How to eat a donut if you're older
(No. 125) Plus, the power of no
From the department of delectables
New research suggests that fructose -- a common sugar found in honey, fruits and other plants, and in many processed foods -- may play a significant role in Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers speculate that the process by which fructose causes Alzheimer’s is tied to our distant past, when parts of our brain needed to be quieted so we’d be able to focus on the complex task of foraging for food. This connection to our early hunter-gatherer selves seems so facile that I want to dismiss it. Still, fructose does reduce blood flow to areas of the brain -- like the cerebral cortex -- that stimulate recent memories and attention to time, and those can be symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Ok, I buy that fructose could contribute to Alzheimers. But I’m always struck by these nutritional stories that tie our biology to behaviors we had on the grasslands of the African continent in human infancy. Wouldn’t our bodies have adapted and changed just a smidge over the years, decades, centuries and eons since then? Wouldn’t our bodies by now have realized that we are no longer hunter gatherers?
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When an apple fritter says “hi”
I’m spending the weekend in Vermont with two of my kids, celebrating my birthday. We’ll go for walks and try to find decent food (not always a given in rural Vermont), and we’ll visit my youngest child’s old camp, where they’ll be cutting slabs of ice from a small lake and storing them under hay to be used in the summer. Just like in the old days.
I’m not old enough to remember those old days, but I have a few of my own. This birthday, which which has gifted me a Medicare card and a reduced fare subway pass stamped with “Senior Citizen” in big letters, will set me firmly into a new category with its own names: senior; Sir; Mister; gent; old fucker; dude, get out of my way.
Many of my friends my age are surprised at how obsessed I am with diving into the subject (I mean obsessed in the Gen Z style, to mean “interested”). They would rather carry on with the myth of youth. They don’t share my fascination with the process of decay that we all go through until, well, until we stop decaying and start decomposing.
I’m not one to whitewash the facts of life in our 60s. These include:
If you don’t exercise now, especially weight bearing exercise such as lifting little barbells or doing pushups or swinging a kettle ball, you’re going to get weak and your balance is going to deteriorate
If you continue to eat a lot of sugar and simple carbohydrates, it’s likely that your metabolic system will crumble, potentially leading to health disasters such as diabetes, obesity and practically any other medical horror you can imagine.
If you don’t regulate your sleep by practicing good sleep hygiene, you will likely end up suffering in a myriad of ways.
Or, to put a more positive spin on it: Taking care of your health as you age leads to better outcomes in the long run.
As I write this, I realize what a load of bollocks it is that I’m spouting.
My effort to face the reality of aging head on is simply another coping method. My friends might fool themselves by imagining they are still young, and don’t need to put much effort into preventing a painful aging experience, but I fool myself by imagining that my efforts at exercising, consuming 35 grams of fiber a day (very hard to do consistently), and breathwork, meditating and more will keep me productive and strong to the end. The truth is, we don’t know. I have a friend who exercises regularly, eats well and gets a good night’s sleep, yet he’s dealing with cancer right now.
The decay sneaks up on us. We do not know the outcome of our 60s. All of our shamanic urges towards fitness and health might work -- but maybe not.
So what do we do?
Take it by the moment. At any moment you know what will most likely improve your health. But you don’t need to unroll it into the future, making predictions based on how much exercise you do or how little greasy food you eat. Rather, each time you confront a meal or snack you can evaluate it. My question, always, is “What will I learn from this food?” Decide what you desire and what you need. There will be a logical choice that you can make. It might be a choice for pure, indulgent pleasure. But it probably won’t be, at least very often.
When I have the opportunity to climb steps rather than take an elevator, I often opt for the steps. My knees appreciate it. When confronted with a donut, or especially a fried apple fritter, which is a treat I really adore, I say to myself, “Will that donut give me any sensation or information that I don’t already know very well from all the donuts I ate earlier in my life?”
At age 65, the answer most often (though not always) is no.
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