What’s in your fridge?

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, July 5, 2011

By Cal Bryant

Proper nutrition is vital to battle middle-age spread

From political power to fashion and even to team loyalty in today’s world of professional athletics, change is inevitable.

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But what about change inside our bodies?

People in the earlier stages of life, at least those without medical complications, often seem able to throw caution to the wind when it comes to taking care of their bodies. They seem able to maintain healthy metabolisms, despite poor eating and sleeping habits.

But as the body’s clock passes age 40, hormonal and metabolic changes begin to occur.

As age increases, basal metabolic rate heads in the opposite direction. BMR is the rate at which your body burns energy. Those with higher rates burn that energy more efficiently. They also feel better, think more clearly and are able to maintain a healthy weight.

It’s normal for BMR to decrease with age; however, the effects can be lessened through proper diet and exercise. But there’s a maze of information about the best lifestyle changes to make.

Debbie Klingler – a registered dietician, licensed nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at Roanoke-Chowan Community Health Center in Ahoskie, N.C. – said the best course of action is to start looking for help locally.

“Take advantage of your local resources first by asking your doctor or by contacting your local community health center to inquire for a listing of certified or registered dieticians/nutritionists,” Klingler said. “If you prefer to go it alone, there is plenty of free advice available through websites.”

Klinger said one of her online favorites is www.calorieking.com.

“There are even apps you can download to your iPod or other handheld devices that can be used to track your daily intake of calories,” she said.

Unhappy meals

For parents with a busy lifestyle, who are trying to remain within a budget by eating at home, the mealtime game has a NASCAR feeling: We want it fast.

Food preparation under those circumstances may indeed take the “checkered flag,” but the victory party is spoiled by the bad news from the bathroom scales.

Instead of bowing to the traditional fast lane foods such as burgers, fries, pizza and mac-and-cheese, the family cook can score a victory by offering broiled or grilled entrees. Pasta dishes are also quick to prepare, as are steamed mixed vegetables.

Not only are these offerings delicious, they are nutritious for the entire family. There’s no time like the present to introduce young children to the benefits of healthy eating, especially with the related problems of childhood obesity and adult diabetes.

Gina Pitrone, executive director of the Obici Healthcare Foundation, refers to it as “Diabesity.” She said the Western Tidewater region (the city of Suffolk, along with Isle of Wight, Southampton, Surry and Sussex counties) led Virginia in the number of diabetes-related deaths during 2010.

Pitrone said diabetes and obesity are linked, because the latter often serves as a trigger for type 2 diabetes. In turn, that can lead to heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure and blindness.

“Diabesity has reached epidemic proportions,” Pitrone said. “About a third of Americans, including Western Tidewater residents, find themselves in the obese and diabetic categories.”

Armed with the state data, Pitrone said the Obici Foundation and its broad-based coalition of community stakeholders are poised to take action.

“Diabesity is a major concern for the Foundation,” Pitrone said. “Its prevalence in this community, the ability to prevent it and, in some cases, reverse it, makes this challenge a desirable target. What makes this contest so inviting? We can win!”

The battle lines for the fight are drawn across the kitchen floors of homes in southside Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.

“Nobody wants to stand in a hot kitchen and cook after spending a long, hard day at work,” Klingler noted.

Advance planning is the key.

“Plan out your weekly meals for the family, or for an individual living alone,” she said. “Go to the grocery store with that plan. Prepare dishes that will cover a few days and refrigerate or freeze them. Frozen cooked vegetables are quick to thaw and serve. I’m also not against purchasing healthy frozen meals; just add a salad and you’ve got a quick, nutritious meal.”

Klingler added that baked potatoes are quick and easy to prepare. She also suggested preparing nutritious meals in a slow-cooker as a time saver.

“I would also promote healthy eating for all age groups by encouraging at-home cooks to experiment with different preparation methods,” Klingler said. “Instead of the old bacon grease method, use olive oil. A simple test with that is to shred cabbage, stir fry it in olive oil and then steam the cabbage for tenderness. Preparing familiar foods in a different way creates variety and new flavors.”

The road to proper nutrition is also paved with exercise.

Klingler sympathizes with those who find that time constraints at work or at home interfere with an exercise routine, but she still stresses the need for a daily workout to supplement a diet.

“Keep a pair of tennis shoes and T-shirt in your car. If you are at an event where you are waiting for a child or grandchild to complete an athletic practice or piano lesson, get out and walk,” she suggested.

Feeling full

As for the nutritional value of consuming liquids, studies reveal that with the progression of age, the body begins to register a lessened feeling of fullness from the calories associated with what a person drinks. Consuming sugary liquids between meals can lead to overeating later.

Try this: Instead of drinking an eight-ounce glass of orange juice, eat an entire orange and drink a 12-ounce bottle of water. It will give you a feeling of being full, and research has shown you will still feel that way until normal mealtimes arrive.

“We have a volume problem,” Klingler said. “Why do we like to overeat? It’s simple; we love food, and we love to eat. We love to have full stomachs. But be reminded that as we age, insulin resistance becomes a big issue. We begin to lose muscle mass, and what was once muscle converts to fat. As the fat levels increase, it leads to a higher risk of diabetes. In turn, that leads to higher risks for other chronic diseases.”

For men and women reaching middle age, the key is simple: fiber.

“Fiber in your diet helps you feel full,” she stated. “I would suggest for those ages 45 and over to increase their consumption of fruit and vegetables; they’re high in fiber and low in calories.”

Low-calorie beverages are also an important part of a proper diet.

“Steer clear of the high calorie beverages and keep a close eye on your intake of carbohydrates,” Klingler said. “Just doing away with two regular soft drinks or two other types of sugary drinks, like Kool-Aid, per day will lead to a weight loss of a pound per week.”

That’s change we can all live with.