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

 

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Weight loss diets – a new study asks which are the best?

Many popular diets emphasize either carbohydrate, protein or fat as the best way to lose weight.

paleo-diet2Advocates of high protein diets claim that our Paleolithic ancestors obtained the majority of their calories from meat and thus our bodies have evolved to require a high protein intake.  There is much scientific controversy over the relative importance of animal and plant foods in the early hominid diet.  Direct evidence in the form of food remains is meagre or, at best, equivocal.  Most research relies on inference through dietary studies of other primates and archaeological evidence.  Most scientists now agree that plant foods contributed much more to the early hominid diet than did the flesh of animals. 

okinawa_diet_planHumans have adapted to their environments wherever they have settled and the balance between meat-eating and plant-eating varies substantially between populations.  Some of the leanest and healthiest societies in the world, such as in the Mediterranean and Japan, consume a diet where the majority of energy comes from carbohydrates, mainly in the form of complex carbohydrates from whole grains and vegetables.  This has led some researchers to propose that a high carbohydrate diet is better for maintenance of a healthy weight than a high protein diet.

Controversy about the role of fat in the diet has raged since the 1950s, when Ancel Keys published his landmark “Seven Countries” study and highlighted that coronary heart disease is strongly related to diet.  Low-fat diets have therefore been promoted by governments and health professionals for several decades.

With the prevalence of obesity increasing at an alarming rate, everyone wants to know which of these dietary approaches – high protein, high carbohydrate, low fat – is the most successful for weight loss.

obese-women

The scientific research conducted to date does not help much.  Some trials have shown that low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets resulted in more weight loss over the course of 3 to 6 months than conventional high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets, but other trials have not shown this effect.

A smaller group of studies that extended the follow-up to 1 year did not show that low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets were superior to high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets.  In contrast, other researchers found that a very-high-carbohydrate, very-low-fat vegetarian diet was superior to a conventional high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet.  Among the few studies that extended beyond 1 year, one showed that a very-low-fat vegetarian diet was superior to a conventional low-fat diet, one showed that a low-fat diet was superior to a moderate-fat diet, two showed that a moderate-fat, Mediterranean-style diet was superior to a low-fat diet, one showed that a low-carbohydrate diet was superior to a low-fat diet, and another showed no difference between high-protein and low-protein diets.

Small samples, underrepresentation of men, limited generalizability, a lack of blinded ascertainment of the outcome, a lack of data on adherence to assigned diets, and a large loss to follow-up limit the interpretation of many weight-loss trials.  The novelty of the diet, media attention, and the enthusiasm of the researchers may affect the adherence of participants to any type of diet.

There have been few studies lasting more than a year that evaluate the effect on weight loss of diets with different compositions of those nutrients. In a randomized clinical trial led by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Pennington Biomedical Research Center of the Louisiana State University System, a comparison of overweight participants assigned to four different diets over a two-year period showed that reducing calories achieved weight loss regardless of which of the three nutrients was emphasized. The study, which was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health, appears in the February 26, 2009 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

“This is important information for physicians, dieticians and adults, who should focus weight loss approaches on reducing calorie intake,” said Frank Sacks, professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at HSPH and lead author of the study.

The trial included 811 men and women who were randomly divided into four diet groups with different target nutrient compositions:

  • Low-fat, average protein: 20% of calories from fat, 15% of calories from protein, 65% of calories from carbohydrate
  • Low-fat, high-protein: 20% fat, 25% protein, 55% carbohydrate
  • High-fat, average protein: 40% fat, 15% protein, 45% carbohydrate
  • High-fat, high-protein: 40% fat, 25% protein, 35% carbohydrate

The participants were diverse in age, sex (62% women, 38% men), geography and income. The diets followed heart-healthy principles, replacing saturated with unsaturated fat and were high in whole cereal grains, fruits and vegetables. Each participant received a diet prescription that encouraged a 750-calorie reduction per day, however none were less than 1,200 total calories per day. Participants were asked to do 90 minutes of moderate exercise each week. They recorded their daily food and drink intake in a food diary and in a web-based program that provided information on how closely they were meeting their dieting goals. Individual counselling was provided every eight weeks over two years and group sessions were held three out of four weeks during the first six months and two out of four weeks from six months to two years.

