Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Now, that I’ve completed the full Chinese zodiac cycle, it’s official — I’m old. Okay, maybe not older than my teeth as Moms Mabley might state but definitely a lot closer to becoming a stewing hen than a spring chicken. Though with advanced age come certain benefits like shopping at Marukai Wholesale Mart an hour earlier than the general public, or 5-10% discounts on Tuesdays at Don Quijote and 10% discount for Mrs. Fields cookies. It also may signal a change in my informal title as strangers may start addressing me as Tütü-Käne instead of Uncle. As I approach kupuna-hood, do I now throw caution to the wind and start enjoying eggs Benedict every morning along with several glasses of Champagne?
For the past 40 years, I’ve maintained a pretty healthy diet that provides more dietary fiber than most Americans regularly consume. I also limit foods that are high in saturated fats — the type of fat that raises cholesterol levels more than dietary cholesterol itself. We still trim most visible fat off our chicken breasts; we seldom purchase chicken thighs even if fat means flavor as thighs have too many nooks and crannies hiding fat. And if you do remove most of the fat from thighs, the thigh won’t even be recognizable but simply appear like it was run over by a car.
We also primarily purchase leaner cuts of pork like the tenderloin, loin and sirloin. The same for beef — most of the time. Okay, Ms. S does occasionally crave a grilled ribeye or Porterhouse but I’ve always been a tenderloin guy.
We consume more seafood than most people and, recently, the only exception has been tako. It’s not because I don’t enjoy perfectly cooked tako in poke or sumiso, but after I read that they dream and use tools like primates, I decided to select other more sustainable types of seafood that didn’t have almost human intelligence.
We also consume a lot of legumes and whole grains and rarely splurge or indulge on cheat days. In fact, my last Rainbow Drive-In mixed plate with gravy “all ovah” was over five years ago and my last L & L Barbecue chicken cutlet plate swimming in gravy was well over two years ago.
My main weakness is fried potatoes whether potato chips, French fries or potatoes Da Delfina (boiled then fried potatoes tossed with garlic, olive oil, lemon zest and chopped parsley). As a weak defense, my chip of choice is Cape Cod Reduced Fat chips which are cooked at a lower temperature to reduce the production of potentially carcinogenic acrylamides.
Possibly a Lot More Time Ahead
As our financial planner would say, if you retire early, plan to save enough money to live until 90. And there’s probably more truth to that than just caution. While just two generations ago during my grandparents’ era, most people worked until 65 until they were Social-Security eligible, retired then enjoyed the fruits of their labor for five to 10 years before the Grim Reaper came calling. With the advances in modern medicine and healthcare, the latest statistics from 2018 show that men that make it to 65 live for another 18 years on average while women live for almost 21 more years on average. My paternal grandmother and all her siblings all lived to at least 90 with the youngest making it past 100. My mother’s three siblings also made it to at least 90. So I think I’ll put those daily Benedicts on hold.
So how do we get through the golden years maintaining our mental and physical faculties? Easy, by that simple mantra, “use it or lose it.”
Maintaining the Motor
By motor, I mean the main organ that keeps us going, the heart. And the best way to maintain heart health is exercise, namely aerobic exercise. Whether it’s brisk walking, jogging, running, biking or swimming you are targeting moderate intensity which means you can still speak but you won’t sound like you’re having regular conversation, it will take a little more energy to continue the conversation. As a rule of thumb, I instruct all my patients with diabetes or high blood pressure that they want to target a goal of 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise skipping no more than two days in a row. The disclaimer? Yours truly doesn’t practice what he preaches. My exercise is primarily performed just once a week for about 90 minutes. While my stationary biking does go past moderate intensity, I don’t get up to 150 minutes per week and I skip more than two days in a row. My alibi? The j-o-b. Of course, I keep telling myself that once I do retire, I’ll have time to bike three to four times per week as well as do resistance training with weights two to three times per week
You also must feed that motor properly not just with complex carbohydrates for energy but also limiting foods that will limit its fuel supply, i.e., reducing the flow of blood that delivers those nutrients and oxygen that keep it running smoothly. And it’s mainly dietary saturated fat that facilitates the process of arterial plaque deposition that clogs those arteries that feed the motor. Which includes butter in the Hollandaise sauce on Benedicts, instant ramen which is first fried in palm oil or most of the fat found in Spam.
Increasing or at least maintaining your consumption of dietary fiber — both insoluble (found in wheat bran and vegetables) and soluble (found in legumes, oatmeal and fruits) reduces your consumption of foods that should be limited and can help that condition associated with aging — constipation. And as most dieticians would say, eat the rainbow daily or consume fruits and vegetables of all colors on a daily basis. Most vegetables contain many micronutrients and natural antioxidants and are lower in calories and fat. And as I’ve stated before, “beans, beans, good for the heart…”
Nourishing the Rest of the Body
We also need to nourish the brain by keeping it active just as we keep the physical body active. What’s the sense of maintaining a perfect outer shell if the mind goes South? If you continue to work into your golden years, most work keeps the mind active but once you retire, there can be that tendency to simply engage in mindless tasks like watching television, so I personally plan to read again. For pleasure. For all my career, my reading has simply been scientific studies to maintain continuing education credits to maintain my professional license. It’s been years since I picked up a Lois Ann Yamanaka novel and some of Mike Malaghan’s books have piqued my interest. I also plan to learn a new language via one of those language software programs on the internet. The only question is Italian or Spanish and Rosetta Stone or Babbel?
And while reading keeps the mind active, writing does the same so I plan to continue these monthly columns for the Hawai‘i Herald as well as the Nichi Bei Weekly. One of my bucket list goals is also to write a cookbook borrowing from some of my columns over the past 18 years styled somewhere between Brother Juniper’s Bread Book and Alton Brown’s Good Eats.
Not Time to Throw in the Towel
So just because you hit that sixth decade in life, it’s not exactly time to throw in the towel. As I get closer to retirement with my promise to exercise regularly, I might indulge in that chicken cutlet slathered in gravy maybe once or twice a year as well as Adela’s Country Eatery’s malunggay noodles topped with lechon. But no daily Eggs Benedict covered in Hollandaise… just yet…
Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet” (nichibei.org/columns/gochiso-gourmet/).