Friday, July 31, 2015

The Top 6 Healthy Foods to Put In Your Shopping Cart

Experts pick their favorite superfoods. Are these on your list?

As far as good-for-you foods go, the mind-boggling mix of advice directed to fiftysomething eaters is enough to make anyone’s head spin.

Do you eat whole grains because the latest nutrition headlines say they prevent cancer? Become a vegan or vegetarian to help the heart? Honestly, the advice changes depending on whatever research is making news.

That made us wonder: Are there good-for-you food staples that make it onto the weekly grocery list of health experts regardless of headlines or hype about superfoods?

From doctors to scientists to dietitians, here’s a quick look at what six of the country’s top health experts are stashing in their shopping carts. You’ll notice the short list centers on whole foods, particularly a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Keep building them into your weekly shopping list, experts say, and you’ll stay on the road to good health.


Dr. Dana Simpler, a primary care physician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Md., places special focus in her practice on using diet and lifestyle to prevent and reverse medical problems.

“One food I definitely eat each week is mushrooms, because mushrooms have strong anti-cancer properties and are also a great meat substitute in spaghetti sauce and soups,” Simpler says. “Mushrooms have an aromatase inhibitor effect, which reduces breast cancer occurrence and recurrence.”

Dried Plums

“There’s some fascinating research on dried plums — prunes — and bone health,” says Leslie J. Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center for Sports Medicine and a nutrition consultant to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“Dried plums are high in boron, a mineral that is important for bone structure, and high in polyphenols, plant nutrients that may have anti-inflammatory effects,” she says.

In addition, Bonci says scientists are looking at how eating prunes might improve bone mineral density. Of course, they’re also nature’s best digestive aid. And for seniors taking probiotics, these purple-black snacks are good prebiotics, special types of sugar or starches that feed and stimulate the growth of those good-for-your-gut probiotics.

Unsalted Mixed Nuts

“I like crunchy textures, so chips are definitely my downfall,” admits registered dietitian Neal G. Malik, who specializes in chronic disease prevention and nutrition at the University of California, Riverside.

“To combat this craving, the one food I make sure I eat every week (if not every day!) are unsalted, mixed nuts. I love these as a post-workout snack! Just 1/4 to 1/2 cup provides a nice dose of heart-healthy fats, some protein, and a decent amount of fiber. They’re nature’s perfect food and they satisfy my cravings for crunch,” says Malik.


“Bananas are a favorite,” says Holley Grainger, a lifestyle and culinary nutrition expert who shares more than 700 healthy cooking and nutrition videos with her online audiences. When it comes to nutrition, “they're an affordable fruit option that taste great, are filling and offer potassium, fiber, vitamin C, B6 and manganese.”

You can’t beat their versatility, either. “You can eat them as is or on peanut butter sandwiches, freeze and mix into smoothies, or use in baking,” she says. Even better, while bananas are helping fiftysomething blood pressure and heart health, they’re a healthy snack for the grandkids, too.

Sweet Potatoes

Dr. Thomas Campbell, a longtime proponent of plant-based diets and author of the upcoming book, The Campbell Plan: The Simple Way to Lose Weight and Reverse Illness, Using The China Study's Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet, says he’s only recently come to appreciate sweet potatoes.

“Sweet potatoes have tremendous amounts of healthful nutrients, including antioxidants and minerals, in a package that's full of long-lasting energy. It is a fairly low glycemic index food, causing a lower spike on blood sugar than white potatoes and many grains,” says Campbell.

Leafy Greens

Mayo Clinic dietitian Katherine Zeratsky puts some form of leafy green in the grocery cart every week, usually romaine lettuce.

Romaine's mild flavor and crunchy texture “allows me to dress it up with many varieties of foods – other vegetables, fruits, meats, cheese, nuts and seeds, to create combinations of savory or sweet dishes, not to mention make a balanced meal,” she says. “My cups of romaine are very low in calories yet an excellent source of potassium and vitamin A.”

