Not too long ago the popular image of an older person was someone frail and thin. But that's changed.
Today, not only are many seniors heavier, they're helping create a major health issue in this country -- obesity.
No pun intended, but it's largely because of what we eat.
According to the medical profession, carrying 20 to 30 pounds into old age is linked to diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, osteoporosis, constipation, high blood pressure, dental problems, sleeping difficulties, little energy, limited physical ability and some cancers.
Your diet can't make that much difference, you say.
Yes, it can. Not only may that fried chicken, lemon pie and sweet tea affect how long you live, it also can affect your quality of life.
Try this little test to see how many vegetables, fruit, dairy and protein are included in your meals:
Start with breakfast.
A. Bagel and coffee with sugar and artificial cream?
B. Whole wheat toast with peanut butter, sliced banana and glass of milk?
A. Pizza and soft drink?
B. Green salad topped with beets, tuna, walnuts, dried cranberries, carrots and sliced cucumbers?
A. Fried chicken, baked potato with sour cream, fried onion rings and peas?
B. Grilled chicken breast, sautéed spinach, peaches with cottage cheese?
If you answered "B" for all three meals you're on the way to sainthood and probably sleep better, have more energy, look younger, feel better, have fewer heath issues and take less medicine.
If you want to eat healthier, the good news is that it's never too late to start.
Start small. Instead of a baked potato with sour cream and butter choose a sweet potato and plain yogurt.
Fill a third of your plate with green veggies. Eat skinless chicken instead of hamburger, steak or fried chicken.
Try broiled or poached fish once a week. Learn how to cook it so you'll appreciate how good it is.
Use olive oil and vinegar on salads. Toss the bottled dressings in your refrigerator.
Put fresh fruit within eyesight on your counter top. Hide the chips and cookies. We are inclined to eat what we see.
Read labels. Reject everything that has sugar as its first two ingredients.
Sugar is the enemy. And a soft drink of any kind is enemy No. 1.
If you can't or don't want to cook, you can enjoy a free balanced lunch at 11:30 a.m. at select Coast senior centers if you are at least age 60.
Call the following number for availablility: Hancock County Senior Center 467-9292; Jackson County, Moss Point Senior Center, 769-3292, or Ocean Springs Senior Center, 872-3652; Senior Center Of South Pearl River County, 601-798-9892.
According to Ronda Mullins, nutrition coordinator for the Coast Area Agency on Aging -- part of the South Mississippi Planning and Development District -- a typical lunch might include baked chicken, carrots, potatoes, orange juice, milk, applesauce and protein-rich pudding.
The Center's staff also shares nutrition education and simple menus.
These waffles will keep you filled all morning.
BREAKFAST OATMEAL WAFFLES
1/2 cup dry uncooked oatmeal
3/4 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 soft banana
Let stand 5-10 minutes, stirring some, until milk is absorbed and batter is smooth.
Bake in individual heated waffle iron. Top with fresh fruit. Makes one serving.
The secret to these patties is the mashed potatoes.
SALMON SPINACH PATTIES
10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 cups mashed potatoes, chilled
8 ounces canned salmon flaked
2- 1/2 cups panko or corn meal
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Shape into patties and refrigerate at least 4 hours. Pour 1 cup of cornmeal in flat dish (more if needed). Put 2 beaten eggs in another flat dish.
Dip each patty first in cornmeal, then eggs, and then cornmeal again. When patties are ready, sauté in large hot skillet with sufficient olive oil about 3 minutes on each side.
More simple nutritional tips
To help avoid bone breaks, enjoy calcium-rich yogurt, cheese or buttermilk, and cream soups, plus salmon, sardines and vegetables.
Starting the day with a meal like the oatmeal waffle will help prevent constipation.
As we age, our sense of taste and smell decreases, which may lead to the desire for sweet or salty foods, plus weight gain, water retention and often higher blood pressure.
Try these snacks instead: celery sticks filled with peanut butter, miniature carrots dipped in ready-made hummus, sliced apple with slices of cheese, fresh diced radishes (an old-fashioned treat) or a handful of walnuts with half a cup of sugar-free yogurt.