Nutrition Myths & Misconceptions for Successful Aging

Ed Schneider, M.D., Dean Emeritus and Professor of Gerontology at the University of Southern California’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, recently hosted a webinar addressing proper nutrition for aging adults. Dr. Schneider shares key insights regarding nutrition and on the latest findings in aging and debunks popular myths and misconceptions about supplements, multivitamins, organic foods, weight, longevity, water, wine, and more.

Dr. Schneider’s nutrition tips include:

Does supplemental calcium or vitamin D help prevent hip fractures? While calcium does increase bone mass, calcium has never been shown to reduce the risk of fractures. Vitamin D does assist calcium absorption, but supplemental calcium can increase the risk of heart disease in seniors. Vitamin D deficiency is the most common pervasive type of vitamin deficiency amongst Americans, but not everyone needs it as a supplement. However, seniors living above the 40th parallel in northern U.S. states and seniors who don’t go outside often may need to take a vitamin D supplement containing the recommended dose of 1000 milligrams.

The egg: The jury is still out on eggs. The phytochemicals lutein and zeaxanthin can act as beneficial antioxidants which can protect the eyes. Eggs do contain cholesterol, but healthy people generally don’t have problems related to their daily egg intake. Overall, studies of eggs have not shown to cause harm or benefit to one’s health. However, eggs are often eaten with products like bacon, sausage, cheese, hash browns, and butter, which can be detrimental to health if consumed frequently.

Red wine: The skin of the red wine grape is full of healthy, protective antioxidants such as resveratrol, and flavonoids. Scientific studies have revealed that resveratrol increases the lifespan of yeast, worms, fruit flies, short-lived fish, and mice, but the dose of resveratrol required to achieve these results in mice is the equivalent of humans drinking 50 bottles of red wine a day to achieve the same effect. In a long-term observational study of over 300,000 participants, results found a decreased risk of death in light or moderate red wine drinkers, and a significantly increased risk in heavy drinkers in comparison to those who were abstainers. One glass of red wine with dinner is totally fine.

Caffeine, coffee & tea: Coffee comes from a bean that has many antioxidants. Coffee is known for containing caffeine, which can improve cognitive function and enhance long-term physical performance. However, most of these beverages’ health benefits are unrelated to their caffeine content. Coffee lowers the risk for stroke, Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, colon and prostate cancer, gallstones, cirrhosis, and, possibly, Alzheimer’s disease. Conversely, coffee also increases the risk of having high blood pressure, blood sugar, LDL cholesterol, frequent trips to the bathroom, insomnia, teeth staining, jitteriness, and paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. These problems are associated with caffeine, thus making decaffeinated coffee a great solution. It should be clarified that green tea and black tea are made from the same leaf – the difference being that black tea is just oxidized green tea, so they contain the same ingredients. They have almost the same types of antioxidants as well. Consuming tea reduces blood levels of LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, the risk of strokes, the risk of Parkinson’s disease, and increases bone mass.

Chocoholics unite! Chocolate has been shown to help with cardiovascular health. Cocoa and chocolate contain the powerful antioxidant flavonoid epicatechin as well as nitric oxide, which dilates the blood vessels and reduces the risk of heart attacks. Chocolate also improves insulin sensitivity, reduces the risk for diabetes, reduces blood pressure, and inhibits the aggregation of platelets (blood components that can accumulate to form clots), so chocolate prevents clot formation. Dr. Schneider recommends that all aging adults eat at least one cluster of dark chocolate-covered almonds daily, possibly two as nuts also contain unsaturated fats and lower LDL cholesterol.

BMI and aging: For those 55 and younger, maintain proper nutrition to keep your BMI below 25.0. For those 55 and older who do not have hypertension, diabetes, or significant heart disease, a BMI of 25.0 to 26.9 carries little risk and may increase longevity. A BMI of 27.0 and above carries significant risks at all ages.

Brain health and diet: Many wonder if anything in their diet is particularly beneficial or detrimental when it comes to brain health. There have been a lot of anecdotal evidence and observational studies revealing, in general, that what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. Among the main problems associated with brain health is arteriosclerosis, or strokes. Anything one can do to reduce their risk of arteriosclerosis would improve their brain health. Frequent exercise is the main thing, but following good nutrition plans and staying away from saturated fats helps. Unsaturated fats, like those in olive oil, are much better for one’s overall health.

Is there a magic diet? Dr. Schneider has investigated all kinds of diets, such as Dr. Atkins’s diet, the keto diet, and the Mediterranean diet. There’s no scientific evidence whatsoever that any diet will significantly increase longevity or improve health. However, Dr. Schneider does recommend the Mediterranean diet, which is characterized by lots of fiber, vegetables, fish, low intake of saturated fats like meat, and includes wine (in moderation) as a healthy and beneficial choice.

Source: Dr. Ed Schneider, M.D.,

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