What Healthy Eating Means Now

After years of research on the subject, the consensus appears to be that there is no single diet that’s right for all of us. However, we have learned that we have a better idea of what healthy eating looks like.

The key is your overall eating pattern, not so much how many grams of carbohydrate, fat or protein you eat, or whether it is animal or plant protein. The choices are many: vegetarian?, vegan?, low fat?, low carb? Or perhaps flexetarian ( a little of both?)

The general healthiest pattern is emerging that consists mostly of nutrient dense whole foods that come from nature and includes few, if any highly processed foods. A closer look at this pattern recommends lots of vegetables and avoid sugar and refined grains.

When assessed for weight control, studies show that when individuals are divided into two major groups either low fat or low carbohydrate ,both groups lost weight – an average of 12 pounds, though some lost as much as 50 pounds. The participants also ate healthier and greatly improved their risk factors for heart disease and diabetes: body fat, waist size, blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin levels all of which can contribute to heart disease and diabetes.

A most important recent finding is that eating healthy can make a difference in how well your immune system functions, so important now as it is greatly needed to fight COVID-19. 70 percent of our immune system resides in the gut; therefore we must become more aware of providing nutrients that feed these gut bacteria. Packaged foods create inflammation and hamper immunity. These include not only sweetened drinks, but breakfast cereals, refined bread and pasta. Look more toward whole grains. “A poor-quality diet loaded with sugar, saturated fat, salt, and chemicals is second to only to smoking in terms of its negative effects on health and lifespan,” says, Dr. Steven Heymsfield, professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, who was part of the development of the 2020 USDA Dietary Guidelines.

The best diet is the one that you choose after looking at the evidence that provides healthy benefits. Dr. Heymsfield says: “You could even try a diet for several weeks while keeping track of how it affects your weight, level of hunger and fullness, your mood, blood pressure and level of energy. Then try another for a few weeks and compare the results.”

Source: Nutrition: Your Healthiest Diet, Special Health Edition. 2021

Living Longer

The Blue Zones: A Book Review

By Sally J. Feltner, MS, Ph.D.

Ponce de Leon began his quest for the fountain of youth in 1531 and humans have been seeking magical solutions for keeping us younger and living our later years in relatively good health.

In 2009 with the backing of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, AARP and the National Geographic, Dan Buettner established the Blue Zone Project and authored The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the people who lived the longest, He interviewed those who were either centenarians or those in their later years and began to investigate what factors may have contributed to five regions of longevity hotspots in the world that included:

  • Sardinia in Italy with the highest concentration of centenarian men.
  • Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California, where some residents live ten more healthy years than the average American.
  • The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica that has the world’s lowest rates of middle-age mortality and the second highest concentration of male centenarians.
  • Ikaria, Greece that has one of the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality and lowest rates of dementia. Only 20 percent of people over 80 showed any signs of dementia, whereas a similar study of long-lived people near Athens showed an almost 50 percent rate of dementia- a rate similar to that for older Americans.”
  • Okinawa, Japan home to the world’s longest living women.

Remarkably, all the regions had common characteristics that included family and purpose, community and spirituality, stress reduction and physical activity. Mr. Buettner later published The Blue Zones Solution and coauthored with Ed Diener, The Blue Zones of Happiness.

One major practice was that all their diets, though not vegan, were predominantly based on plants. Meat and other animal products are either the exception or used as a condiment. Additionally, Okinawans, practice a philosophy called hara-hachi bu regarding food; they only eat until they are 80% full.

In the Costa Rican Zone, everyone feels like they have a plan “de vida” or life plan. Even at ages above 60 and 70, inhabitants don’t stop living. They keep themselves busy; they love to work. It provides them a “reason to waking up in the morning” called ikigai. There is no word for “retirement” in Okinawa.

The book introduces some very interesting longevity “superstars.”

