What you Eat Affects How You Move

By Cate Reade, MS, RD ~

Just like the gas you put in your car affects its performance; the food you eat impacts your mobility.   

The Mediterranean diet is widely studied and recognized as a model of healthy eating.  Lots of research shows that eating a Mediterranean-style diet can help prevent heart disease, neurodegenerative conditions and cancer.  But did you know that over time it is also linked to a slower decline in lower body function and reduces the risk of mobility disability?  A landmark study, InCHIANTI shows that it does (1).

This makes sense because we literally are what we eat and digest. (We’ll take a closer look at digestion in another article).  Our food choices provide our body’s 30-70 trillion cells (it depends who’s counting!) with the vital nutrients they require to function properly.  Without healthy fat, fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals, our mitochondria, the energy generators of each cell, simply can’t work well. It’s like baking keto chocolate chip cookies without the baking soda, vanilla and chips.  You will still get a cookie out of the oven, but it won’t look or taste the same as when all the ingredients are combined.  

(By the way, if you love chocolate chip cookies but don’t enjoy the blood sugar spike and fatigue that follows, the referenced recipe is a MUST try; you are going to LOVE them (2).  Let me know what you think!)

A Mediterranean-style diet contains colorful vegetables, legumes, fruits and nuts, wild caught fish (not farmed fish because it’s filled with toxic PCBs (3)), wholegrains and olive oil; with a low intake of saturated fat, dairy products and meat (1).  For most of us it’s role reversal with veggies taking center plate while meats become the side-dish. Taking a lesson from our Mediterranean friends in the InCHIANTI study, let’s make a toast and sip some red wine during meals (1).  

This style of eating provides the nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants that can help reduce the risk of functional decline as we age (1).  For example, low levels of vitamin E, C and D are linked to poor physical performance, frailty and disability (4, 5).

Antioxidants found in vegetables and fruits (preferably low-glycemic choices like berries or Granny Smith apples) contain an abundance of free radical squelching antioxidants.  When you eat a rainbow of vegetables, the different colors relate to different phytonutrients (“phyto” means plant). Dark green leafy veggies are rich in vitamin E, magnesium and B-vitamins.  Carotenoids are found in orange, yellow and red colored foods. A low level of carotenoids is associated with low skeletal muscle strength (1). These include our mobility muscles that surround each joint and enable us the freedom to move from place to place.

A high intake of carotenoids can help maintain walking speed.  How fast you can safely walk is a marker of aging and it affects our quality of life.  After all, we need to be walking at a speed of 1.4 meters (~4.5 feet) per second to safely cross the street; and many older adults can’t walk this fast.

Carotenoids are fat-soluble meaning that they combine with fat while they repel water like a Gore-Tex™ rain jacket; choosing not to mix with water at all.  To maximize absorption, consume healthy fat sources simultaneously. Make organic choices whenever possible and include nuts, almond and macadamia butters, sesame seeds or tahini, avocados, high-quality salad dressings like Primal Kitchen and extra-virgin olive oil.  

Colorful plant foods are anti-aging nutrients because of they are rich in antioxidants.  Grandma was right about eating your veggies. She knew it intuitively but now we know that when the fires of inflammation, caused by excess free radicals, burns too high, it can cause damage to our DNA (book of life), proteins and lipids in our skeletal muscle (1).  

This inflammatory response leads to muscles shrinking because the muscle fibers themselves are withering.  Strength is the foundation of function. Having less muscle makes it harder to move and perform our daily activities.  Our body will compensate as best it can but over time, damage is done, and mobility fades away along with our lifestyle and independence.

The good news is that we have control over what’s on the end of our fork.  Choosing a low-inflammatory Mediterranean-style diet has been shown to significantly reduce levels of inflammatory markers such as interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein (CRP) (1).  Less inflammation means better vitality, longevity and mobility.

The best part of all is that a Mediterranean diet is delicious.  Who doesn’t love celery and sweet red peppers dipped in hummus? Gyro meatballs on a bed of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and red onions smothered in some creamy Tzatziki sauce?  

Eating well means we can move well for a lifetime.  Let’s raise our glasses and toast to good health and mobility. Now that’s something to cheer about!

Cate Reade

Cate Reade

Cate Reade, MS, RD, is a Senior Fitness Expert and entrepreneur leading an epidemic of mobility.  As CEO of Resistance Dynamics, she is delighted to be helping older adults regain strength, balance and confidence with her innovation, the MoveMor™ Mobility Trainer and exercise programming.  Over 10 independent studies show better balance, increased leg strength, greater ankle flexibility, increased independence, improved continence and a reduced fall risk – in as little as 10 minutes a week.  Cate loves instructing local and national educational sessions, collaborating with healthcare professionals and helping senior living communities thrive. Contact Cate at 303.515.7070; Cate@MoveMor.com or visit MoveMor.com.

References

  1. Milaneschi, Yuri et al. “Mediterranean diet and mobility decline in older persons.” Experimental gerontology vol. 46,4 (2011): 303-8. doi:10.1016/j.exger.2010.11.030
  2. Best Keto Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe: https://drjockers.com/keto-chocolate-chip-cookies/
  3. https://www.ifm.org/news-insights/toxins-drivers-disease/
  4. Bartali, Benedetta et al. “Low nutrient intake is an essential component of frailty in older persons.” The journals of gerontology. Series A, Biological sciences and medical sciences vol. 61,6 (2006): 589-93. doi:10.1093/gerona/61.6.589
  5. Welch, A. et al. “Cross-Sectional Associations Between Dietary Antioxidant Vitamins C, E and Carotenoid Intakes and Sarcopenic Indices in Women Aged 18-79 Years.” Calcif Tissue Int. 2019 Dec 7. doi: 10.1007/s00223-019-00641-x

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