In her latest column, nutritionist Nonie De Long addresses a reader question about changes to their diet
This week’s question comes from Mary in Innisfil. Mary wrote me to ask for help with her diet. I won’t disclose her personal health history or age, but she is a senior and is trying to lose weight through dietary changes and some exercise. Let me share what she wrote:
Six weeks ago, I joined a diet support group. We weigh in each week and then just talk about good things in life.
When I started, I weighed 169 pounds and I am 5’4” tall.
After six weeks on lots of treading water in the pool and when the weather is to cool for the pool, I go on my Cubii for 30 minutes on #2 resistance.
Breakfast I have 1 cup of Multigrain Cheerios, 1/2 cup of Almond Milk and 1/4 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries.
Lunch I have 3 oz of chicken (rotisserie from grocery store), no skin, 3 oz of cantaloupe, 3 oz of watermelon, 2 oz of english cucumber, 3 slices of tomato and 1 cup of green grapes.
Dinner I have whatever my husband makes i.e. tonight we are having Quesadillas and 2 cups of tossed salad with spinach and romaine lettuce, tomato, cucumber, celery.
Snack is two Dad’s Oatmeal cookies and some nights 1/4 cup of unsalted mixed nuts.
Breakfast and lunch are ALWAYS the same, every day – yes I love chicken!
I have lost 6.4 pounds in the six weeks.
My goal is to lose a total of 20 pounds, but I don’t know if that’s possible at my age… Am I doing anything you would think is wrong? I appreciate any thoughts you can offer me.
She also shared some more detailed health and medication history and the need for a diet with restricted sodium and restricted fluids. She shares that she tends to be iron deficient.
First, I want to say great job to Mary! She’s making dietary and lifestyle changes to better her health, and we all know that can be difficult – especially at first until new habits are solidified. She’s also getting support on her journey, which is really an important and overlooked aspect to sticking to a diet long enough to get results! I respect both decisions and want to give Mary a huge thumbs up for what she’s done so far. She asks if I think her goal is reasonable at her age. My answer to her is a resounding yes! With diet and regular exercise we can maintain our ideal weight into our older years. This is absolutely possible.
I also respect Mary reaching out for any guidance I can offer. While I can’t address specific medications in the column, I can speak to her diet and make some recommendations.
Let’s dissect Mary’s diet and look for ways we can improve it. Can you identify the diet she’s following?
What I see on overview is that it’s a low-fat diet. Low-fat diets can work for weight loss. Absolutely! However, they often cause a myriad of inflammatory conditions in the long term, not the least of which are arterial disease and insulin resistance. In my opinion, a diet with some healthy fat would help both the constipation and the inflammation that drives the need for medications. Many people mistakenly think constipation is all about fibre, but healthy fat acts like a lubricant for the colon and the most ideal fibers are those that contain healthy fat and create a sort of slippery property that draws water to the colon. These fibres – think chia seeds, hemp nuts, and (ground) flax seeds – are particularly soothing and helpful for those with stubborn constipation. So my suggestions are going to include them.
The diet I suggest would also eliminate the need for another medication Mary takes because it would provide the missing nutrients naturally. When possible, I prefer to get nutrients from diet instead of pills.
