Think being dubbed a "nutrition expert" means subsisting on nothing but wheatgrass juice and slivers of sashimi? Wrong! These nutritionists manage to love their food while still staying true to their aims — to keep us healthier and living longer. Here they answer our nosy questions about what they put in their mouths and why.
Ellie Krieger, MS, RD, age 41, New York City
As the host of the Food Network’s Healthy Appetite, Krieger shows how to make healthy versions of foods we crave (think steak tacos and carrot cake).
Q. We’ve heard that sugar, salt, and saturated fats are the nutritional axis of evil. Is there a healthful way to have them in your diet?
A. I figure out how little I can use to get the most flavor impact. For example, if I’m craving bacon, I might make a spinach salad with a warm bacon dressing that uses just two slices. What’s important to me is eating real food that has an obvious point of origin, so I skip anything with an ingredient list full of stuff that came from a factory instead of a farm.
Q. What’s the smartest diet change you’ve made after 40?
A. I take it easy on sugar and white flour. Reducing them leaves room for more antioxidant-packed foods, like fruits and vegetables, which help with aging. Plus, the extra calories from refined carbs stick with me and make me gain weight a little more as I age.
Q. Any junk food you can’t resist?
A. I am 100 percent crazy about french fries. They’re not totally lacking in nutrition — potatoes are full of vitamin C — so I feed my addiction by making a healthy version: slice potatoes, drizzle with a healthy oil, and bake.
Q. You’re as busy as the rest of us. How do you get meals on the table?
A. People think that making healthful food means being in the kitchen all day, but if that were true, I’d never cook. I’ll sprinkle fish with salt, pepper, and lemon juice and grill it — there’s nothing more delicious. I also mix chili pepper, garlic, dried coriander and oregano, rub it onto meat or cut-up vegetables and grill.
Q. What do you order for takeout when you don’t feel like cooking?
A. I order pizza loaded with veggies: spinach, mushrooms, eggplant, peppers, onions, sun-dried tomatoes, you name it. Then I vow to eat just one slice and have a salad on the side.
Q. Which anti-aging strategy do you think is bogus?
A. Taking a lot of pills and potions. You’ll stay young looking if you eat an antioxidant-rich diet full of colorful produce (red peppers, oranges, dark leafy greens) and healthy fats like omega-3s, which are in salmon.
Q. How crucial is diet to aging well?
A. I believe that outer beauty is a sign of inner vitality. Eating well is the key to keeping that inner vitality as we age so we can do everything we want to do — and look good doing it.
Rovenia Brock, PhD, age 51, Bethesda, Maryland
Q. People must constantly ask, "What’s your secret?" because you look the way you do. So, spill.
A. After 50, modesty is a waste of my time. I look good because I live a consistently healthy lifestyle. I work at it, approaching it from the inside out.
Q. What’s the biggest anti-aging mistake women make?
A. The perpetual dieting thing, where you’re always on some weight-reduction plan instead of just living the right way. I believe your body ages prematurely when you’re always losing and gaining. But it’s never too late to be the best you can be by changing your diet and exercise habits for the better.
Q. What’s your exercise regimen?
A. I work out four to five days a week, always taking Sunday and Monday off. I’ll do a half hour of brisk walking and then 30 minutes of strength training with my trainer. That’s so important, because we start losing bone and muscle mass as we age. Plus I looked great in the backless dress I wore for my wedding almost five years ago.
Q. How do you avoid weight gain?
A. I did the yo-yo thing with weight until I was in my early 40s. I lost it for good when I decided to reduce everything I eat by 50 percent. I always leave food on my plate — it’s the "lean plate club," not the "clean plate club."
Q. When was the last time you went to a drive-through?
A. Last weekend. There’s a McDonald’s around the corner! I’ll have the Asian chicken salad with half the dressing or a small hamburger, the fruit-and-walnut salad, and water.
Q. Do you drink?
A. I’m a mojito connoisseur, but when I have one, it’s only one.
Q. What are the best snacks for midlife women?
A. Protein-rich snacks help you build more muscle, which offsets age-related muscle loss. Favorites of mine are ostrich sticks by Ostrim; they taste like healthy Slim Jims. I also love edamame, which contains phytoestrogens that can help balance that drop in estrogen you experience around menopause.
Q. What’s your favorite anti-aging meal when you don’t want to cook?
A. I pick up roasted chicken — which has muscle-building protein — from the grocery store. And spinach sauteed in garlic and olive oil, and tomato slices with balsamic vinegar. The veggies are rich in antioxidants.
