DEAR DOCS: You keep saying we should eat a plant-based diet, but what does that mean exactly if I still eat meat?
— Jose R., Boston
DEAR JOSE: Great question! A plant-based diet is one in which most of your nutrients come from a wide variety of colorful plants that add up to around seven to nine servings a day. Animal-based foods are complements to that — and are limited to animal proteins that are lean or contain healthy fats, like salmon, sea trout and skinless poultry.
We want you to understand you can get high-quality protein from plant sources such as legumes (beans), nuts, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, and 100% whole grains.
But, and there is always a but, if the plants you eat are fried, sugared, breaded or cream-sauced, they’re missing the mark. They become as damaging to your heart, brain and body as red and processed meats.
An example of a healthy plant-based diet would be a half cup of berries on oatmeal with soy/oat/almond milk in the morning, a mid-morning snack of an orange and a handful of walnuts, a lunch that includes a salad (maybe arugula, half an avocado, cherry tomatoes and sliced carrots with a lemon/lime and olive oil dressing) and a 6-ounce salmon burger along with a cup of quinoa, teff or brown rice.
Then dinner is lighter fare (before 7 o’clock), with 3 ounces of broiled chicken breast with a lemon/caper/olive oil marinade and a side of 3 cups (raw) steamed spinach or baby kale with onions, garlic, mushrooms and olive oil and a cup of black beans.
Dessert is a 1/2 cup of strawberries with 1 ounce of dark chocolate. That delivers 1.5 servings of fruit, around seven servings of veggies, plus two servings of whole grains and around 34g of protein from salmon, 26g from chicken breast, 16g from beans. The nuts, veggies, dark chocolate and plant milks add in healthy fats, more protein, fiber, essential nutrients and yum!
DEAR DOCS: I’m worried about my mom, who is only 66. She seems like she’s becoming a grumpy old lady, pessimistic, uninterested in new ideas. What can I do to help her have a younger outlook on her life?
— JayCee M., Memphis, Tenn.
DEAR JAYCEE: Just as you can have a RealAge that is older or younger than your chronological age, depending on your physical fitness and overall health, you can have a psychological RealAge that is older or younger than what is commonly associated with healthy mental and emotional norms for your age.
And just as an older RealAge is a sign that you are at risk for decreased longevity, premature physical challenges and chronic diseases, an older psychological RealAge sets you up for diminished happiness, interest and interaction, which studies show also lead to poorer health and decreased longevity. Attitude, just like blood pressure, is a true marker of overall health.
First, if you think this is significant depression, help your mom find an in-person or online therapist to help her sort out her feelings. Therapy can boost the effectiveness of the self-help tools that can significantly lower her psychological RealAge — daily physical activity, community involvement, contacting friends, writing gratitude notes or keeping a gratitude journal, engaging in learning new things, helping others and upgrading nutrition by eliminating red and processed meats, added sugars and empty calories.
Your mom might like to take a new quiz that measures psychological age at https://app.young.ai/psychoage. It was developed using social and behavioral data from the Midlife in the United States study by researchers from California and China. But whatever it says, we can tell you that if she signs up for online classes, Zooms with her friends frequently, makes sure she is getting exercise and tries the healthful, super-tasty recipes from Dr. Mike’s “What to Eat When” cookbook, you’ll see her mood and ‘tude become younger, along with her health.