Eat Better, Live Longer

A focus on plants and variety 
may help the aging process.

Lizbeth Scordo Health & Wellness


Thanks to wonderful weather, plentiful golf and tennis, and senior-centric communities, the Coachella Valley is the perfect place for retirees to live the good life during their twilight years. While many positive changes come with the transition from raising a family and having a career to enjoying more commitment-free leisure time, eating practices can suffer.

“As we age, it’s easy to lose what we call the ‘meal habit’ and skip meals or have meals become a lot less balanced than when we were making them for the whole family,” says Nicole Napientek, registered dietitian nutritionist with Desert Regional Medical Center’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. “It becomes, ‘Oh, if I get a chance [I’ll] eat something,’ and then your nutrition goes down.”

The aging process raises risk factors for many illnesses, and a poor diet only exacerbates them. “As we improve our diet, we can lower our risk for diabetes, cardiovascular issues, and other major chronic diseases,” she says.

The good news? You’re never too old to reap the benefits of a nutrient-rich diet. “The way we improve our nutrition is generally not taking things out, because then you can end up with a very narrow diet,” Napientek explains. “You want to add on and work toward variety.”

For instance, the Mediterranean diet is associated with reduced disease risk. Napientek says it is an ideal model because it incorporates plant-based foods like olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, as well as fish. And yes, even pasta is OK — just make sure it’s heavy on lycopene-laced tomato sauce or served alongside a salad.

Another issue faced by locals? Not wanting to go near the kitchen during scorching summers. “I tell people to go for ‘desert cooking’ — cold foods like canned tuna or salmon, a mashed avocado and some pita bread,” says Napientek. “It’s just making sure you’re still including everything you need in there.”