Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Weird eats, weird thoughts, and how to live nearly forever

When it comes to food, we’re touchy. 

We’re prone to believe all kinds of strange stuff--some things that just aren’t true at all, and a lot of things that are only marginally true, and a fair amount of things that are just weird.

We’re likely to be convinced that certain foods are literal life-savers. 

That, for example, you’ll be eternally protected if you eat enough blueberries, or noni, or whole grain bread, or tree nuts, or seaweeds, or salba seed, or honey, or bee pollen, or coconut oil, or cruciferous vegetables, or chia seeds, or salmon, or chicken rather than beef, or fish rather than pork—this list goes on forever. 

Just Google ‘miracle foods.’

And we believe bad things about certain foods. 

The tomato, today a key ingredient in salads and Italian cooking, 200 years ago in the United States was believed poisonous. Today, it is sometimes listed among the miracle foods. How things change.
The tomato is an American plant that was happily and safely eaten by Central Americans. But for strange reasons, some of them religious, it was deemed toxic in North America a couple of hundred years ago. It wasn’t until the tomato had been exported to Europe, turned into a key part of that cuisine, and brought back to America by immigrants, that tomatoes were trusted again.
Folks used to believe eggplants would cause insanity.

And a lot of people today believe that meat is bad for you, despite this intriguing statistic:  almost all of the longest-lived peoples in the world eat meat. The key: They seem to eat it infrequently and then sparingly.

Folks in Sardinia, Italy, where they eat a lot of milk and cheese, live on average a very long time—they are among the longest living group of people in the world. You’ve been told those dairy products are bad for you, right? 

Oh, and you’ve been told alcohol is bad for you. Sardinians drink wine, too.

Noted Hawai`i physician nutritionist Dr. Terry Shintani recommends eating unprocessed foods. His diet suggestions include a lot of fresh stuff, mostly vegetarian, and a lot of it local. That is one interesting feature of the diets of almost all of the longest-living people—they eat stuff that comes from their immediate environment.

They eat the milk and meat of animals they knew, vegetables from gardens they tended or their friends did.

Some folks will argue that you’re likely to get much better nutrition and be much healthier if you eat an organic diet. Is there any actual support for that position? Not according to a paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine. 

“The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods,” the study says. 

So what is reasonable advice? Some seems to come from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. It says stay active, eat fewer calories and be mindful of what you’re eating.

“A healthy eating pattern limits intake of sodium, solid fats, added sugars, and refined grains and emphasizes nutrient-dense foods and beverages—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, and nuts and seeds,” it says.

Not as interesting, perhaps, as blueberries and chia seeds on kale leaves, but there you go.

Looking at another standard, there seem to be three hallmarks of virtually every one of the most long-living communities in the world: They are active lifelong, and they don’t eat a lot, and they eat local produce.

Some of them drink alcohol, some not. Almost all eat meat and dairy products, although almost all eat meat only sparingly. A lot eat a lot of fresh fruit, nuts and vegetables. 

That suggests this recipe for a long, healthy life. Finish your salad, push the main course away after only a bite or two, and then get up take a long walk.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2015

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