The results showed that, regardless of diet, weight loss and reduction in waist circumference were similar. Participants lost an average of 13 pounds at six months and maintained a 9-pound loss at two years. Weight loss primarily took place in the first 6 months; after 12 months, all groups began to slowly regain weight, a finding consistent with other diet studies. However, the extent of weight regain was much less, about 20%, of the average regain in previous studies. Waistlines were reduced by an average of two inches at the end of the two-year period.

Most risk factors for cardiovascular disease improved for dieters at six months and two years. HDL (“good”) cholesterol increased and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and insulin decreased. The metabolic syndrome, a group of coronary heart disease risk factors including high blood pressure, insulin resistance and abdominal obesity, also decreased.

The main finding from the trial was that diets with varying emphases on carbohydrate, fat and protein levels all achieved clinically meaningful weight loss and maintenance of weight loss over a two-year period.

“These results show that, as long as people follow a heart-healthy, reduced-calorie diet, there is more than one nutritional approach to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight,” said Elizabeth G. Nabel, M.D., Director, NHLBI.

Another important finding was that participants who regularly attended counselling sessions lost more weight than those who didn’t. Dieters who attended two thirds of sessions over two years lost about 22 pounds of weight as compared to the average weight loss of 9 pounds.

“These findings suggest that continued contact with participants to help them achieve their goals may be more important than the macronutrient composition of their diets,” said Sacks.

fruit_and_veg11

Have you spent years embarking on every weight-loss diet going?  Have you tried cutting out entire food groups?  Have you spent a fortune on miracle foods or diet powders?  Have you eaten nothing except cabbage soup for weeks?  Have you driven your friends mad with your fervour over food combining?  Have you become obsessive about counting calories or points?  Have you spent hours jumping on and off your bathroom scales?  Do you feel hungry much of the time, exhausted and beset by cravings?

You can learn how to lose weight effortlessly without feeling hungry, whilst gaining health and vitality, at a Cooking for Health course on Managing Your Weight Naturally.  We explore why so many diets fail and explode many of the weight loss myths.  We look at cravings – how they arise and how to overcome them – and we discuss which foods the body needs to create energy and burn fat in the most efficient way.  We create a delicious meal with an array of different dishes designed to illustrate how it is possible to eat plenty without gaining weight.  The vital role of exercise in maintaining a healthy weight is also emphasised.

References

Strassman, B.I. and Dunbar, R.I. (1999).  Human evolution and disease: putting the Stone Age in perspective.  In Stearns, S.C. ed Evolution in Health and Disease, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lee, R.B.  The !Kung San: Men, Women and Work in a Foraging Society.  Cambridge University Press, 1979

Lee, R.B. & Devore, I.  Man the Hunter. Aldine De Gruyter (December 31, 1999)

Jéquier E, Bray GA. Low-fat diets are preferred. Am J Med 2002;113:Suppl:41S-46S

Willett WC, Leibel RL. Dietary fat is not a major determinant of body fat. Am J Med 2002;113:Suppl:47S-59S

Freedman MR, King J, Kennedy E. Popular diets: a scientific review. Obes Res 2001;9:Suppl:1S-40S

Skov AR, Toubro S, Rønn B, Holm L, Astrup A. Randomized trial of protein vs carbohydrate in ad libitum fat reduced diet for the treatment of obesity. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 1999;23:528-536.

Brehm BJ, Seeley RJ, Daniels SR, D’Alessio DA. A randomized trial comparing a very low carbohydrate diet and a calorie-restricted low fat diet on body weight and cardiovascular risk factors in healthy women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2003;88:1617-1623.

Foster GD, Wyatt HR, Hill JO, et al. A randomized trial of a low-carbohydrate diet for obesity. N Engl J Med 2003;348:2082-2090.

Samaha FF, Iqbal N, Seshadri P, et al. A low-carbohydrate as compared with a low-fat diet in severe obesity. N Engl J Med 2003;348:2074-2081.