Q. What do you think over-40 women can relax about?
A. Eating chocolate — it’s okay! Dark chocolate contains antioxidants that protect against free radicals and keep your heart healthy. Godiva Belgian dark chocolate ice cream is my unguilty pleasure of choice. I try to limit myself to one or two tablespoons, but I’ll admit that I’ve been known to eat an entire pint. That only happens about once a year.
Lisa Dorfman, MS, RD, age 46, Miami, Florida
A lifelong athlete, Dorfman has run 33 marathons since age 31. She is the sports nutritionist and an adjunct professor of exercise science at the University of Miami.
Q. You’ve been a vegetarian since high school. Do you think it has had an anti-aging benefit?
A. Absolutely. So much nutrition research now shows that plant-based foods are chock-full of antioxidants and phytonutrients and have anti-inflammatory properties that prevent health problems later in life.
Q. Are your husband and three teenagers vegetarians too?
A. Nope. I cook meat for my family most nights and do a lot of side dishes so we can pick and choose. The only thing I won’t tolerate is processed meat. It has no redeeming value. The joke is that my husband can stay out all night playing cards, but if I ever catch him with a hot dog, he’s in trouble.
Q. Do you drink?
A. There’s nothing like a cold beer, especially during a football game.
Q. If we took you to dinner, would you be one of those annoying "no salt, no sauce, no nothing" people?
A. No way. Going out means having fun. Even though I’m a vegetarian, I won’t make a fuss if something is made with beef stock. If none of the entrees sound good, I have no problem ordering three or four appetizers.
Q. If we were to sneak into your kitchen right now, what naughty surprises would we find?
A. I keep on hand huge amounts of snacky things like baked chips and soy crisps and frozen yogurt and fruit bars. I say they’re for the kids, but I love them too. There’s nothing wrong with eating between meals!
Q. Why do you buy organic?
A. I think they’re anti-aging foods. We have so many forms of pollution in our lives — noise, stress — that eating the cleanest diet possible helps me cope better with the world as I get older. I’m also sure it’s positively affected my athletic performance. I never trained as hard as my competitors, because I didn’t have time to with three kids, so I attribute my success to diet.
Q. What’s the biggest lifestyle mistake that over-40 women make?
A. Even though fewer calories are better as you age because your muscle mass decreases and body fat increases, women get paranoid and cut their calories too drastically. If you’re active, 2,000 a day is fine. Just get the best food you can 80 percent of the time, and don’t get caught up in the rest. In my opinion, having fun is just as important as eating a healthy diet. So go ahead and have a drink, a sweet, or even fried food a few times a week.
Q. What’s your favorite anti-aging eating technique?
A. I try a new food or spice every week, which keeps me from getting bored and also introduces more nutrients into my diet. It’s easy: Try a tropical fruit instead of an apple, or an exotic variety rather than something routine, like black rice in place of brown.
Maye Musk, MS, RD, age 59, New York City
After two decades as a nutrition counselor in her native South Africa and in Canada, Musk is in private practice in New York City.
Q. How much do you worry about the number on the scale?
A. I weigh less than I did as a teenager, but it’s hard work at any age. These days, I find I have to eat much less when I want to lose weight. My weight usually creeps up after I’ve been eating french fries and cheese toast during visits with my grandchildren, and my strategy is to do everything perfectly for a week to get those pounds off. That means no desserts, no refined carbs like white bread or white pasta, and no alcohol. It’s hard because I have an active social life, and there’s nothing worse than going to a Champagne-and-chocolate party and feeling deprived, sulking because I’m forcing myself to drink water. I hate it, but it works.
Q. What do you eat after a long day?
A. Cereal, half a banana, and one percent milk — it’s easy and satisfies my ever-present sweet tooth. I eat fortified, high-fiber types like Total and Cracklin’ Oat Bran, so I know I’m getting plenty of vitamins and minerals. Sometimes I’ll throw in dried cranberries, dried cherries, and nuts and seeds to add even more phytonutrients and good fats, both of which are anti-aging.
Q. Do you have any favorite anti-aging foods?
A. A lot of seafood — I eat at least two servings a week — and good fats like avocado and olive oil. I also think that looking young means staying in the right weight range. Women look older when they are overweight or too thin.
Q. Are there any so-called bad foods that over-40 women can relax about?
A. Red meat. It is one of my favorite foods and packed with iron, which so many women lack. Just be sensible about how much you eat: I’ll go to a steak house, take home two-thirds of a steak and eat it for two more meals.
