kris ulland

Your Nutrition Partner

Whether you start out as an “apple” or “pear,” your overall body shape will likely change as you age. This metamorphosis is due to several factors that fall into two main categories: those you can’t control, and those you can. In particular, the rate of these changes is closely connected to lifestyle factors like exercise, smoking, and diet.

Your body is mainly made up of several components, primarily bones, muscles, fat, and water. Changes in body composition typically happen with age even when there is no change in body weight because the proportion of these components changes. For example, the amount of water your body carries is likely to decrease with age.

Muscle is more metabolically active than fat tissue, so it burns more energy. Any loss of muscle mass due to age can, over time, shift body composition and further accelerate fat gain.

In women, the drop in estrogen levels that comes with menopause coincides with a shift of fat storage from the lower portion of the body (a “pear” shape), toward the midsection (an “apple” shape). This belly fat is comprised of both subcutaneous fat (under the skin of your abdomen) and visceral adipose tissue (fat that accumulates around organs deep within the abdomen).

A 2008 research review looked at data from more than 44,000 women over a period of 16 years. It concluded that women with greater waist circumference were more likely to die of heart disease and cancer than those with smaller waists. Specifically, women whose waists measured greater than 35 inches had approximately double the risk of women with a waist circumference smaller than 28 inches.

In men, the drop in testosterone levels that occurs with aging likely affects fat distribution and hip circumference, both of which commonly decrease as men get older.

Both subcutaneous and visceral fat can be reduced through diet and exercise.The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends a waist circumference no greater than 35 inches for women and no greater than 40 inches for men.

In healthy adults, skeletal muscle accounts for about 40% to 50% of total body weight. As you get older, loss of muscle tissue and strength results from decreased activity. Some researchers estimate that after age 30, adults experience a 1% loss of muscle mass each year.

Muscle burns more calories than fat, so having a smaller proportion of muscle on your body has implications for your overall weight and health, contributing to an overall loss of strength and increased disability.

To maintain muscle mass as you get older, remain physically active and be sure to include resistance exercise in your regimen. Even people in their 80s and 90s can gain strength through mild resistance training.

Not only can you get wider as you age, you also may get shorter. A study conducted in England reported that physical stature declines at an average annual rate of between 0.08% and 0.10% for elderly males, and 0.12% and 0.14% for elderly females.

Bone mineral density peaks around the age of 30 and typically diminishes from there. You can help reduce lost bone density by avoiding tobacco, consuming adequate calcium, and including weight-bearing exercises like resistance training in your activity plan.

Staying fit as you age is about far more than aesthetics. Increasing research shows that maintaining healthy levels of body fat and greater muscle mass has an effect on your brain health and even your rate of cognitive aging.

Body fat appears to make our brains get older faster, while muscle mass seems to protect against aging, according to researchers at Iowa State University.

The amount of muscle and fat you have might be an important factor in how your level of fluid intelligence decreases over time more than your chronological age. Your chronological age, i.e., your age in years, is just a numerical measurement, but your real age is your biological age as dictated by your choices and habits.

Fluid intelligence is the ability to solve problems in new situations.

In a six year study by Iowa State researchers, data from 4,431 adults were examined to compare levels of lean muscle mass, abdominal fat and subcutaneous fat with changes in fluid intelligence. 

Those with higher amounts of abdominal fat had worse fluid intelligence with age, while those with greater muscle mass were more protected against declines.

Study co-author Auriel Willette, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University, said in a news release, “Chronological age doesn’t seem to be a factor in fluid intelligence decreasing over time. It appears to be biological age, which [in this case] is the amount of fat and muscle.”

There is also a strong link between obesity and deterioration in cognitive function, as well as to other brain disorders such as dementia, anxiety and depression. Research has linked midlife obesity with an increased risk of mild cognitive impairment, changes in short-term memory and executive functioning and dementia.

Obesity can trigger chronic inflammation in your body, and chronic inflammation in your brain (neuroinflammation) is known to impair neurogenesis, your brain’s ability to adapt and grow new brain cells. It’s also linked to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and it’s been suggested that “Obesity may serve as an amplifier or initiator of the chronic inflammation observed in AD patients.”