Yancy WS Jr, Olsen MK, Guyton JR, Bakst RP, Westman EC. A low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet versus a low-fat diet to treat obesity and hyperlipidemia: a randomized, controlled trial. Ann Intern Med 2004;140:769-777.

Volek J, Sharman M, Gómez A, et al. Comparison of energy-restricted very low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets on weight loss and body composition in overweight men and women. Nutr Metab (Lond) 2004;1:13-13.

Due A, Toubro S, Skov AR, Astrup A. Effect of normal-fat diets, either medium or high in protein, on body weight in overweight subjects: a randomised 1-year trial. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2004;28:1283-1290.

Gardner CD, Kiazand A, Alhassan S, et al. Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN diets for change in weight and related risk factors among overweight premenopausal women: the A to Z Weight Loss Study: a randomized trial. JAMA 2007;297:969-977. [Erratum, JAMA 2007;298:178.]

Shai I, Schwarzfuchs D, Henkin Y, et al. Weight loss with a low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or low-fat diet. N Engl J Med 2008;359:229-241.

Noakes M, Keough JB, Foster PR, Clifton PM. Effect of an energy-restricted, high-protein, low-fat diet relative to a conventional low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet on weight loss, body composition, nutritional status, and markers of cardiovascular health in obese women. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;81:1298-1306.

McLaughlin T, Carter S, Lamendola C, et al. Effects of moderate variations in macronutrient composition on weight loss and reduction in cardiovascular disease risk in obese, insulin-resistant adults. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;84:813-821.

McMillan-Price J, Petocz P, Atkinson F, et al. Comparison of 4 diets of varying glycemic load on weight loss and cardiovascular risk reduction in overweight and obese young adults: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Intern Med 2006;166:1466-1475.

Das SK, Gilhooly CH, Golden JK, et al. Long-term effects of 2 energy-restricted diets differing in glycemic load on dietary adherence, body composition, and metabolism in CALERIE: a 1-y randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85:1023-1030.

Lecheminant JD, Gibson CA, Sullivan DK, et al. Comparison of a low carbohydrate and low fat diet for weight maintenance in overweight or obese adults enrolled in a clinical weight management program. Nutr J 2007;6:36-36.

Foster GD, Wyatt HR, Hill JO, et al. A randomized trial of a low-carbohydrate diet for obesity. N Engl J Med 2003;348:2082-2090

Due A, Toubro S, Skov AR, Astrup A. Effect of normal-fat diets, either medium or high in protein, on body weight in overweight subjects: a randomised 1-year trial. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2004;28:1283-1290

Stern L, Iqbal N, Seshadri P, et al. The effects of low-carbohydrate versus conventional weight loss diets in severely obese adults: one-year follow-up of a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med 2004;140:778-785.

Dansinger ML, Gleason JA, Griffith JL, Selker JP, Schaefer EJ. Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone diets for weight loss and heart disease risk reduction: a randomized trial. JAMA 2005;293:43-53.

Luscombe-Marsh ND, Noakes M, Wittert GA, Keough JB, Foster P, Clifton PM. Carbohydrate restricted diets high in either monounsaturated fat or protein are equally effective in promoting fat loss and improving blood lipids. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;81:762-772.

Keogh JB, Luscombe-Marsh ND, Noakes M, Wittert GA, Clifton PM. Long-term weight maintenance and cardiovascular risk factors are not different following weight loss on carbohydrate-restricted diets high in either monounsaturated fat or protein in obese hyperinsulinemic men and women. Br J Nutr 2007;97:405-410.

Ornish D, Scherwitz LW, Billings JH, et al. Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease. JAMA 1998;280:2001-2007. [Erratum, JAMA 1999;281:1380.]

Barnard ND, Cohen J, Jenkins DJ, et al. A low-fat vegan diet improves glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in a randomized clinical trial in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care 2006;29:1777-1783.

Turner-McGrievy GM, Barnard ND, Scialli AR. A two-year randomized weight loss trial comparing a vegan diet to a more moderate low-fat diet. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2007;15:2276-2281. 

