Thursday, January 20, 2011

Crash Course in Nutrition for Women over 40

It's time to adjust my intake of these.
I met Dr. T*, a red hot mama nutritionist with a PhD and an undercover blog, at a holiday party in December. It was perfect timing because I'd just received the lab reports from my recent physical exam and I was in need of a dietary tune up.

Hearing my internist utter the words "high cholesterol"and "vitamin deficiency" and "medication," had been strangely surreal. Could she mean those dreary conditions applied to me?

Next thing you know I'll be carrying my teeth in a cup and  wearing Depends. No wonder I'm having a midlife crisis.

Luckily, the lovely Dr. T - who radiates fitness and health -agreed to help me make sense of my issues, which are pretty common for women over 40.

High Cholesterol
The fact that my bad cholesterol (LDL) has been creeping up  is probably related to my hot flashes. Dr. T says that bad cholesterol is likely to rise in women as they approach menopause and estrogen levels decline. She also says that LDL is only one risk factor for heart disease and others, like heredity, can be of greater concern. Still, says Dr. T, there's no reason to live with high cholesterol.

"Cholesterol is easy to fix," says Dr. T. " We know so much about it." Her recommendations to reduce the waxy, wicked stuff are:

  • Eat a diet that's high in fiber and low in saturated fat
  • Eat more frequent, smaller meals throughout the day
  • Include protein in every meal 
  • Exercise! 

She also recommends foods that contain cholesterol-blocking phytosterols like Benecol margarine.   If you want to read why these steps are important, check our Dr. T's blog post on the subject.

Making changes like these can significantly lower cholesterol for some, but if it still stays high, Dr. T says we shouldn't hesitate to medicate.  "Get on the drugs! They prevent heart disease and we know they work."

Vitamin D Dilemma
Vitamin D is essential to maintaining healthy bones and may lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of cancer. Unfortunately, other than fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, few foods contain much vitamin D. The biggest natural source is sunlight, which means most of us in Northern climates are deficient for part of the year. But there're conflicting opinions about how much vitamin D we really need.

My doctor says that my level of 18 falls seriously short of the goal of 41 and I should take a 5000 IU daily supplement. According to Dr. T, that's overkill. She says current research indicates that a level of 20+ is fine, and 600 IU's of vitamin D is enough. Dr. T is not a proponent of mega-doses of vitamins.

Yum. Chock full o' Vitamin D.
Dr. T's own vitamin D level was once as low as 12, so now she takes a 1000 IU supplement 3 times a week once the weather turns cold enough to require a coat. In the summer, she does nothing except go outside for 15-20 minutes without sunscreen. I've started taking 1000 IU's daily and hopefully, that's enough!

Calcium Crunch
Both my doc and Dr. T agree that women need to get enough calcium, preferably through four daily servings of low fat dairy products like yogurt and skim milk. Calcium promotes strong bones and has a whole bunch of other health benefits. Ugh, I'm not a milk drinker, but I'm trying because I'm only 5'3" and don't want to get any shorter! Dr. T isn't a milk drinker either, but she follows a low acid diet, exercises regularly, and takes a supplement instead.

One Glass or Two?
My doctor disapproves of one of my favorite indulgences - having a couple glasses of wine. She said anything more that a single 5oz glass of wine, six times per week, elevates my risk for breast cancer - a frightening thought. Hoping there had been some new research to the contrary, I asked Dr. T - "What about wine?"

"I'm a big fan, " she said.

She went on to acknowledge that yes, anything over the recommended amount does elevate the risk of cancer, but that increase is small. "There are things you can do to greatly decrease your risk, like eat right and exercise." she said. "I choose to do those things then not feel badly if I have a second glass of wine." I like her attitude!

If you do nothing else...
All this information can be confusing, but if we do nothing else, Dr. T says we should take these simple, effective steps to stay healthy.

1. Eat more vegetables.
2. Eat fewer processed foods.
3. Weight Train at least 20 minutes/3 times a week
4. Take a multi vitamin

Really, how hard is that?

*Note: Mrs./Dr. T blogs under a pseudonym so she can express her unbiased opinions without creating professional conflicts.


Mrs/Dr. T said...

I almost missed this! Thanks for the mention and happy to talk nutrition whenever!

Marjie Killeen said...

I will def call on your expertise again Mrs/Dr. T! Thanks for all your help - I got caught up with my day job and forgot to send you the link!

amkovacs said...

Great article. All the uncomplicated lifestyle essentials are there. As you said, "how hard is that"? No excuses.

Suma said...

Thanks for making It sound easy! and Thanks for introducing to Dr T's blog.

Tommy Kront said...

I've been changed pizza and I eat the fruits and vegetables. In general, a healthy diet should be the norm of life. I consulted with a nutritionist who found on this platform. You know, it's much better than to experiment with my own health.