Day 3: January 3rd 2021. 17,285 days to go.
Rather than starting the topic of diet from an aspect of how little, or what not to eat, let’s be positive about eating and look at the same subject from a position of what to eat. Having been on…and slipped off…many diets in my 52 years I find the whole process of dieting a bit of a bugger. The most success I’ve had when it came to losing weight was to be mindful of the calories I was taking in by using a calorie counting app like myfitnesspal. To say it opened my eyes was an understatement. Taking my typical approach to everything…if it’s tame, jazz it up….I thought that adding a few items to a salad to make it taste better didn’t alter the fact that it was a salad and therefore would aid in my dieting. Once I’d logged the copious amounts of feta cheese, olives, anchovies, croutons and full fat dressings I’d added to my “salad” in the calorie counter I was pushing 700 calories.
For me, using a calorie counter is great, I can work out what I can eat loads of and fill a plate without breaking any daily calorie limits. It takes a little time to work out what works for you, but you very quickly start to equate calories with portion sizes and the mathematical equation that works is calories inversely proportional to portion sizes — the lowest calories for the largest plateful. If you have too little food on your plate your brain will tell you you’re still hungry. Finding a way to fool your brain by increasing the amount of low calorie food like vegetables on your plate or drinking water before you eat allows you to eat until you’re full without breaking the calorie bank. But aside from helping us with weight loss, what role does eating well play in our goal of becoming superagers and reaching 100?
Whilst genetics plays a part in superageing and longevity it’s perhaps not as big a factor as we’d think. Various studies of twins have found that genetics only account for around 25% of the variance in people’s lifespans. In an article from the University of Southern California “what to know about fasting, ageing, the “longevity diet” and when you should eat” biochemist Valter Longo tells us that there is nothing more powerful than food in determining whether we’re going to make it to 100 or fall by the wayside before 50.
Eating the correct foods, through a diet rich in vegetables, beans, fish, nuts and whole grains is the key to a longer, healthier life. Or as Dan Buettner, founder of Blue Zones says “if you want to live to 100, eat like healthy people who’ve lived to 100”. Buettner coined the phrase “Blue Zones” to refer to pockets of the globe where people have been found to live longer, healthier lives with the highest life expectancy, or with the highest proportions of centenarians. In his studies within these zones Buettner and his team found that plant based diets where beans were the cornerstone of the menu tended to be the diet of choice for centenarians. Fortunately Buettners team also discovered that one or two glasses of wine a day shared with food and friends also aided….and added to…the process of reaching an advanced age.
If we look at the constituents of the Mediterranean diet, we can see why it’s so beneficial to long term health and produces so many superagers and centenarians. Consisting primarily of legumes, fruits and vegetables, grains and nuts, each constituent brings its own benefits.
- A British meta-analysis into fruit and vegetable consumption found that eating the standard 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day caused a significant reduction in all forms of mortality, especially cardiovascular disease.
- A study into legumes found increasing daily consumption of beans by 20g brought about a 7–8% reduction in mortality and grains have also been shown to have a positive effect on lowering cardiovascular disease, blood pressure and also a lower risk of colorectal cancer.
- Consumption of nuts has also been shown to have a positive effect on cardiovascular disease. One study goes as far as to state “Diet, particularly the Mediterranean Diet, operates irrespective and together with other factors as an appreciable contributor to survival”.
As a big consumer of meat, changing my eating habits to “Mediterranean” eating habits is going to be difficult. The longest lived people in Buettners Blue Zones tend to eat meat, mostly pork, only 4 or 5 times a month. My mother-in-law is from the Caribbean and according to her mantra, which her daughter follows… if there’s no meat on the plate, it isn’t a meal. I may be preparing meals for 1 for a while but as I’m working away from home this week I thought I’d give it a try with a curry of chana dal, red lentils, buckwheat, baby corn and chillies with cauliflower baked in ghee and roast sweet potato. It might not look quite as appetising as the plate above…but it sure is tasty!