shocking rate. She magnificently tolerated our obsessions.

Simply put, I was inundated with the idea that health is a priority.


So, here is the dietary approach I use to keep myself fit and healthy.


My Diet

Plant-based diets have been strongly associated with lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, some cancers, dementia, depression, anxiety, and all cause mortality.

I follow a plant-based diet, similar to the Mediterranean, Mind, and Dash diets. I’m neither a vegan or vegetarian. The term flexitarian might describe my eating habits. Basically, it means that I emphasize vegetables, fruits, legumes, tofu, nuts, and seeds while eating smaller amounts of fish and poultry. I’ll eat salmon and chicken once a week, perhaps twice a week depending on my mood.


Plant-based diets have been strongly associated with lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, some cancers, dementia, depression, anxiety, and all cause mortality.


It’s not my intention that you should necessarily follow the diet that works for me. I present it as a model for your consideration. You have to find what works for you. The proof is in how you feel and what your blood work shows.


Breakfast


Normally, I’ll drink a smoothie for breakfast (yes, I’m still drinking those super drinks from my youth). Ingredients include half an avocado, half a banana, two tablespoons of ground flax seed, frozen or fresh berries, and a scoop of vegan protein powder. I mix this with a cup of unsweetened soy milk.


Lunch


There’s more variety in my lunch menu. I might have a salad of mixed spring greens with walnuts, pumpkin seeds, tomato, and beets. If I decide to have salmon, I will include some eggplant appetizer (caponata) along with pumpkin seeds, walnuts, avocado, etc. I may also decide on a lentil soup, a vegetarian chili or vegetable dumplings. I’ll use extra-virgin olive oil as a dressing.


Supper


Here is were I have the most diversity. Mary will prepare numerous vegan style soups and stews that include beans, tofu, squash, carrots, celery, a variety of potatoes, corn, eggplant, kale, broccoli, etc. Occasionally, I will have a chicken thigh and leg or, on a rare occasion, a pork chop, but always accompanied with copious veggies and a baked sweet potato.


Snacks


Usually I will snack on no-salt dry roasted peanuts, pistachios, all-natural crunchy peanut butter on whole-grain bread and an assortment of fruits such as grapes, watermelon, cantelope, peaches, apples, etc.


I do indulge in desserts occasionally, especially during celebrations.


Fiber


Americans notoriously consume very little fiber. It is recommended that we consume 30-35 grams of fiber per day. Many of us get less than 15. I try and get 10 or more grams of fiber at each meal. Focus on fruits such as avocados, apples, and bananas, while consuming fiber rich foods like beans, seeds, nuts, corn, lentils, potatoes, and soybeans. Eating more fiber has many health benefits. An increase in fiber will:

  • create a healthier microbiome (gut) that promotes proper digestion and a strong immune system.

  • assist in helping you lose weight by increasing the sensation of being full.

  • cut the risk of type2 diabetes and heart disease.

  • promote regular bowl movements.

  • reduce the risk of certain cancers, specifically, colorectal cancer.


Don’t overlook the power of fiber to create an environment of robust health, resilience, and immunity.


When increasing your fiber intake, it’s a good idea to start slowly to see how your system responds to change. You don’t have to rush it.



Weight loss


When consuming a natural whole foods diet, there is very little need to count calories. Losing weight is a natural consequence of eating high fiber, nutrient dense foods rather than a calorie dense, a high fat, processed carb diet. The very act of eating a plant-based diet will reduce the amount of calories you are consuming and increase feelings of satiety. There is little need to count calories or become obsessed with the scale. I rarely weigh myself and don’t at all count calories.


A whole foods diet is naturally lower in calories. You barely have to worry about how much you are eating or putting on extra pounds. One of the first things you will notice when eating a plant-based diet is that you are losing weight.


Sustainability


Scientific research has made it increasingly obvious that our love of meat and dairy consumes huge amounts of land needed to feed livestock (land that could be used to feed humans), spews massive amounts of methane, nitric oxide, and CO2 into the atmosphere (major causes of the climate crisis), and is the basis of much of our serious medical diseases (heart disease, diabetes, COPD, etc.). Factory farming is an ethical concern regarding how animals are raised and slaughtered. I try to make reasonable decisions food wise that reduce my carbon and methane foot print.


One of the most helpful things we can do to address the climate crisis is to eat green.


Supplementation


In the past, I emphasized the use of nutritional supplements in my diet plan. Today, while I still use them, eating healthy natural food has taken center stage. Right now, I’m taking a high-potency multi-vitamin, a high dosage vitamin D, fish oil, a prostate formula, CoQ 10, and vitamin K. I take supplements now to do just that, supplement my diet. My emphasis is on whole, nutritionally dense foods.