Don’t like romaine? Zeratsky says just make it a point to choose favorite fruits and vegetables that are in season.

“Seasonality allows for better pricing and better quality,” she says. “I eat fruit at meals and as snacks, so there are always one or two bowls in the refrigerator. I have salad as an entrĂ©e or as a part of the meal several times per week, as it is a great way to get nutrients and fill up my stomach while keeping calories in check. Also, I add carrots, celery and onion to most meals, raw and cooked.” It’s all just “a great way to add flavor, fiber and antioxidants.”

Copyright© 2015 Next Avenue, a division of Twin Cities Public Television, Inc.
Front Porch is a not-for-profit support system for a family of companies that serve individuals and families through full-service retirement, active adult communities, and affordable housing communities.
More information is available at


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

6 Ways You Can Help a Friend Who is Sick

Suggestions that let you be present and make a difference


Boomers pride ourselves on our ability to handle anything that comes our way, but there’s one thing many of us aren’t prepared for: when friends in our age group get life-threatening diseases.
This inescapable front-row seat to a friend’s suffering — and recognition of our own aging — are happening now and will continue for the rest of our lives.
While our friendships in the past might have included vacations, gym sessions and social events, the scenario changes significantly when, for example, a friend is undergoing chemotherapy or another serious treatment. She may be housebound with no energy for outings, unable to drive or even sit at a movie.
We want to be helpful, but we’re often unsure about what we can do. Plenty, it turns out. Here are six specific, kind, and helpful acts to aid a friend who is suffering:
1. Don’t ask; do. We’re an independent generation and many of us hate being dependent. So take the initiative to be useful. Cook a meal or two your friend can eat and bring it over. Offer to run an errand or take her to the doctor or sit with her for treatment. She'll appreciate those types of things.
2. Pay extra attention to your sick friend. Call often, even if you just leave a message. Be sure your friend knows you will stick with him or her no matter what. Because, it turns out, some friends disappear when another gets sick, probably because they don’t know how to handle the situation or what to do. Don’t be one of those who vanish. Be there for your loved one.
3. Visit, and don’t come empty-handed. My local grocery’s floral department will make a small arrangement of six blooms in a small vase for around $12 — perfect for a bedside table. Maybe yours will. Or you could bring something from your garden.

Small-scale is best. Bake banana bread, cookies — whatever might tempt your friend’s palate and let show you are thinking of them.
4. Watch sappy movies together. I have a friend who loves to watch them, and every so often when I visit, we watch an escapist romance on Netflix or on TV. We’ve had some of our best times during those movies and it takes her out of herself for two hours.
5. Give your friend's caregiver some respite. A spouse or other caregiver is often on duty 24 hours a day. Why not offer to spend a day with your friend to give that angel some respite? Let the caregiver have a massage, go to the gym, run errands or just get some much-needed rest. The bonus? You’re spending time with your friend.
6. If your friend lives far away, send something. It might be hard for you to get there in person. Why not send a weekly card? Or a package with some light reading you think your friend might like. Some women might appreciate a deck of health-related affirmation cards. I actually made a deck of affirmations for a special friend, one she uses every day.
It’s hard to watch a dear friend suffer and easy to be paralyzed with fear that you won’t do the right thing. Fact is, any kind, loving act from the heart is appreciated — including just the pleasure of your company.

Copyright© 2015 Next Avenue, a division of Twin Cities Public Television, Inc.

Front Porch is a not-for-profit support system for a family of companies that serve individuals and families through full-service retirement, active adult communities, and affordable housing communities.
More information is available at

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

5 Secrets to Transform Your Experience of Aging

They'll help you shift from a sense of loss to a sense of gain

My 15-year-old son Evan walked off the tennis court triumphantly, as if he had just won the U.S. Open. Up to that point, our matches had always ended in a tie: I made sure of that or, rather, I could make sure of that.

