The Boomer is a column written for adults nearing retirement age and those already in their golden years. It will also promote reader interaction by posting e-mail responses and answering reader questions. E-mail your questions or topic ideas to thefoxboomer@gmail.com.

I was first exposed to leafy greens as a young boy through the cartoon character Popeye the Sailor. He would open a can of spinach, pour it in his mouth and then be able to beat up every bad guy in the place. So I ate my spinach on a regular basis so I, like Popeye, could be big and strong. I now mix spinach leafs with romaine lettuce as a base for my salad-a-day ritual.  

I laud Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a family physician who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional and natural methods for introducing me to the concept of a salad a day. 

Staying fit and healthy is in every boomers best interest--it can reduce trips to the doctor and lead to lower medical costs and better insurance plans. But eating healthy and staying active is easier said than done. Its hard to find the time to create healthy meals and to sneak away to the gym.

Furhman identified five health mistakes boomers make that prevent them from living their healthiest possible lifestyle:

1. Making your salad unhealthy

Leafy greens are the healthiest foods in existence; they promote weight loss and have powerful anti-cancer effects.  Leafy green vegetables have the highest nutrient to calorie ratio of any food, and eating large salads every day is an important ingred ient in a disease-preventive lifestyle. The problem is that most people take their high nutrient, low-calorie salad and turn it into a high-calorie meal. They top their leafy greens with cheese, croutons, or bacon, and add a store-bought or restaurant dressing full of empty calories, salt, sugar and oil.

Related: What's the Deal With the O2 Diet?

Instead, top your salad more healthfully:  try frozen corn or peas, shredded carrots and beets, chopped onions or scallions, fresh herbs, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh or dried fruits.  Then add a healthy dressing with a wholesome source of fat  nuts, seeds, or avocado  mixed with a hint of fruit, lemon juice or flavored vinegar.  You can blend up a delicious creamy dressing at home with raw nuts or nut butter or avocado as the base, instead of oil.  

2. Switching from red meat to fish and chicken

Red meat is a contributory cause of colon cancer and heart disease and so many Americans mistakenly believe that eating chicken and fish is a healthy alternative. It isnt much better. All animal products are deficient in fiber, phytochemicals, and antioxidants; the beneficial substances that protect us against heart disease and cancer.  Animal protein, regardless of source, also raises cholesterol.  Chicken is almost as dangerous for the heart as red meat; switching from red meat to white meat does not lower cholesterol.1 Excess animal protein is also linked to cancer risk, by raising the levels of a hormone called IGF-1 in the blood. Plus, environmental contaminants such as PCBs and dioxin, as well as other toxic elements such as mercury are transferred to humans predominantly via the fatty portions of fish, dairy, meat, and poultry. Fatty fish that are rich sources of omega-3 fats are also typically heavily contaminated with mercury and other harmful pollutants. 

In addition, when meat is cooked at high temperatures (for example, grilled chicken), carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are formed  and chicken contains more HCAs than any other type of meat.2  High concentrations of PhIP, one of these HCAs, have previously been found in grilled chicken from several chain restaurants.3   

The secret for superior health is to eat more whole plant foods and fewer animal products in general as well as fewer processed foods.  That will translate into lower cholesterol levels and reduced cancer risk. 

3. Cooking with too much olive oil

When the Mediterranean diet trend hit, olive oil was touted as a superfood. But is this true? Populations that followed this style of eating had reduced rates of death from coronary heart disease and certain cancers, but it was their overall dietary pattern that was health promoting  the prevalence of unrefined plant foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and grains and the smaller amounts of meat. 

Olive oil is not a whole food   it is a refined food, and 100% fat.  All oil is fattening at 120 calories per tablespoon.  Olive oil is deficient in nutrients - the vitamin and mineral content of olive oil is very small due to the discarding of the protein portion during extraction, which contains a significant portion of the sterols, antioxidants, and protein-bound fibers. The beneficial micronutrients that do remain in the olive oil, like some plant sterols, are plentiful in other foods that are less calorically dense. Neither is olive oil a heart healthy food  its high content of monounsaturated fats simply makes it less harmful than saturated or trans fats.  However, it still is 14% saturated fat. When olive oil is substituted for animal fats, benefits occur because you are reducing the amount of dangerous fats.  Remember, if all those extra oil calories are keeping you overweight, it is promoting disease, not health.   

4. Women: taking calcium supplements to prevent osteoporosis

The scientific community knows that calcium recommendations for Americans have been set too high. There is evidence that high dose calcium supplements (1000 mg or more) blunts the bone-protective effects of vitamin D actually weakening, not strengthening bones.4 Plus, taking high dose calcium supplements may increase the risk of heart attack.5 

We dont need all those supplements to meet our calcium needs - studies show that individuals with the highest consumption of fruit and vegetables have the strongest bones.  Green vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds are rich in calcium and other bone-healthy nutrients like magnesium and vitamin K. One four-ounce serving of steamed kale has just as much calcium as one cup of milk; plus, the human body absorbs over 50% of the calcium in green vegetables, compared to only 32% of the calcium in milk.6 

5. Thinking that cholesterol-lowering drugs will prevent you from having a heart attack

Cholesterol lowering drugs carry potentially serious side effects and there is no evidence that statin use reduces risk of death in individuals with elevated cholesterol when used as primary prevention.7  These medications also have a litany of risks, including increasing risk of developing diabetes.   Cholesterol-lowering drugs (known as statins) can reduce your risk of heart attack by about only 30% - BUT not without some serious health concerns to consider.  The main problem with using drugs to lower cholesterol is that drugs give people a false sense of security.  As their cholesterol levels go down, patients mistakenly think they are protected against heart disease.  As a result, they continue to eat the same disease-causing diet that caused the heart disease (and the risk of heart attack) in the first place, not realizing or understanding that they still are at risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.  There is no substitute for superior nutrition, which offers almost complete protection against heart attacks and strokes without the costs, risks and side effects of medications.

 

E-mail your questions to thefoxboomer@gmail.com.