Turning 60 is a life-changing event. My own birthday had me trading the wet cement sidewalks of the West Village for the narrow cobblestone passageways that surround Princeton’s Palmer Square. I left behind exhausting 80 hour-work weeks to study theoretical physics math, religion and educational theory using the local Princeton public library and local bookstores as my offices. But one thing that I didn’t count on with my newfound freedom? The extra inches creeping onto my waistline.
While it was easy―seemingly effortless―to put weight on, it was more and more difficult for me to drop it. I talked to a family friend, Dr. Weld, who cautioned that people in their 60s must stay vigilant with their health, including everything from sleeping, to illness to what you eat. And at my regular doctor visit that year, when nurse came into the bright consultation room and wrapped the blood pressure monitor around my right arm, she suggested I see a nutritionist.
That’s how I met Rachel Cuomo, Registered Dietician, who has helped me change my life. Educating me on what’s in the food I eat, she helped me find the courage to give up sweets, bacon and sausage, processed foods and even alcohol (which I was surprised to learn greatly interferes with your body’s ability to lose weight!). Today I eat a balanced diet full of eggs, salmon, green vegetables, cottage cheese, free-range chicken and turkey―and a few raw nuts when I want a treat.
I asked Rachel to share some of her tips on maintaining a healthy lifestyle as you age.
Steve Mariotti: What are some of the healthier, easier meals to be able to prepare
Rachel Cuomo, RD: At this time of the year, soups and chilis are a great option. You can make a large pot in 30 minutes and eat it all week. Just keep lots of BPA-free canned beans, chopped tomatoes, and organic vegetable or chicken broth on hand. Then add whatever you like: chopped vegetables, whole grains like barley or wild rice, and a lean protein, if you want.
Don’t forget about the ease of breakfast for dinner! A one-pan vegetable frittata or omelet works wonderful and takes only minutes.
One-pan oven dishes are also fantastic. Throw some sliced vegetables tossed in olive oil into a baking dish (think: peppers, onions, shaved brussel sprouts, cauliflower, butternut squash) and top with fish, chicken, or tofu. Season the whole dish with your favorite herbs and spices, then pop in the oven at 375F for about 20 minutes.
You can make portobello pizzas by topping the mushrooms with your favorite pizza toppings and baking in the oven.
My absolute go-to is a stir-fry buddha bowl. Keep cooked brown rice on hand, or just can buy it frozen--as your healthy carb base. Grab garlic and green onion, sauté in a pan with a little coconut oil, then start adding your veggies! I like chopped kale, baby spinach, sliced peppers and mushrooms. Splash a little low-sodium soy sauce or tamari on top and add to the brown rice. For extra protein I suggest a few scrambled eggs, leftover shrimp or chicken. If you don’t like Asian flavors you can try Mediterranean, Italian, even Indian flavors.
SM: What are the main things people over 55 should include in their diet?
RC: For brain health and reduced inflammation, add in healthy fats, especially omega-3. Salmon, sardines, and anchovies are excellent sources; but you can also throw walnuts, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds and avocados into your meals.
Bone health is also a big concern, try eating foods rich in calcium. Remember, these do not have to be dairy based! You can try broccoli, bok choy, pretty much any dark, bitter green, almonds, sesame seeds, sardines, and dried figs. Women over 51 should consume 1,200mg of calcium daily and Men 1,000mg.
For cancer prevention, I suggest more cruciferous vegetables (think: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower). For men specifically, try to consume larger amounts of cooked tomatoes for the lycopene, which some studies show can lower risk for prostate cancer. Overall, a diet lower in animal proteins and higher in plants is always beneficial. Try going vegetarian if just for a few meals/week, or at least swap the beef for fish. And everyone should be watching their sugar intake.
SM: Many people go out to eat because they think healthy home cooking is bland and boring. How can you cook healthy with flavor? What are the healthier substitutes?
RC: It’s a lot easier than you think! You can spice things up with fresh, dried or frozen herbs and spices; or use salsa, bruschetta, olives, pesto, and jarred tapenades. Cook your starches and vegetables with vegetable or chicken broth to add flavor. Crush up nuts and used as a crust in place of breadcrumbs. You can add depth of flavor through citrus, vinegars and infused oils.
Plus, don’t forget to play around with textures. Zucchini noodles are a fun alternative to pasta, or cauliflower rice in place of white rice. You can even replace lasagna noodles with sliced eggplants!
SM: What unhealthy trends do you see with older clients?
RC: Increased alcohol intake usually comes with retirement due as people start to socialize and go out to dinner more often once they are free of work demands. Unfortunately, alcohol is a toxin to your body, so you need to limit your intake. A great way to do this is by setting a goal for yourself and then sticking to it. Maybe you will only drink on the weekends or special occasions, or maybe you will limit yourself to three drinks per week. By planning in advance, you are less likely to get into the habit or over-consuming.
I also see a lot of dehydration. The majority of older adults are walking around dehydrated! Did you know that we stop sensing thirst as we age! I suggest never leaving the house without a big water bottle and keeping a large pitcher of water on the counter at home with the aim to finish it by nighttime. Healthy adults should aim to drink about half their body weight in ounces of water.
Rachel’s List of Foods to Avoid!
Added Sugars: read food labels and compare sugar content, stop sweetening your coffee, watch other sugary beverages and be careful with that dried fruit
Refined Carbs: swap white rice for brown rice, switch out white potatoes for sweet potatoes, avoid bread that does not contain sprouted grains, and forget pasta unless its made from rice, beans or quinoa!
High-Fat Meats: limit beef, pork, lamb and veal for your heart’s health
Artificial Sweeteners: You know those blue, yellow and pink packets? They’re not good for you and you would be better off without them. Try no sugar or natural low calorie alternatives like stevia and monk fruit.