Secrets of a long and healthy life

Can we discover the fountain of youth?  Some answers lie with the healthiest people on earth – the elders of Okinawa in Japan.

Okinawa has a higher proportion of centenarians than anywhere on the planet  – more than four times that of the UK.  Not only this, but they remain healthy and active into advanced old age.  Compared with people of the same age in the UK, Okinawan elders have an 80 per cent lower risk of heart disease, stroke, breast and prostate cancer, a 50 per cent lower risk of other cancers, including colon, ovarian and lymphoma, a 50 per cent lower rate of hip fracture, and a 30 to 40 per cent lower incidence of dementia.

So what are their secrets?

Secret #1 is maintain a positive, optimistic attitude.  Okinawans believe that everything in life works itself out in the long run.  With this attitude, there is no need to worry.  They intentionally live a calm, peaceful life with little stress.  When they work, it is at their own pace, rather than putting pressure on themselves to get things done in a hurry.  Experts believe this relaxed way of being is vital for health.

Secret #2 is cultivate strong relationships.  Okinawans often meet with friends and family just to chat, laugh or offer support to one another.  Endless studies have shown that people are healthier when they have good relationships and an active, positive social life.

Secret #3 is eat a very healthy diet.  It is considered especially important that the traditional Okinawa diet is both simple and wholesome.  It consists mainly of plant food – whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds – that are high in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, and fish that is rich in protein and omega-3 oils. They also eat less food than the average in countries such as the UK and USA and have a cultural tradition called hara hachi bu, which means eat until 80 per cent full.  Eating a natural unprocessed diet, low in sugar, saturated fat and salt, greatly reduces their risk of health problems related to overweight and obesity.

Secret # 4 is lead an active life. Most Okinawans are physically active. They walk everywhere, work in their gardens, dance and practice traditional martial arts like tai chi.

Secret # 5 is refrain from bad habits. There are very few older Okinawans who smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol

 

For more information about the effect of diet on health, plant-based diets, recipes and tips please sign up for my free newsletter and visit my website.

You can also join me on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

Advertisements

Healthy Food Healthy Business

Eating out is no longer an occasional luxury.  Consumers in the UK spent a staggering £81 billion on catering services in 2008 (1) and sales on food eaten out have increased by 23 percent since 2003 (2).  Market surveys estimate that between 7.5 and 8.5 billion meals were eaten out in the UK in 2009 (3).  DEFRA statistics suggest that one in every six meals in the UK is eaten out and the catering industry provides at least three meals per week for the average person in Britain (1).  Approximately 20 to 30 percent of each household’s food budget is spent on food and drink consumed outside the home (1). 

So what are the most important factors driving consumer food choices in the eating out market?

Recent surveys by the Food Standards Agency (4) and leading market research organizations (3), as well as sales data from supermarkets (5), indicate that health consciousness has moved right to the top of the consumer agenda. There is growing evidence that consumers are beginning to give health similar priority to price and value for money when deciding what to eat. 

Worldwide, more than 60 percent of deaths are caused by chronic diseases (6), thus almost everyone knows someone who has suffered from cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.  Public awareness of the key role played by diet in the development of many of these diseases is increasing.  People are therefore concerned about the amount of calories, salt, saturated fat and sugar they are consuming.  As eating out becomes more common, the nutritional quality of the eating out diet is starting to receive scrutiny.

Latest figures show that 11 percent of total energy intake comes from eating out (1).  This number would be substantially higher if alcohol consumption were included.  The eating out diet has more fat and less carbohydrate than the household diet. 

Several consumer surveys conducted in the UK and the USA between 2006 and 2009 point to a growing demand for healthier menu items and a frustration at this need not being met (3) (7) (8) (9).  In one UK survey conducted by Consumer Focus (10), 94 percent of respondents indicated a desire for increased availability of healthier food when eating out.  At the same time, Datamonitor reported that 35 percent of European consumers cannot find healthier menu items when dining out (8).  On top of this, consumers are beginning to request more information about the provenance of their food and its nutritional content (11). 

Supermarkets have already reacted to this trend and implemented front of pack ‘traffic light labelling’ to provide consumers with information on the content of major nutrients and on whether the item is relatively healthy (green) or unhealthy (amber or red).  In 2009, Sainsbury’s reported a dramatic shift in purchasing patterns as a consequence of introducing such labels.  Sales of healthier items increased by 40 to 97 percent, whilst those of less healthy items decreased by 30 to 40 percent (5).

The National Restaurant Association reported that 60 percent of US consumers are aware of calorie information when making menu choices and 25 percent use this information to influence their choices (12).  A study published by Stanford University in January 2010 looked at the impact of mandatory calorie labelling in Starbucks in New York, Boston and Philadelphia.  They found that calorie posting led to a 6 percent reduction in calories per transaction.  This was entirely related to food choices and did not affect beverage consumption.  Interestingly, in Starbucks outlets within 50m of a competitor, the calorie posting led to an increase in Starbucks’ revenue (13).

In the UK, the FSA started working with 18 large catering businesses in 2009 to provide voluntary labelling of calorie content of menu items; the outcome of this is still being evaluated.

So the evidence suggests that today’s eating out consumers are cost-conscious, health-conscious and ethically-conscious.  The successful catering business will capitalise on these trends and create value by delivering what the consumer wants.

The good news is that making small and simple changes to menus to reduce content of calories, saturated fat, salt and sugar can enhance both health and profit margins.  Training courses are available to provide information and practical suggestions about how this can be achieved (14).

