Category Archives: Health

Seniors need more protein

Seniors need more protein than younger adults. Once you reach your 60s, you might want to begin upping the amount of protein you consume per day in an effort to maintain muscle mass and strength, bone health and other essential physiological functions as long as possible, since older people need to make up for age-related changes in protein metabolism.

Nutrition experts recommend that healthy older adults should consume 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily, which is an increase over the RDA for younger adults. This formula translates to:

150-pound senior woman69 to 81 grams per day
180-pound senior man81 to 98 grams per day

This compares to the Recommended Daily Allowances for protein which are:

Babies10 grams per day
School-age children19-34 grams per day
Teenage boys52 grams per day
Teenage girls46 grams per day
Adult men56 grams per day
Adult women46 grams a day (71 grams, if pregnant or breastfeeding)

As you can see, the guidelines for dietary protein intake have traditionally advised similar intake for all adults, regardless of age. This one-size-fits-all protein recommendation does not consider age-related changes in metabolism.  Doctors are now recognizing that this leaves seniors without enough protein and the health problems that brings. A shortfall of protein supplies relative to needs can lead to loss of lean body mass, particularly muscle loss. By the time people reach age 65, they become at greater risk of sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle mass, strength and function. It’s also important to note that simply moving your body with plenty of regular exercise can be just as crucial as protein intake when it comes to maintaining muscle as we age.

Now, for the good news. You can get all the protein you need with plant foods such as beans, lentils, whole grains and nuts. Even better, plant protein doesn’t carry the high price tag of saturated fat and cholesterol that meat and dairy have.  It’s better for the animals and the environment too. Here are just a few examples of some plant foods that are good sources of protein, but there are many more. 

Type of food  Portion sizeProtein in grams
Firm Tofu (soybean curds)4 ounces10g  
Tempeh3 ounces17g  
Cooked lentils1 cup18g  
Oats1 cup10g  
Almonds3.5 ounces21g  

In some cases adding plant protein powder to a daily smoothie can be helpful way to increase the amount of protein consumed. There are several kinds available including soy protein, rice protein and pea protein.

While seniors need more protein, it’s important not to overdo it. Going overboard and eating much more protein than you need can cause problems, as too much protein can put a strain on the kidneys. Plant-based protein is much better for the kidneys than animal-based protein, but it’s still possible to overdo it.

Finally, we need to dispel a myth. The myth is that plant proteins must be combined at every meal to be of any use to the body. This was popularized in the early 70’s by the book “Diet for a Small Planet” by Frances Moore Lappé. The author has since retracted the statement frequently. “In combating the myth that meat is the only way to get high-quality protein, I reinforced another myth,” she said. Unfortunately, the protein combining myth has taken root in the public. Eating a variety of plant foods over the course of a day or two is all that’s necessary to ensure you get the variety of amino acids you need.

As always, check with your doctor before making any changes in your diet or health care.

New York City to train doctors in nutrition and lifestyle medicine

A big step forward in the use of plant-based diets in medicine has just taken place in New York. Through a partnership between local government and a mainstream medical nonprofit, the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, free introductory training in nutrition and other aspects of lifestyle will be offered to doctors and other healthcare professionals throughout the city.

The initial phase will include practitioners at 20 hospitals and health systems that serve millions of New Yorkers. The new training will be offered up to 200,000 doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, dietitians, and other health care professionals in New York City and is the largest lifestyle medicine training rollout in the world. Training in nutrition is no small thing when one considers that according to the American Medical Association, diet is the number one risk for disease in America.

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Covid and plant-based diets

We’ve been getting a lot of questions about following a plant-based diet and COVID. There are some things a plant-based diet can do it and something it can’t.  It turns out that a plant-based diet can significantly reduce the severity of COVID.

In one study, looking at doctors and nurses, a plant-based diet reduced the chance of getting a severe or moderate case by 73%, which we think is saying a lot.  Compare this to those individuals following “low carbohydrate, high protein diets” such as Atkins and others, which are typically high in food that comes from animals, who had an almost 4 times greater risk of moderate-to-severe COVID. Another study showed that among the elderly, those following a non vegetarian diet had 5 times the risk of having a severe case of COVID.

So what’s up with this? We think there are two things at work. A plant-based diet has been shown to reduce inflammation. Part of the damage COVID does is by inciting extreme inflammation. Studies have shown that those following a plant-based diet have a lower baseline level of inflammation. Second,  people with chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure, have been shown to have worse outcomes when infected with the COVID virus. People who follow a plant-based diet have, on average, much lower rates of these diseases. Lower levels of baseline inflammation and lower rates of chronic disease combine to give vegetarians and vegans the edge.  

Can a good diet prevent you from getting COVID in the first place? Here the effect of the plant-based diet is much less pronounced. One study showed only a 9% reduction in the risk of getting infected in the first place. Based on the evidence, vaccination is very strongly recommended for the general public.

While 9% isn’t much of a reduction, with a disease as widespread as COVID it can still make a difference in preventing illness. A 73% reduction in the risk of getting a severe or moderate case of COVID makes a huge difference in reducing suffering and saving lives.

