“There is no sincerer love than the love of food” ~George Bernard Shaw

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with food. Growing up it was all love. If there were cheese, chocolate, pasta or bread in front of me I’d have no problem devouring it. That also goes for ice cream, salami, hot dogs, brownies…

In college I lived on pizza, steak and cheese sandwiches (a specialty of our on-campus 24 hour sandwich shop) and Steve’s ice cream to avoid the mediocre cafeteria food. You’ve heard of the freshman 15? I had the freshman 30!

Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $100. Go directly to Weight Watchers!

When I grew up Wonder Bread was the bread of choice. Housewives believed it really did help build strong bodies 12 ways. There were fewer varieties of fish available at our local fish market, so on fish night my mother cooked either lemon sole or salmon.

The vegetable aisles were stocked with iceberg lettuce, beefsteak tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, green beans, and other similarly boring vegetables. I never heard of kale, Swiss chard, arugula or broccoli rabe.

Ethnic restaurants close by were mainly Italian and had heavy sauces like Fettuccine Alfredo. The most popular item in our local Chinese restaurant was Chop Suey. It was so 1960’s.

Much of what I ate in those days was high in fat, cholesterol and sodium. How did I survive?

Now that I’m in my fifties I’ve learned to make smarter food choices for better health. I read labels on every item I buy to make sure it’s lower in fat, sodium and cholesterol. I’ve also increased my daily intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.

If organic food is available I think it’s wise to splurge a little even though it’s pricier. (Read the Mayo Clinic article about organic vs. non-organic food to make your own decision on buying organic food.)

I rarely eat red meat (Read the CNN.com article about eating red meat) and mainly eat chicken (white meat/skinless), pork or turkey, and all in moderation.

I use Trader Joe’s soy creamer instead of regular milk for my morning cup of Joe. As a snack, I enjoy a serving of nonfat regular or vanilla yogurt while adding my own fresh fruit, slivered almonds or granola.

“When you go to the grocery store, you find that the cheapest calories are the ones that are going to make you the fattest” ~Michael Pollan, Author of Food Inc.: A Participant Guide: How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer-And What You Can Do About It

I’ve eliminated white sugar and flour from my diet (Read Dr. Weil’s statement on good nutrition) and stick to whole grains, like quinoa and wild or brown rice. (Read Dr. Weil’s statement about whole wheat.)

I religiously drink 64 ounces of filtered water a day, and enjoy a cup of green tea in the early evening. Green tea has antioxidant properties. There is evidence it may protect against certain cancers and reduce your risk of heart disease.

“Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul.” ~Dorothy Day

But I still love good food and I also enjoy the social aspect of sharing a meal with family, friends and lively conversation.

I’d be lying if I said I never eat cheese, chocolate or pizza. But these days if I do I try to eat smaller portions for the rest of the day, being mindful of every bite. (Read the NY Times article about mindful eating.) Being mindful of my eating habits allows me to be more in control of what I put into my mouth, and stops me from eating too much.

“Health food may be good for the conscience but Oreos taste a hell of a lot better.” ~Robert Redford

Will changing our diet help us live longer? I can’t make that promise because genetics and environment also play a role in longevity. What I can say is that everyone has something in their lives they can’t control. What we do have control over is what we put into our mouths.

Healthy food doesn’t have to taste bad. In fact, these days the foods I eat are purer, fresher and more flavorful than ever.

You may have asked why I mentioned a “love-hate” relationship with food. It’s because family genetics dictate that I must be careful about the amount of fat, cholesterol and salt I consume each day. It’s also because I’m prone to gaining weight. There’s nothing I’d like more than enjoying a few slices of pizza, a perfectly baked croissant or a few bites of some delicious Brie whenever I want to. But I have to be careful so I try to make wiser choices.

In our fifties it’s important to be aware with what is healthy and unhealthy to eat. It’s time to get our priorities straight if we want to maintain good health. And good health begins with eating well.

Cathy Chester blogs at An Empowered Spirit, which won third prize in Healthline’s Best Health Blog Contest in 2014, was named #2 of the “Top 10 Social HealthMakers in MS” by Sharecare “ and received a nomination for the past 3 years as WEGO Health’s Best in Show Blog. She is a contributor for The Huffington Post as well as a blogger for MultipleSclerosis.net and Boomeon. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including Midlife Boulevard, BetterAfter50, Erma Bombecks’ Writers Circle, The Friendship Circle and Woman at Woodstock.