Q. How about caffeine?
A. Not a big deal. You’re talking to someone who drinks two cups of coffee, two teas, and two diet sodas before four in the afternoon. Then I drink decaf. I rarely drink plain water, because I don’t like it; I only drink it after I work out or when I’m really thirsty.
Q. Do you use butter and other saturated fats?
A. That’s where I draw the line. I’ve had a stick of butter in the fridge for months. Instead, I use the new soft margarine-like spreads, like Benecol and Take Control. They are fortified with plant stanol esters, which help keep my cholesterol in check.
Q. Are there any packaged foods that you love?
A. I like low-fat microwave butter-flavor popcorn made by Healthy Choice or Orville Redenbacher, and I love veggie burgers and portion-controlled cereal in small boxes. My favorites have at least four grams of fiber per serving.
Q. Do you exercise?
A. I hate to go to the gym, so I get it over with first thing in the morning and ride the bike. It’s how I read the paper. Living in New York, I also walk everywhere — at least an hour a day.
Q. Describe an anti-aging meal you enjoy regularly.
A. I like to go to the salad bar at my local deli and make a massive salad. I’ll mix up lettuce, tomatoes, onion, corn, avocado, chickpeas, feta cheese, dried cranberries, walnuts, and salmon. It’s delicious and packed with nutrients.
Connie Guttersen, PhD, RD, age 41, Napa Valley, California
Author of The Sonoma Diet, Guttersen is also an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America.
Q. Okay, Diet Doctor, how do you grocery shop?
A. I love farmers’ markets in spring and summer, but when I visit a regular grocery store, I have a few tricks up my sleeve. I buy prepared foods I can doctor at home; for example, I get kebabs from the deli counter and flavor them with my own herbs and spices. I also explore the ethnic food aisles for interesting spices and marinades, such as wasabi, dried chilies, and miso. And I buy organic as much as possible. The soil is healthier, so you get better flavor and more nutrients.
Q. What’s your favorite snack?
A. Almonds. I eat them every day. They have fantastic anti-aging benefits because they’re loaded with vitamin E and monounsaturated fats, both of which protect against oxidation and inflammation in the body.
Q. What do you reach for when you’re too busy to cook?
A. I love bagged mini carrots, and all the nuts and cut fruit from Trader Joe’s. I also like Kashi products, particularly the whole-grain waffles and cereals.
Q. What mistake do you see over-40 women making with their diets?
A. Being too busy, and when that happens, eating poorly. Planning my meals and snacks ahead of time really helps me. That way, I know that I’m eating foods that will give me the stamina I need to tackle my day.
Q. Name your favorite food with anti-aging benefits.
A. Wine. More research shows that the resveratrol in red wine prevents oxidation in the body and may slow the aging process. I drink a glass of wine every single night.
Q. Is red meat really that bad?
A. I probably eat beef twice a week — a grilled flank steak, say. But I balance it out: Twice a week or so, I eat semivegetarian, like a quick whole-grain pasta tossed with sauteed veggies and beans. From an anti-aging point of view, it’s good to diversify the proteins in your diet because you’re exposing yourself to a wider variety of antioxidants and phytochemicals.
Q. What’s it like to eat a restaurant meal with you?
A. I love dining out, and I like to order whatever the restaurant is famous for — I would never, ever ask a chef to alter a signature dish. But I also look around as I enter a restaurant: If the portions are huge, I’ll ask for a half order or suggest to the table that we share two or three plates and do tastings. It’s more fun than stuffing yourself.
Q. Is it important for over-40 women to take vitamins and supplements?
A. Since most of us are so busy, it’s not a bad idea to use them as extra insurance for those crazy days when we’re not getting everything we need from our food. I take a multivitamin for women because I feel that the extra iron, zinc, and magnesium help if I’m stressed out or lacking sleep. I’ll also take 600 milligrams of calcium if I’m not eating enough dairy.
Q. Is there a junk food you love?
A. Old-fashioned birthday cake, but it has to be made really, really well — with butter and no fake stuff. I’ll have a small slice on special occasions. I also love dark chocolate, but that’s healthy now!
Q. You’re the author of a famous diet book. Have you ever gained weight?
A. Of course! The book grew out of needing to lose weight after each of my pregnancies. I know I need to pay attention if the waistband of my pants starts to feel a little tight; that usually happens when I’m stressed, so in addition to being more aware of my diet, I’ll make a point to get more exercise and extra sleep.
Q. What’s your best piece of nutrition advice in five words or less?
A. Eat from plates, not packages.
Originally published in MORE magazine, May 2007.