Let’s stop the flu

It’s flu season and many are choosing to get the flu vaccine. This choice is generally a good idea but should be made only after consulting your doctor. The vaccine is about 40% effective in preventing you from getting influenza. While getting the vaccine might keep you from getting the flu or lessen the severity it doesn’t stop the disease from occurring in the first place. Wouldn’t it be better to keep the disease from ever happening in the first place than relying on a partially effective vaccine to protect us? We think so and have written an article published in Juniper Online Journal of Public Health. We can actually stop the flu from developing thus preventing many people from getting sick or dying.

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New York City Hospitals serve plant-based meals

All 11 hospitals run by New York City will now serve plant-based meals by default.

The move came after diet-change-focused nonprofit, The Better Food Foundation, partnered with New York City Hospitals and the Mayor’s Office. The foundation aims to aid healthcare organizations in improving health outcomes while cutting carbon emissions, and decreasing food costs.

The hospitals serve three million meals for lunch and dinner each year. While meat options will still be available to those who want them, the hospitals are offering plant-based dishes for every meal.

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Bacteria found in meat

Ground beef

Ground meat is very versatile. We can shape it into burgers, meatballs, and meatloaf. It can be stirred into chili and pasta sauce or stuffed into peppers, lasagna, and tacos. Americans like it so much that in 2021 alone, we purchased more than $13 billion worth of ground beef, turkey, pork, and chicken. But there’s a problem.

While meat increases the risk of many diseases, meat, especially ground meat, also often carries bacteria that can make you sick – or worse!

To assess the current safety of the nation’s ground meat supply, Consumer Reports recently tested 351 packages of ground beef, pork, chicken, and turkey purchased at stores throughout the country. Almost a third of the ground chicken packages they tested contained salmonella. They also found salmonella in a few samples of ground beef, pork, and turkey. To make matters worse, every single strain of salmonella was resistant to at least one antibiotic. We’ve written about the problem of antibiotic resistance developing in farmed animals before. That problem doesn’t seem to have gone away.

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Live longer with plant-based diet

A young adult in the U.S. could add more than a decade to their life expectancy by changing their diet from a typical Western diet to an optimized diet that includes more legumes, vegetables, whole grains and nuts, and less red and processed meat, according to a new study.

Gains are predicted to be larger the earlier the dietary changes are initiated in life. For older people, the anticipated gains to life expectancy from such dietary changes would be smaller but still substantial. The message is clear. You’re never too young to start on a plant-based diet, and you’re never too old to benefit from it.

According to the study, young people starting out at age 20 could, on average, add 10 years to life expectancy for women and 13 years for men. Starting at age 60, it could add 8 years, on average, for women and 9 years, on average, for men. Even 80-year-old women and men could add 3 years, on average, to their life expectancy.

This should come as no surprise. The Journal of the American Medical Association says that diet is the number one risk factor for disease in the United States. Among the 10 leading causes of death (before COVID) are heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease, all of which a plant-based diet can help prevent and treat.

According to the study, an optimal diet had substantially higher intake than a typical western diet of whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and nuts.  Yet, many doctors treat nutrition as a side issue. Of course, they were offered little to no training in medical school.

Of course, we don’t say that nutrition is the only relevant factor in life expectancy. For instance cigarette smoking has a large impact, along with access to medical care. Nevertheless, the nutritional effect  on health is considerable and offers a wide ranging opportunity for increasing life expectancy.

Avoiding dementia – new research

Dementia is a scary disease, so we all want to do everything we can to avoid it. One recent study showed that vegetarians have a 38% lower risk of dementia. We already knew that part of the reason was that vegetarians have, on average, a much lower prevalence of risk factors such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol and lower levels of markers for inflammation such a C-reactive protein, but now new research shows there’s an additional reason.

Investigators found that individuals with the highest blood levels of lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-cryptoxanthin were less likely to have dementia, even decades later than their peers with lower levels of these phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are nutrients found in plant foods besides vitamins, minerals and fiber, that nourish our bodies and are the focus of a lot of medical research.

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Vegans need a B12 supplement

Vitamin B12

We need to get serious for a moment. While vegetarians and vegans get other vitamins in adequate amounts, taking a vitamin B12 supplement is a must for vegans, since they don’t get any through their diet. And while vegetarians do get some B12 through either dairy or eggs, it may not be enough, especially if their intake is modest or only occasional.

Vitamin B12, like the other B vitamins, is important for metabolism. It helps in the formation of red blood cells, and in the maintenance of the central nervous system, among other important things. The good news is that the body can store it for years, protecting you if you miss taking some now and again. However, if your body runs out of its supplies, because it’s been missing from your diet for a long time or has only been taken occasionally, there’ll be very serious consequences.  Deficiency causes a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia, damage to the spinal cord, brain and peripheral nerves, especially in the arms and legs. The nerve and brain damage can be permanent, and can cause dementia and psychiatric disorders. Low or marginal vitamin B12 status in pregnant women increases the risk for neural tube birth defects.

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Asthma – the latest science

Childhood asthma is a major and growing public health problem worldwide. Adults get asthma too. The western, meat-centered diet may partly explain the “asthma epidemic” in the United States.

Asthma is the most common chronic disease of childhood. The prevalence has been increasing at an alarming rate and has more than doubled in the last decade. Over 9 million children in the United States have been diagnosed with asthma. That’s a lot of children. There are few things more upsetting than a sick child.

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