DEAR DR. BLONZ: I happened to be talking to a co-worker this morning -- we are both cyclists and runners. He is over 50 and I turn 50 tomorrow. Someone gave him a banana and some oranges, and he re-gifted the banana to me, saying that is one food he has cut out of his diet since he turned the half-century mark. I had never heard that people over 50 should not eat bananas. Can you provide a list of foods that I should now consider eating more of, at my age? How about foods I should eat less? Also, does potassium intake become less important to the 50+ body, and if not, what other sources should I consider if I eat fewer bananas? -- R.M., Walnut Creek, Calif.
DEAR R.M.: It's great that you are active. Don't stop! I am not sure what is behind the rejected banana. Personally, I like to use a ripe banana in my morning granola. Is your co-worker on meds where potassium intake has to be carefully controlled? Potassium is an important mineral that can be thought of as hanging around inside cells. It tends to be plentiful in whole foods. Contrast this with sodium, which can be thought of as being outside cells in bodily fluids like blood. Sodium tends to be plentiful in processed foods, and, of course, in the salt shaker. Sodium can be more of a problem, especially if there are blood-pressure issues. Even if your co-worker has some misplaced concerns about the sweet taste of a ripe banana, it is ADDED sugar that is a health concern, not the naturally present sugars in whole foods.
You ask for a list of healthful foods, but there is no magic list for those over 50 that would not have worked earlier in life. I have always favored a Mediterranean-type diet, but eat from all cuisines. There has been some great research coming out reaffirming the healthfulness of this approach. For more on the Mediterranean diet, go to http://tinyurl.com/6ayebq. If there is one great tip to carry with you, it is to follow a meal that's a bit rich with one on the lean side. Have plenty of fruits, vegetables and grains. I also love dark chocolate for dessert, but that's me. You'll get a sense of balance, and with that as your "list," you can do (and eat) just about anything.
Keep track of your general food intake as best you can, because the basic metabolic rate begins to slow as we enter our middle years. It also makes sense to adjust your exercise/workout goals as the years pass, to avoid injuries as the body shifts to middle-age and beyond. A common sense indicator is to watch the numbers on the scale, and how your clothes fit. Some change is inevitable, so it's nothing to get frantic about. It is great that you are active as it helps with weight, metabolism, staving off cognitive decline, and even with stress control; healthful foods are your best insurance.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to email@example.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.