Toubro S, Astrup A. Randomized comparison of diets for maintaining obese subjects’ weight after major weight loss: ad lib, low fat, high carbohydrate diet v fixed energy intake. BMJ 1997;314:29-34

Shai I, Schwarzfuchs D, Henkin Y, et al. Weight loss with a low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or low-fat diet. N Engl J Med 2008;359:229-241

McManus K, Antinoro L, Sacks F. A randomized controlled trial of a moderate-fat, low-energy diet compared with a low fat, low-energy diet for weight loss in overweight adults. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2001;25:1503-1511

Due A, Toubro S, Skov AR, Astrup A. Effect of normal-fat diets, either medium or high in protein, on body weight in overweight subjects: a randomised 1-year trial. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2004;28:1283-1290

Simons-Morton DG, Obarzanek E, Cutler JA. Obesity research — limitations of methods, measurements, and medications. JAMA 2006;295:826-828.

Cook your way to a healthier life

Ancient wisdom and modern science teach us that the quality of the food we eat is intrinsically linked with our level of health and well being.

 

The development of agriculture 10,000 years ago and the radical changes in the production and processing of food  which have occurred in the last 200 years, have led to our diet moving further and further away from the natural foods which sustained our earliest ancestors 2.5 million years ago.  From an evolutionary perspective, these changes have taken place too rapidly for the human genome to adjust.  Biochemically and physiologically, we are virtually identical to the hunter-gatherers who roamed the earth 20,000 years ago[i],[ii].

 

ecuador-family

 

There is growing scientific evidence that the evolutionary collision of our ancient genome with the nutritional qualities of recently introduced foods may underlie many of the chronic diseases of Western civilization, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer[iii], as well as problems such as depression, mood swings, PMS, hot flushes, chronic fatigue, inability to cope with stress, allergies and susceptibility to illness and infection.

 

In particular, food staples and food-processing procedures introduced during the Neolithic and Industrial Periods have fundamentally altered seven crucial nutritional characteristics of the ancestral hominin diets of the Paleolithic era: 1) glycaemic load (or the impact of food on blood glucose levels), 2) fatty acid composition (the balance between good fats and bad fats), 3) macronutrient composition (the proportion of energy coming from carbohydrates, proteins and fats), 4) micronutrient density (the amount of vitamins and minerals per calorie), 5) acid-base balance, 6) sodium-potassium ratio, and 7) fibre content.

 

north-carolina-family

 

Today, a few societies in the world are noted for their healthy longevity, including Okinawans in Japan, Hunzans in Pakistan and Vilcabambans in Ecuador[iv].  Scientific studies have shown that these people consume a predominantly plant-based diet high in whole grains, locally grown vegetables, beans, fruits, nuts and seeds, with small amounts of animal foods, sea vegetables, natural sweeteners and condiments.  In other words, natural, unprocessed foods similar to those consumed by the earliest human beings.

 

We too can be full of energy, in excellent physical health and with minds as sharp as razors into advanced old age if we move away from eating refined, processed foods and return to a more natural diet.

 

You can learn how to cook with these natural ingredients at Cooking For Health courses held throughout the year in Somerset, UK.   The classes cover the basics of healthy eating and focus on different aspects of the link between nutrition and optimum health and well being.  Topics include Managing Your Weight Naturally, Food and Emotions, Balancing Your Hormones, Beating Stress and Fatigue and Boosting Your Immune System.

 

The classes not only include cooking healthy and appetising recipes, but also slowly unfold a fascinating and comprehensive study of the healing power of food.

 

Whether you are young or old, male or female, vegan, vegetarian or omnivorous, a novice or an experienced cook, if you are seeking a natural approach to health and well being, you will find these classes valuable, interesting and potentially life-changing.


[i] Cohen MN (1989): Health and the Rise of Civilization. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press

[ii] Eaton, SB; Eaton SB III and Konner, MJ (1997).  Paleolithic nutrition revisited: A twelve-year retrospective on its nature and implications.  European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1997) 51, 207-216

[iii] Cordain L.; Eaton,SB; Sebastian A.; Mann,N.; Lindeberg,S; Watkins,B.A.; O’Keefe,JH; Brand-Miller, J. (2005).  Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2005), 81, 341–54.

[iv] Robbins, J. (2007).  Healthy at 100.  Ballantine Books.