Higher levels of inflammatory markers have also been associated with lower brain volume, including “greater atrophy than expected for age.” Excess body fat, particularly visceral fat, is also related to the release of proteins and hormones that can cause inflammation, which in turn can damage arteries and enter your liver, affecting how your body breaks down sugars and fats.

According to a study in the Annals of Neurology, “[A]dipose-tissue derived hormones, such as adiponectin, leptin, resistin or ghrelin, could also play a role in the relation between adipose tissue and brain atrophy.” Obesity may also be associated with lower volume in brain regions that regulate food-reward circuitry, possibly causing overeating.

Willette wrote about her study: “The most important takeaway is that just because we get older does not mean we get ‘less sharp.’ The same goes for having less muscle and more fat. It may largely depend on if we take modest steps to maintain our health, regardless of what our body is like, in line with what policy officials recommend.”

Oregano

Oregano is a member of the mint family. It is closely related to marjoram even though the flavors are very different. Although oregano is known as a common ingredient in foods around the world, surprisingly more is used in perfumes than is consumed.

Oregano grows wild around the world, especially in the mountainous areas of Greece and Turkey. The Greeks were the first to record the use of oregano and they credited Aphrodite, the goddess of love, with creating it with the purpose of bringing joy to mankind. The word “oregano” is from two Greek words, oras, which means mountain, and ganos, the word for joy.  “Joy of the mountains.”

Ancient Greek physicians prescribed oregano for infections, wounds, headaches, respiratory disorders, seizures, snakebite, and other kinds of poisonings. Wreaths of oregano were used to crown brides and bridegrooms to bring blessings on their wedding celebrations. Oregano was also left on graves to bring peace to the departed. Hippocrates used oregano as an antiseptic, as well as for the treatment of stomach pains and respiratory problems.

The Romans added it to food and wine and discovered that it could prevent food from spoiling. The Chinese recognized oregano as a medicinal herb and used it for fever, jaundice, vomiting, diarrhea, and skin irritations.

The highest medicinal grade oregano comes from Greece and Turkey. Medicinal oregano contains high amounts of folate, which is crucial for fetal development and lowering the risk of neural birth defects; vitamin A, for maintaining both skin and eye health; magnesium, for muscle contraction and blood pressure; and potassium, for optimizing heart health.vitamins C and A and niacin. Just one teaspoon of dried oregano can fulfill about 8% of your daily vitamin K needs.

Oregano oil is produced from the leaves and flowers of wild Origanum vulgar picked at its peak, and distilled by a natural process that ensures the key medicinal activities are preserved. It takes a lot of oregano to distill a small amount of oil. About 1,000 pounds would be needed to make one pound of oil.

Compounds in oregano may help manage type 2 diabetes. Authors of a 2016 rodent study concluded that Origanum extract may help:

  • improve insulin resistance
  • regulate the expression of genes that affect fat and carbohydrate metabolism
  • restore damaged liver and kidney tissues

Several studies have found that oregano and oregano oil are high in antioxidants. Oregano essential oil is especially high in carvacrol and thymol, two antioxidants that can help prevent damage to cells caused by free radicals. These antioxidants compose up to 90% of the pure oregano oil. They have antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-fungal power. Carvacrol and thymol can help lower cholesterol. Preliminary studies have shown that carvacrol,  the most abundant compound in oregano oil, inhibits cancer cell growth and causes cell death in lung, liver, and breast cancer cells.

Rosmarinic acid gives oregano its anti-inflammatory action. It can help reduce inflammation related to allergies and treat acne, insect bites and canker sores, and skin irritations like rosacea.

Oregano oil contains natural compounds that combat bacterial, fungal, viral, and parasitic infections. It can be used for ailments ranging from athletes foot to food poisoning.  Oregano is an incredibly efficient “bug killer” and, according to research, destructive microbes do not build up a resistance to oregano oil as they often do with pharmaceutical treatments.

Oregano oil can be used topically, diluted with olive or coconut oil. But, it is very effect internally. In its pure state, the oil is very potent, so never put it directly on mucous membranes because it can burn. Use 1-5 drops of the oil in warm water or add it to soups or stews.. Oregano oil capsules are also available.

Add a few drops to your shampoo or bath. Bad breath, body odor, and foot odor can be prevented with regular use of oregano oil.

Oregano oil is a powerful antiseptic cleaner. Use a few drops of oil  to wipe down counters, clean the baby’s room, or wipe up spills to prevent the growth of bacteria.