For example, there is plenty of scope to reduce portion size and reduce costs and food wastage.  The latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey published in February 2010 shows that average intake of protein is almost double that of the guideline intake (15).  Protein content of dishes can thus be reduced, thereby reducing cost.  Likewise, a number of businesses have reported increased margins as a result of reducing fat content of their menu items.

As life expectancy of the burgeoning world population continues to rise along with the incidence of overweight and obesity, the number of people with chronic diseases will increase.  There is also an increase in the number of the “worried well”.  Health consciousness is likely to intensify and caterers who provide healthier menu choices will position themselves to generate healthier businesses.

For further information and practical suggestions for providing healthier menu items, please come to a Healthier Catering Training Course in the UK.  Suitable for caterers and for professionals involved in encouraging healthy eating in the population.

Works Cited

1. DEFRA. Food Statistics Pocketbook. 2009.

2. Mintel. Eating Out Review. 2009.

3. Allegra Strategies. Review. 2009.

4. Food Standards Agency. Quarterly Public Attitudes Tracker. December 2009.

5. Sainsbury’s. Effect of food labelling on food purchasing choices. 2009.

6. World Health Organisation. World Health Report. 2002.

7. Nestle Professional. 2010.

8. Datamonitor. Workplace consumption: targeting a captive audience. 2005.

9. Aramark (NYSE, RMK) Dining Styles. Research presented to clinical researchers and health professionals at the 2006 NAASO Obesity Summit in Boston October 22-24. 2006.

10. Consumer Focus. s.l. : http://www.consumerfocus.org, 2006.

11. Food Standards Agency. June 2008.

12. National Restaurant Association. 2008.

13. Bollinger, B., Leslie, P. and Sorenson, A. Calorie posting in chain restaurants. s.l. : Stanford University, http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/news/StarbucksCaloriePostingStudy.pdf, January 2010.

14. Philpott, J.K. Healthier Catering Training Courses. s.l. : http://www.cookingforhealth-uk.com/healthier-catering.php.

15. Food Standards Agency and Department of Health. National Diet and Nutrition Survey. Headline results from Year 1 of the Rolling Programme 2008-2009. s.l. : FSA and DoH, February 2010.

Carbohydrates – the good, the bad and the ugly

Fierce controversy rages in the popular press about carbohydrates and their influence on our health.

Thanks to the popularity of the Atkins, South Beach and other low-carbohydrate diets, many believe that all carbohydrates are “bad” and a cause of the obesity epidemic.

Like many issues associated with nutrition, this is a dangerous over-simplification, rather like the “all fat is bad” message.

We now know that carbohydrates, the staple of most diets, are neither all good nor all bad.

Some kinds of carbohydrates promote health whilst others, when eaten often and in large quantities, actually increase the risk for obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease and some cancers.

Easily digested carbohydrates from white bread, white rice, white pasta, biscuits, cakes, pastries, sugary drinks and other highly processed foods may indeed contribute to weight gain and interfere with weight loss.

Bad carbohydrates

Bad carbohydrates

Whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables and other sources of intact carbohydrates do just the opposite – they promote good health.

Good carbohydrates

Good carbohydrates

Blanket dismissal of carbohydrates is thus misleading as they are an important part of a healthy diet.

Carbohydrates provide the body with the fuel it needs for physical activity and for proper organ function.

The brain, for example, is totally reliant on carbohydrates to power its activity – 40 per cent of the carbohydrates we consume are used to provide glucose for the brain.

The best sources of carbohydrates – fruits, vegetables and whole grains – also deliver essential vitamins and minerals, fibre and a rich array of protective phytonutrients.

For optimal health, obtain your grains intact from foods such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole grain pasta, and other possibly unfamiliar grains like quinoa, whole oats, millet, buckwheat and bulgur.

Until recently, you could only buy whole-grain products in organic or non-traditional stores. Today they are available in most mainstream supermarkets. Here are some suggestions for adding more good carbohydrates to your diet:

  • Start the day with whole grains. If you like hot cereals, try porridge made from whole oats, quinoa or brown rice. If you are a cold cereal person, look for muesli or one that lists whole wheat, whole oats, or other whole grain first on the ingredient list. Have fresh or dried fruit with your cereal.
  • Use whole grain breads or crackers for lunch or snacks. Check the label to make sure that whole wheat or another whole grain is the first ingredient listed. Oatcakes with hummus (made from chickpeas) are an excellent ‘good carb’ snack.
  • Reduce intake of potatoes. Instead, try brown rice or even “newer” grains like quinoa, millet, buckwheat or barley with your dinner. There is nothing wrong with potatoes per se – my message is about increasing the variety of starches in your diet, as each grain contains a wide array of nutrients and phytonutrients beneficial for health.
  • Exchange ‘white’ foods for ‘brown’ foods. Brown rice usually needs to be cooked for longer than white rice. If the whole grain products are too chewy for you, look for those that are made with half whole-wheat flour and half white flour.
  • Beans, nuts, seeds, fruit, vegetables. Beans are an excellent source of slowly digested carbohydrates as well as a great source of protein. Try adding them to casseroles and soups. Aim to eat 5 to 10 portions of vegetables and fruit per day.

For more information about the effect of diet on health, plant-based diets, recipes and tips please sign up for my free newsletter and visit my website.

You can also join me on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.