Natural Foods Merchandiser

Energy flows from food

Many baby boomers think of their 60s as a decade filled with potential.

They crave change. They crave career satisfaction, sometimes in a new field or in retirement from a lifelong field. They crave travel.

Sometimes, however, they simply crave a nap before lunch.

After all, redefining the way Americans age can be exhausting.

Savvy boomers know there are ways to optimize their energy levels through nutrition. However, not all boomers are that savvy. That's where retailers come in. Educating boomers about how different foods, and different ways of eating them, can help maintain or boost energy levels is a great opportunity to market foods in an appealing environment.

The way most boomers eat is somewhat backwards, explains nutritionist and author Nancy Clark. With a light breakfast, light lunch and huge evening meal, "people are often running on fumes," by the end of the day, she says. "To maintain their energy levels, they need to eat on a steady timeline instead of on what I call a 'crescendo.'"

Judith Dodd, former president of the American Dietetic Association, recommends that the traditional three meals a day be a bare minimum. "Ideally, five to seven mini-meals would be optimal for sustaining energy levels," she says.

Retailers can help educate boomers about the mini-meal strategy alongside displays of single-serving, mini-meal-sized items. "Things like single-sized cartons of yogurt are ideal," as are ready-to-eat portions of fruits and vegetables, says Christine Gerbstadt, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

Fuel to go
"Boomers need to look for snacks they can take with them—snacks that keep them away from the vending machine," says Dodd. She recommends portable, nonperishable items like bags of baked chips, granola, nuts and dried fruits. With healthy snacks in their purses, glove compartments and desks, boomers might be less likely to grab a chocolate-covered or deep-fried life preserver as they sink into the pit of hunger.

Protein power
Protein and fat slow down digestion. "The slower something is digested, the longer the energy it provides stays with you," says Dodd.

Eating a little bit of protein with every mini-meal or snack can help sustain energy levels throughout the day, explains Gerbstadt. Protein can be consumed in the form of lean meats, fish and chicken. "Low-fat dairy and soy products and nuts are also good sources of protein," she says. She suggests low-fat cheese sticks as an easy, portable option.

Drink up
When the body is dehydrated, muscles don't function as well and you feel tired. "You can't perform as well even if you're minimally dehydrated, which you can be before you ever actually feel thirsty," says Gerbstadt. For people between the ages of 50 and 70, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends about a gallon of water a day for men and close to 3 quarts a day for women. Twenty percent of that can come from moisture in foods.

The body's metabolic rate decreases a couple of percentage points each decade. This is no cause for despair, say nutritionists. "We're only talking a couple percentage points, maybe the difference of one dessert a week," says Gerbstadt. So boomers need not lop off huge chunks of calories daily to compensate. They simply need to exercise more (particularly weight training, which increases muscle mass and the metabolic rate).

However, boomers should be more careful about what they eat, as they have fewer calories to spend to get the nutrients they need, explains Dodd. "My No. 1 recommendation to help boomers maintain their energy level is for them to take an active interest in what they eat," says nutritionist Matthew Kadey, nutrition columnist for GeezerJock, a magazine for physically active boomers. "And what they eat should always be the purest whole foods they can. These foods have the most nutrients, and through nutrients you get energy."

Many nutritionists suggest that baby boomers include the following foods in their diets to help maintain energy levels:

  • Smart protein (low-fat dairy, soy, meats, poultry and fish)
  • Fiber (whole grains, fruits and vegetables)
  • Calcium (dairy, fortified beverages)
  • "Good" carbs (whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables)

"The key is balance and variety," says Dodd. "It might not sound sexy, but it still rings true."

As boomers enter their 60s, they provide an opportunity for retailers to promote their products while promoting knowledge about good nutrition. "Boomers, more than ever, are extremely well-educated about health," says Kadey. "But they're always looking for new ways to eat good food."

Shara Rutberg is a freelance writer based in Boulder, Colo.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 3/p. 68

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