Now, toweling off while feeling an unfamiliar tug on my heart, I said to him, “Hey, Ev, did you ever wonder why the score always remained the same in our tennis matches over the years?” Then, in a suggestive whisper, I continued: “Maybe you could continue that trend — gracefully?” He didn’t respond, but I knew his answer. And it was deafening.

Walking back to the car, I was consumed by the thought that my relationship with Evan (and with my life generally) was clearly at a crossroads. Staying positive as I aged would require letting go of capacities that were diminishing and embracing ones that were expanding.

Easy transition? No! Gratifying? Mostly!

Here are five secrets I’ve learned along the way that helped turn my experience of aging from a sense of loss into a sense of gain:

1. Learn to accept what is. There is no end to the expanding benefits of embracing life on its own terms. If I hadn’t accepted my inevitable decline in physical acuity — the awareness of which began on the tennis court that day — it would have led to nothing but suffering. Instead, by refocusing my attention on supporting, even celebrating, my son’s physical ascension from boy to early manhood, I was able to walk away from “defeat” feeling relatively good.

This mindset shift allowed me to interpret the situation, and many others that have followed, as a smooth, downhill coast, rather than a long, uphill trudge. It really is as simple, and as difficult, as just accepting what is.

2. Engage risk. Complacency is the enemy of feeling alive and vibrant. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to unknowingly slide into what is safe and familiar, especially as we age.

Risk (and its kissing cousin, change) is the counterbalance, and must be willingly embraced or we wither on the vine. Make a commitment to move into something new that has an edge for you.

At 63, after divesting from my successful software business, I sold my house, moved out of my community, bought an ocean-going sailboat and with no destination in mind, began sailing up and down the east coast of America. Along the way, I experienced fiery romantic trails, a deepening bond with my son, emerging spiritual insights and the blaze of self-transformation.
Was it tough at times? You bet! Today, however, at 68, I feel alive and ten years younger. (That journey towards wholeness is captured in my recent memoir, Sailing the Mystery.)

3. Settle into your body and open your heart. Most of us spend years in the workplace perfecting our strategic minds, and essentially living in the future. But engaging ourselves with vitality and gusto in the years after working full-time requires that we more fully occupy our bodies and hearts, which root us in the present moment — the only place where we can feel truly connected to our life experience.

To practice, try engaging anything that is sensation-oriented such as exercise, sex, or even falling in love — and not just with another person, but with life itself.

My mother’s end of life was filled with fear, and drawn out over many years. At first I tried to mitigate her pain using talking strategies, which only exacerbated the frustration for both of us. Then, when in her presence, I began working on just breathing deeply and moving more into my heart. Overnight, the connection between us changed; we grew closer, her trust of me increased and I experienced again the heartfelt juice of our mother/son relationship. Most noticeably, her suffering — and mine — decreased.

4. Practice equanimity. Many spiritual paths embrace the state of equanimity as their end point; that blissful place of being engaged without reactivity. Muting our temptation to be judgmental (“I am right, she is wrong.”) is key. Try dropping fully into the moment with as much empathy as is available to you — over and over again.

Several weeks ago, my friend Jason went a week without answering my increasingly urgent texts. At first I took his silence personally, which made me feel uncomfortable. Then, a moment of grace occurred: I dropped into my heart and wondered if he was okay. Rather than projecting more negative scenarios, I placed a call to a mutual friend, only to find out that Jason’s phone had died a week ago.   

5. Soften the edges of your identity. To paraphrase Carl Jung, we spend the first half of our lives building up a sense of “I” and the second half tearing it down. Inflexible trees snap in the wind. The more we protect who we think we are in the face of major life changes, the more we’re at odds with the natural flow.

So, let go, loosen up and don’t take yourself too seriously while learning to open yourself to the new you that emerges in every moment.

I was able to do that on the tennis court many years ago. Ever since, it has become the ultimate win/win for both Evan and me.

Copyright© 2015 Next Avenue, a division of Twin Cities Public Television, Inc.
Front Porch is a not-for-profit support system for a family of companies that serve individuals and families through full-service retirement, active adult communities, and affordable housing communities.
More information is available at