Nutrition Surprises

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By age 60-ish, most of us know a lot about calorie-counting, fat grams, the dangers of too much sodium and the fruit-and-vegetable daily goal. Yet, nutrition experts who counsel older adults say they often hear: “I didn’t know that!” or “Really?” as they talk about nutrition with their clients and their webinar audiences.

Think you know about nutrition?  As we head into the season for holiday meals and treats, how do you rank with some of the more prevalent “nutrition surprises” nutritionists find among seniors? Here are a few of their favorites:

Calcium’s not just for kids

Calcium’s not just for kids: Connie Diekman, a dietitian and food and nutrition consultant in St. Louis, has heard this one a lot: “I’m grown up and calcium is for bones, so what difference does it make?” Diekman, a former president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells them that calcium is a vitally important nutrient throughout life, needed not just for strong bones and teeth but also to help muscles move and to help nerves carry messages from the brain to all body parts.

Calcium needs rise with age.

Actually, calcium needs rise with age. Women over 50 need 1200 milligrams (about 4 cups of dairy). Men past 70 need 1200 mg as well (under 70, 1,000 mg).

While those diagnosed with the weak bone conditions known as osteoporosis and osteopenia may think it’s futile to focus on calcium, Diekman disagrees. “There is evolving evidence you can [help] stabilize that loss of bone” by paying attention to calcium intake, she says. It won’t play as big a role as it did in younger years, of course. Her mantra: look to food first for calcium needs, not supplements. (And even with good attention to calcium, you may need prescription medications to keep bone loss at a minimum.)  Also ask your doctor how much vitamin D to take; it’s needed to help absorb calcium.

Soy isn’t a ”risky” food

Soy isn’t a ”risky” food, even for breast cancer survivors: “Eating soy foods (tofu, soy milk, tempeh) and soy alternatives to meat are perfectly fine,” says Christine Rosenbloom, professor of nutrition emerita at Georgia State University and co-author of Food and Fitness After 50: Eat Well, Move Well, Be Well. The idea to avoid soy foods surfaced because soy has isoflavones, or plant estrogens, and high levels of estrogen have been linked with higher breast cancer risk. But food sources of soy do not have high enough levels of isoflavones to boost risk, Rosenbloom says, and experts agree.  “The recommendation is to enjoy your soy foods.” (That doesn’t apply to soy supplements, Mayo Clinic experts caution, as the levels of isoflavones are higher in those. Don’t take those without getting advice from your doctor.)

The Nutrition Facts label isn’t perfect

The Nutrition Facts label isn’t perfect: Say you’ve been advised to watch your fat intake, and you dutifully look up the fat grams on food labels. Under FDA guidance, certain nutrients listed (calories, sugars, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium) can be 20% higher than the label says and still be in compliance. (If a lab analysis found 8 grams of fat per serving in a product whose label claimed it had 6, for instance, that product would be out of compliance.) Another surprise to some: the nutrition facts are based on the serving size, not the whole package. “So the serving size might be 10 crackers and they are eating 20,” Rosenbloom says.

Supplements Don’t Have Super Powers

Supplements Don’t Have Super Powers: Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Rosenbloom often hears people saying they take Vitamin D, zinc and calcium supplements to ”boost immunity.” All three are important nutrients. “But they are not going to have any special powers,” Rosenbloom says, ”especially if you are already getting enough in your diet.”

Your turn: What nutrition ”fact” have you found to be false? Or what nutrition fact have you found to be most beneficial?

This article offered by Senior Planet and Older Adults Technology Services is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.

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