Right now, Mary’s breakfast is 1 cup of Multigrain Cheerios, 1/2 cup of almond milk and 1/4 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries. I would suggest swapping the multigrain Cheerios in favor of a homemade oatmeal I use for those with constipation. Why? Cheerios (even multigrain) are very high glycemic, which drives blood sugar, insulin, and appetite up. They have 23.6g of carbs, over 6g of sugar, and only 2.4g of protein in a cup size serving. Additionally, they are not a whole food. They are hyper processed and then packaged in a wrapper lined with chemicals we know to be dangerous to health. So, let’s swap that for an all-natural cereal that’s high in protein, fibre, and omega 3’s. The full recipe can be found here. It’s one of my own recipes that includes hemp nuts, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, and flax seeds. It’s very filling, so she may only need half a cup. The cereal is added dried to a bowl, with hot water added. It’s stirred and left to sit, like instant oatmeal. Thereafter it can be topped with milk of choice. My preference is a bit of whipping cream because it’s an unprocessed, natural food. I like organic. Water can be added to make milk. Why whipping cream? Because it’s a dairy product that’s not homogenized. Failing that, I also like sheep’s milk, but not everyone likes that flavour. If Mary is unable to drink milk, the best almond milk is made at home by soaking almonds, then whizzing them in a blender, then straining them and adding a dash of cinnamon. This can be kept in the fridge for up to a week. Simply shake before using. I would replace the blueberries (higher in sugar) with mixed fresh berries (raspberry, strawberry, fieldberry, and blueberry). She’s still getting the nutrients, but less sugar. These changes lower the sugar content and increase the nutritional value of Mary’s breakfast considerably. She is now getting a lot of Omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin E. She’s getting far more protein and fibre. This breakfast will naturally address the constipation, removing at least one medication from her list.
For lunch, Mary is having 3 oz of chicken (rotisserie from grocery store), no skin, 3 oz of cantaloupe, 3 oz of watermelon, 2 oz of english cucumber, three slices of tomato and 1 cup of green grapes. She is having significant protein, but again eating no healthy fat and a ton of sugar. The sugar in the fruit is dangerous and will set her up for insulin resistance, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and high cholesterol, as well as hunger and sugar cravings. I would suggest, since she likes chicken, to keep it. It’s also very simple and convenient. The sodium on the skin would be too much so skinless is fine. However, I would increase the chicken portion and lose the fruit. Eating the chicken over a salad mix (greens of your choice) with cucumber, tomato, radish, celery, onion, fresh sprouts, and a bit of avocado (if you like these – omit if you don’t) with a homemade dressing of organic EV olive oil and balsamic with herbs (shake it up before using) would be far healthier. She will get healthy fats from the avocado and high-quality olive oil, and vitamins from the veg, meat, and sprouts. She will find herself more satisfied with less cravings and more energy. The abundance of fruit here is a hindrance to her goal. A small half cup serving of fruit after her meal is enough fruit for the rest of the day, or a small piece of dark, semi-sweet chocolate is okay.
Dinner is changeable and that’s good. We can’t eat the same thing day in and day out (most of us, anyway) and feel satisfied. Some variability is good, but here I would suggest red meat – at least the size of the palm – to ensure Mary gets her iron. With this I would recommend a high-quality digestive enzyme with HCL to ensure she absorbs that iron. We lose stomach acid as we age, and then we don’t digest our proteins and don’t absorb nutrients like iron, zinc, and B12 as well. Including a broad-spectrum enzyme with HCL in protein rich meals (like her lunch and dinner) can really help us to absorb the nutrients more fully. And guess what? It also helps with constipation!
As for snacks, my suggestion would not be processed, highly sweetened cookies. Homemade ice cream using natural cream or coconut cream with stevia or monk fruit is far superior or a handful of nuts or seeds is fine. Homemade baked goods using coconut flour, almond flour, and monk fruit are also fine. A decaf coffee with whipping cream and sweetened with monk fruit is what we like in our home. Switching from the highly sweetened foods to the foods higher in proteins and healthy fats will make this diet more satisfying and nutrient dense. It will trigger her sweet tooth less and set her up for success in the long term. It will decrease her chances for insulin problems that then lead to metabolic diseases like high cholesterol and clogged arteries. Overall, Mary is going to be a lot healthier with these few simple changes.
To recap, we have a homemade cereal instead of a store bought one, a natural milk product instead of a processed one, and less sweet fruit. We have a big salad with meat for lunch instead of meat and excess fruit, and we have dinner suggestions that help address a nutrient deficiency. We have a lower glycemic snack after dinner at night, and an overall emphasis on healthy fats. This is very doable and will be life changing if Mary implements it.
Thank you, May, for writing in! What a great question! As always, if readers have their own health questions, I welcome them! Just send me an email and if you’re looking for more specific health information, check out my website.