You are slightly overweight and in need of more exercise but generally healthy, aware of the difference between vitamin C and beta carotene and why your body needs such things, well instructed in the dangers of too much fat in the diet — and hungry.
You go to a restaurant with friends or colleagues for lunch and commendably order half a tuna sandwich and a cup of soup. You drink iced tea and refuse the cheesecake. Then, on the way back to work, alone with your hunger, you buy a bag of potato chips or a Snickers candy bar. Later, you sit at your desk feeling physically uncomfortable and morally bereft.
“Eat right” is an admonition as old as childhood, one tied up with lessons vaguely religious in intensity, with pious vitamin charts and food pyramids that, when I was a child, seemed to have nothing to do with the fare dished up in the school cafeteria. Equally as pious-sounding today are the food experts who, rightly, prescribe less food and more exercise for aging men.
“Men really start to gain weight after the age of 40,” says Sachiko St. Jeoré a professor of nutrition at the University of Nevada’s School of Medicine. “They should take a self-analytical look at themselves and ask why they overeat. It may have to do with stress.”
In other words, examine your soul and accept the responsibility of eating less. Heavy up on fresh fruits and vegetables, even if they are less appealing than potato chips and chocolate.
“Generally,” says St. Jeor, “men should maintain a BMI of about 25.” She refers to the body mass index, arrived at by a formula that involves dividing your weight by your height, a slim objective indeed. The BMI may strike some men as more formulaic than accurate, particularly when they consider how experts often change their minds about such things, as they did about the simple egg, which has traveled from perfect food to awful carrier of cholesterol and back to OK occasional breakfast companion.
Mostly — unfortunately — the nutritional basics don’t change much. The “balanced” diet will outlive us all, and its mainstays are still the fresh fruits and vegetables St. Jeor mentions, plus whole grain breads, cereals and other foods made of grain products. Protein and carbohydrates in moderation, and as little sugar and salt as possible.
One fairly recent addition to the food discussion is the recognition of oxygen-free radicals as harmful elements produced by the body as it generates energy. They are also transmitted to us through cigarette smoke, bright sunlight, radiation and other adverse environmental factors. Antioxidants fight free radicals and are naturally produced by the body, but as we get older the defense is less effective and the damage cumulative.
Antioxidants are contained in foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin E and beta carotene. Drinking fresh fruit juices and eating various dark-leafed vegetables is clearly in everyone’s interest, regardless of body weight, and may counteract serious maladies as various as cancer, cataracts and heart disease.
Regular dietary intake of fiber can prevent digestive disorders such as constipation, colon cancer and diverticulosis, a condition among the aging that involves the formation of small sacs on the wall of the large intestine. (Diverticulitis occurs when the sacs become inflamed.) The consumption of some beneficial foods can cause problems as well. Gas, for instance, can result from eating such healthful foods as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, beans, broccoli, cabbage and even bran. These should not be eliminated from the diet but the portions can be made smaller.
There are various digestive diseases, including ulcerative colitis — a chronic disorder in which the large intestine becomes inflamed and causes abdominal cramps and rectal bleeding — that are affected not just by diet, but also by demeanor.
Although attitude receives less attention than diet, it can be crucial to longevity, survival and a sense of well-being. The stress that can lead to uncontrollable appetite can also play havoc with digestion; gas can result from it, too, as can other functional disorders like diarrhea and bloating. But digestive problems occurring with age are not inevitable. Exercise is a proven antidote, and conscious relaxation before a meal, during it and afterward.
Despite all this, what is a hungry man to do? If his BMI is unacceptable but he still finds carrot sticks and apples uninspiring, well, he can eat a handful of almonds and wash them down with a glass of vanilla-flavored soy milk. Almonds are a source of fiber and a good appetite-blunter, and soy milk a source of nutrients that may have contributed to long life in other cultures and continued to baffle the experts, a small satisfaction.
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