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Nutrition Notes
Week of December 22, 2008
Contact: Sarah Wally, (202) 328-7744

Baby Boomer Nutrition

Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Baby boomers – always at the leading edge of cultural change – are ushering in a new approach to aging. Surveys suggest that members of the boomer generation, now well into middle age, do not want to age like their parents did. Many hope that good nutrition can keep them in their prime. But what choices will help this motivated group of adults reap the most rewards? This week we offer nutrition advice to boomers:

Antioxidants

Advertising campaigns aimed at boomers seem to suggest that certain “antioxidant powerhouses” can halt aging in its tracks. While it’s true that antioxidants can help protect cells from damage and reduce risk of age-related health concerns like heart disease, cancer and dementia, unfortunately, there is no magic bullet. Rather, research suggests that we should pack our diets with a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans to get the most benefit from the thousands of natural antioxidant plant compounds.

The American Institute for Cancer Research’s landmark report on lowering cancer risk recommends eating at least 5 servings of vegetables and fruits every day. For adults who are middle aged and beyond, 7 to 10 standard servings per day may be more realistic to help get enough of the nutrients that promote heart health. Whatever your motivation, look for ways to increase your consumption of plant foods throughout the day, not just at dinner.

Dietary Fiber

Boomers, along with many other adults, are not meeting their daily fiber needs. It’s an unfortunate missing link, as fiber is associated with prevention of heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer. In addition, fiber is also key to avoiding the constipation and irregularity that can occur or increase with age. To reach recommended fiber levels, boomers need to meet their vegetable and fruit targets and also include at least 3 or 4 servings of whole grains every day, with some beans, nuts or other high-fiber food.

Protein

Some research suggests that adults need a little extra protein to avoid losing muscle as we get older. With many experts emphasizing strength-training exercise two to three times a week in middle age and beyond, that additional protein may be important to help preserve and build muscle mass. The benefits, however, likely come from only a modest increase in protein. Boomers should aim for a daily protein goal (grams/day) equal to half of your current weight (expressed in pounds). Adults with kidney or liver disease should check with their physician before significantly boosting protein intake, however.

To increase your protein intake, focus on eating more fish and poultry, rather than loading up on red meat. Low fat dairy and soy foods are other good choices, as are beans, nuts, seeds and eggs (in moderation). Small amounts of protein in whole grains and vegetables add up too when you enjoy them in abundance.

Sodium

Most Americans eat too much sodium, far exceeding the daily recommended limit of 2300 milligrams (mg) per day. Excess sodium poses particular concern as we age and become more sensitive to the blood-pressure raising effects of sodium. To help reduce current consumption, boomers need to do more than simply avoid the saltshaker. As processed foods account for over two-thirds of American’s sodium, using fewer processed foods or choosing lower-sodium options for those we do use is a good place to start.

Finally, in the midst of searching for foods with health-promoting benefits, don’t miss the obvious. Most Americans are overweight, continue to gain weight throughout adulthood and come nowhere near the recommendations for daily physical activity. These issues have a major impact on virtually every age-related health problem, so tackling them deserves to be at the top of every baby boomer’s “to do” list.

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The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $100 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.

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