People with an allergy to plants belonging to the Lamiaceae family, which include oregano, basil, lavender, mint, and sage, should take care, as they may also develop an allergic reaction to oregano. Avoid oregano products for 2 weeks before surgery, as it can increase the risk of bleeding.

 

How to Buy

Oregano is easily grown in the garden at home but grocery stores typically carry fresh oregano in the produce department.

In most cases, fresh oregano in the grocery store will be packaged in a plastic clamshell. Peer into it to make sure that the oregano is still looking fresh. Purchased fresh oregano branches should be rich green in color and not the least bit limp.

How to Store

Fresh oregano must be used quickly. Whether it’s homegrown or purchased, oregano should be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days. If you wrap the bunch in a slightly damp paper towel, it may extend the life up to one week. You may also extend the shelf life of fresh oregano by storing whole stems with leaves in a glass of water.

Fresh oregano can also be frozen. Before doing so, though, wash and dry the fresh oregano sprigs. Strip whole leaves from stems and place in plastic bag loosely without crushing, but remove all air. Freeze and keep in a location where it will not get crushed. No need to thaw before using. You can also mix chopped leaves with a small amount of water or puree them and freeze in ice cube trays. Once frozen, pop out the cubes into a plastic bag and seal tightly. Use frozen oregano within one year

Unlike other herbs, dried oregano is often preferred over the fresh herb. To dry fresh oregano, tie sprigs into a bunch and hang in a cool, dark place with good ventilation. Once dried, seal tightly and store away from sunlight. In general, dried common oregano sold in the grocery stores is actually a mixture of different varieties of oregano combined with marjoram and thyme. You could also pull all the oregano leaves off the stem before drying, spread them across a baking sheet, and let them dry.

As with all dried herbs, dried oregano should be kept in a cool, dark place in a tightly-sealed container and used within 6 months for the freshest flavor.

How to Cook

Whether it’s fresh or dried, oregano is one of the foundations of Italian cuisine, probably because of its ability to draw out the flavor of tomato-based dishes and any other ingredient it’s blended with

The stems are thick enough that branches will hold together when cooked, even through long braises or simmers. Where cilantro, dill, or basil will turn brown and wilt away when introduced to heat, oregano holds its form.

 

Vegan Pozole

Julie, The Simple Veganista; photo credit Julie, The Simple Veganista

4-6 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or 1/4 cup of water
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large jalapeno, diced (leave a few seeds for heat if you like)
  • 3 – 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 heaping teaspoon cumin
  • 1 heaping teaspoon oregano
  • 1 can (25 – 28 oz) hominy, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 6 medium tomatillos (about 1 lb.), husks removed, well rinsed and chopped
  • 4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, + more as needed
  • 1 – 2 juicy limes
  • salt + pepper, to taste

Optional to serve:

  • cilantro leaves
  • sliced avocado
  • sliced radish
  • shredded cabbage or lettuce
  • limes wedges
  • tortilla chips or warmed flour or corn tortillas
  • chili peppers

Instructions

Stovetop: In large pot, heat oil/water over medium, add onions and saute for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, jalapeno, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper, cook 1 minute more, or until fragrant. Add the pinto beans, tomatillos, hominy and vegetable broth, bring to a boil, cover askew, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes. Add lime juice and season to taste.

Instant Pot: Set the Instant Pot to SAUTE, heat the oil/water, add the onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, jalapeno, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper, cook 1 minute more, or until fragrant. Add the pinto beans, tomatillos, hominy and vegetable broth. Cover with lid and turn to the lock position. Set the valve to SEALED. Set Instant Pot to HIGH pressure and manually adjust the time to 20 minutes. Let naturally release for 10 minutes, and turn the valve to VENTING to release remaining steam. Add lime juice and season to taste.

Slow Cooker: In the bowl of a slow cooker, place all the ingredients and give a good stir. Cook on LOW for 6 – 8 hours or HIGH for 3 – 4. Add lime juice and season to taste.

Serve: Ladle soup into individual serving bowls. Garnish with cilantro, avocado (highly recommended) and radish, or any of the optional garnishes.

Store: Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. For longer storage, keep in the freezer for up to 2 months.

Note: Change up the pinto beans using your favorite – chickpeas, cannellini, great northern, black beans or tri-blend.

Resources

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