The delusion of senior nutritional habits - The Explorer: Editorials

The delusion of senior nutritional habits

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Posted: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 3:00 am

Seniors receive a perpetual barrage of information about how to eat well and live healthier, longer lives, and many advocate a healthy eating style to their friends and family.

However, according to two food and beverage managers I interviewed at senior-oriented dining establishments, the truth comes out on the plate and it isn’t fruits and vegetables.

Overhearing conversations among retirees, you’d think the majority of us were nutritionally on track toward centurion status. I’ve attended several neighborhood social gatherings and all of them included in-depth reviews of recently visited restaurants, recipes and diets that expound low-fat contents and heart-healthy vegetarian ingredients. You’d think that most of my friends are training for the dietary Olympics but reality occasionally contradicts this premise.

When dining out it appears the righteous rules of nutrition stay in the car. The most common phrase heard at the table is, “I’m going to cheat on my diet but just for this meal,” which is a precursor to flipping the menu open and heading for the forbidden fried and fat sections.

What happened to baked, broiled, no potassium-laden sauce, hold the salt and forget the bread, no dinner rolls, and an endless list of other seemingly healthy choices? It appears the circumstances and surroundings dictate whether healthy dietary selections are important or not when dining away from home. During my observation, eating out is a free pass to pick and choose from the unhealthy side of the menu.

Americans spend about 46 percent of their food budget on restaurants, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a nonprofit group advocating better nutrition. The average senior eats at a restaurant 2.5 times per week. Their meals are so loaded with fat they get a day’s worth of calories at each one, the CSPI noted.

Notably, the average senior household spent nearly $900 a year on restaurant meals, according to a 2010 study by the National Restaurant Association. That makes eating out expensive and fattening.

While talking with local food and beverage managers who operate senior-oriented restaurant facilities, they told me it’s been their experience that mature adults talk a better game of eating than actually doing it. According to these managers, the absolute most popular food item leaving their kitchens is french fries. So much for the bogus information being spread to kids and grandkids from their nourishment-conscious role model parents and grandparents who are “toughing it out” in the nutritionally barren desert. It seems the elders aren’t skimping on the kiddy food too often.

Now that we have the choice and time to plan our meals and eat smart, it’s surprising that more retirees select the adolescent food group alternatives to those advocated by nutritional gurus such as the late Dr. Robert Atkins or those touted by the American Heart Association.

These dietary selections are offered on more menus than I can count but it’s rare that I hear someone order one of these complete meal selections when dining with friends. It’s amusing to hear the conversations about “good” food as a tablemate crunches the fries and pours mustard onto a carbo-laden bun housing a hot dog.

I’ve tried a wide variety of diets and performed countless exercise combinations and options with varying intensities, and all of it had a limited impact on my body weight. The one variable I have manipulated over the years that offers positive results every single time is a simple reduction in caloric intake. That’s it. I just put less stuff on my plate and into my mouth. I don’t count calories, chart carbohydrates, fats, etc. It’s a validated fact – less daily calorie intake equals less body weight over time.

I’ve lived long enough and eaten ample meals to comprehend the difference between eating to comfortably sustain myself versus stuffing my stomach into unrealistic expansion and discomfort. It doesn’t take a complicated formula, food-intake tracking sheet, or electronic grub wizard to realize how much is enough.

We know when we’re nutritionally satiated or bursting at the snap and zipper. When our pants feel like they’re a size too small when they fit perfectly as we left the house, it’s a solid clue that we’ve once again gorged ourselves beyond reasonable capacity.

I hate the label “fat Americans,” but after paying attention to the voluminous gut appearances that prevail, I’m afraid it’s true. To fight against this swelling trend I’ve created the perfect diet – the Simple Seniors Diet. It’s even more simplistic than the current favorites. Here’s the way it works; I’ve committed myself to consciously refusing to order anything that tastes too good and has to be delivered on more than three plates. Other than that, I can order whatever I want to eat in any restaurant I visit.

If I can’t be filled to a comfortable state using these straightforward guidelines, then I’m retreating back to the salad bars of the 1980’s.

Besides, I can handle sprouts and alfalfa sprigs if they’re floating in a quart of creamy blue cheese dressing. Who says seniors don’t know how to eat healthy?

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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