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

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.

Component of vegetable protein may reduce blood pressure

grains and pulsesResearchers examined dietary amino acids, the building blocks of protein, and their effect on blood pressure.

Glutamic acid is the most common amino acid and accounts for almost a quarter (23 percent) of the protein in vegetable protein and almost one fifth (18 percent) of animal protein.

They found that a 4.72 percent higher dietary intake of the amino acid glutamic acid as a percent of total dietary protein correlated with lower group average systolic blood pressure, lower by 1.5 to 3.0 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Group average diastolic blood pressure was lower by 1.0 to 1.6 mm Hg. 

Systolic blood pressure is the force when the heart beats; diastolic pressure is the pressure when the heart rests between beats. 

This average lower blood pressure seems small from an individual perspective. But, on a population scale, it represents a potentially important reduction, said Jeremiah Stamler, M.D., lead author of the study. 

“It is estimated that reducing a population’s average systolic blood pressure by 2 mm Hg could cut stroke death rates by 6 percent and reduce mortality from coronary heart disease by 4 percent,”

said Stamler, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Preventive Medicine in the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, Ill. 

Based on American Heart Association 2009 statistics, 6 percent of stroke deaths would be more than 8,600 people and four percent of coronary heart deaths represents about 17,800 lives saved per year. 

“High blood pressure is a major cardiovascular disease risk factor, and blood pressure tends to rise with age starting early in life so that the majority of the U.S. population age 35 and older is affected by pre-hypertension or hypertension,” he said. “We have a massive public health problem, and trying to address it by the strategy that has prevailed for years — diagnosis and drug treatment — is inadequate. While clinically useful, it fails as a long-term approach for ending this massive problem.” 

The only long-term approach is to prevent pre-hypertension and hypertension by improved lifestyle behaviours, Stamler said. This includes maintaining a healthy body weight, having a fruit and vegetable-rich eating pattern and participating in regular physical activity.  

Researchers analyzed data from the International Study on Macro/Micronutrients and Blood Pressure (INTERMAP), on 4,680 people ages 40-59 in 17 rural and urban populations in China, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. INTERMAP is a basic population study aiming to clarify the role of multiple nutrients in the etiology of unfavourable blood pressure patterns prevailing for most middle-aged and older individuals. Stamler and colleagues analyzed data from eight blood pressure tests, four diet recall surveys and two 24-hour urine collections for each participant.

“Although our research group and others earlier reported an association between higher consumption of vegetable protein and lower blood pressure, as far as we know this is the first paper on the relation of glutamic acid intake to blood pressure,”

said Ian J. Brown, Ph.D., co-author of the study and a research associate in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Imperial College London.

Common sources of vegetable protein include beans, whole grains — including whole grain rice, pasta, breads and cereals — and soy products such as tofu. Durum wheat, which is used to make pasta, is also a good source of vegetable protein.

Stamler noted that there are no data on the possible effects of glutamic acid supplements and emphasized the importance of “improved habitual food intake for the prevention and control of hypertension, not popping pills.”

To learn how to cook with vegetable proteins and other whole foods, why not come along to a Cooking for Health course, held throughout the year in Somerset, UK.