Medical Issues

My fasting blood sugar dropped ten points, my cholesterol dropped 20 points, kidney function improved, even a growth on my back just fell off.

For most of my life, meat has been a central piece of most meals. However, a few years ago, I was struck with two very unexpected medical diagnoses. First, I was diagnosed with a serious inherited metabolic disorder called hemochromatosis or iron overload. I control this by donating blood regularly and minimizing consuming meat and animal products. The other issue was the painful experience of the gout. This also runs in my family. The anti-gout diet is focused on minimizing the intake of purines that bring on attacks. That means cutting out or minimizing foods such as red meat, shell fish, alcohol, etc.


I adopted a largely plant-based diet in response. Luckily, I responded very well to the change. My fasting blood sugar dropped ten points, my cholesterol dropped 20 points, kidney function improved, even a growth on my back just fell off. For these reasons, I’ve adopted a plant-based diet as my preferred eating pattern.


Protein


The amount of protein consumed at each meal has become a topic of concern for many. It is often recommended that 25-30 grams of protein be consumed at each meal, especially for older adults. Since muscle wasting (sarcopenia) is common as we age, it is thought that sufficient protein consumption will stave off this side-effect of aging. Seniors are less responsive to protein synthesis than younger people and need higher consumption of protein to offset this disparity.


My approach has been to consume good sources of plant-based protein such as lentils, legumes, tofu, nuts, and seeds. Vegetables high in protein include broccoli, spinach, avocados, white and sweet potatoes, and Brussels sprouts. Moderate consumption of eggs and lean meats are very helpful in meeting protein requirements.


Be mindful of any medical conditions you have. Some high protein foods are also high in cholesterol, and saturated fat. Taking a good protein shake that is low in sugar and artificial ingredients can be very helpful in meeting protein requirements.


Advice


You don’t have to become a vegan or vegetarian to eat healthy. Try them if you wish. Start with one non-meat meal a week (meatless Monday) and then expand it out as you become accustomed to the change. Some folks experience digestive discomfort when starting out. Take it slow. There isn’t one diet that fits everyone. Aim at creating a diet that is healthy and sustainable. I’ve listed some plant-based eating websites below.


Caution


Plant-based eating doesn’t mean eating lots of junk food. It may take a little more planning and preparation than you are accustomed to but it will be worth it.


Web resources


Plant-based Recipes


Tasty vegan recipes

Affordable Plant-based dinners

Plant-based eating podcast


Plant-based Eating and Longevity


Plant-based diet adds ten years to your life

How not to die too soon

Blue-zone diets for long life


Mediterranean Diet


The Green Mediterranean Diet

Mediterranean Diet Plans


Flexitarian Eating


What is a Flexitarian Diet

Going Flexitarian


Diet and Mental Health


Improving Your Mental Health with Diet

Diet and Brain Health: CBS Sunday Morning


Sustainable Eating


The Climate Consequences of Eating Meat

Healthy and Sustainable Eating Can Save You and The Planet


Final Thoughts


I’ve always tried to have a clear sense of each phase of my life. Every phase had it’s own objectives, concerns, possibilities, and issues. Being 73 has not changed that. As my body and mind have changed, I’ve changed my strategy.


My diet is now geared toward consuming all the necessary micronutrients, proteins, fats, carbs, and fiber needed to sustain the health of an older mind and body. I base all of this on the best science available. For this post it means a plant-based diet. If the science changes, I’ll entertain modifications to my behavior.


None of us get out of here alive. But in the meantime, I will make my best effort to embrace this phase of my life with vigor, kindness, and a full appreciation of those I love.


Each of us comes at this with many different life experiences, medical and emotional histories, and physical and mental limitations. We have to realistically appraise where we are and where to go next. It’s never too late to Transform Your Life!


The next post in this series will be on the role of exercise in staying healthy and fit. You will not want to miss it.




You can get all of my posts by subscribing to Transform Your Life.


Disclaimer: The information in this post is not meant to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician or health provider with any medical questions.


Meet the Author



I am the founder/creator of the health and wellness website Transform Your Life, a doctor of traditional naturopathy, a certified holistic health practitioner, and a New York State licensed master social worker. I have authored dozens of articles on mental and physical health, meditation, and caregiving.


I am a member of the American Naturopathic Medical Association and the National Association of Social Workers.


i envision health as an integrated process of mental and physical optimization through all phases of life by means of diet, fitness, stress management, relationships, and community.









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