  • Marge Jones, at 100 years old from Loma Linda begins every day with a mile walk, a stationary bicycle ride, and some weight lifting. “I’m for anything that has to do with health”, she says
  • Kamada Nakazitam, 102 years old from Okinawa says “To be healthy enough to embrace my great – great grandchild is bliss.”
  • Ellsworh Wareham, age 91 from Loma Linda, assists during heart surgery procedures, something he does about two or three times a week
  • Abuela Panchita, 100 year old Costa Rican woman whose 80 year old son, Tommy bicycles to see her every day, spends every day cooking, splitting logs and using a machine to clear brush from her garden.
  • The notion of moai in Okinawa stands for “a social support network. Says 77 year old Klazuko Mann, “each member knows that her friends count on her as much as she counts on her friends.”
  • From the author: “I once pressed a 101-year-old woman in Ikaria, Greece to tell why she thought people there lived so long. ‘We just forget to die,’ she said with a shrug. None of them went on a diet, joined a gym, or took supplements. They didn’t pursue longevity – it simply ensued”

The final chapters in the first book boil it all down into nine lessons and a cultural distillation of the worlds’ best practices in longevity a and how they can be applied to the American food culture.

However, there is a downside that is currently happening. From the Author: “Sardinians today have already taken on the trappings of modern life. For example, junk foods are replacing whole-grain breads and fresh vegetables traditionally consumed here. Young people are fatter, less inclined to follow tradition, and more outwardly focused.”

I’ve enjoyed these books immensely and have often referred to them in various tweets and posts. The first book concludes with a chapter on Your Personal Blue Zone. Other books such as “the Blue]Zones Solution” give us more explicit ways to establish Blue Zones in other areas such as the U.S.

From the back cover of The Blue Zones Solution – “Propagating the Blue Zones would not only prevent a rise in the prevalence of diabetes (and other misfortunes) it would allow us to eliminate more than 80 percent of the burden we have now. That’s revolutionary.” David Katz, M.D., Director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center

The Blue Zones are lessons in how lifestyles can affect our health and longevity. Prevention of chronic disease as we age is the primary goal.  More attention needs to be paid to improve the American diet in order to “add years to your life and life to your years.”

 

 

Restricted Eating Can Improve the Metabolic Syndrome

What is Restricted Eating?

Time-restricted eating is a type of intermittent fasting, a topic found in abundance lately in reference to health and/or weight loss interventions. Often weight loss appears to be the primary outcome of diets; however, there important health benefits associated with consuming an optimum diet, not just weight loss alone.

This time-frame of eating can vary according to the person’s preference and the plan they choose to follow. Typically, though, the eating window in time-restricted programs ranges from 6–12 hours a day.

Outside of this period, a person consumes no calories. They should, however, drink water or no-calorie beverages to remain hydrated. In some time-restricted diet plans, people may also consume unsweetened coffee or tea with no cream.

Although time-restricted eating will not work for everyone, those who have their doctor’s approval may find it beneficial. Some recent studies have shown that it can aid weight loss and may lower the risk of metabolic diseases, such as diabetes.

What is the Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a collection of health risks, including elevated blood pressure, altered blood lipids, high blood glucose, insulin resistance, and a large waist circumference that increases the chance of developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

A group of researchers from the U. of California, San Diego and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies looked at 19 participants, 13 men and 6 women who had been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.  For a 12 -week period, their eating was restricted to a maximum of 10 hours a day, during which time they could eat anything they wanted, and in whatever quantities they wished.

The study defined at baseline the eating window as the interval which 95% of calories were consumed and in this case was about 15 hours every day. At the end of the study, a 29% reduction in the eating interval to 10 hours a day resulted in a 3% reduction in weight, BMI and percent body fat and a 4% reduction in waist circumference.. Patients also reported that they had a more restful sleep and many saw a reduction in cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

The authors concluded: Time-restricted eating is a powerfully potential lifestyle intervention that can be added to standard medical practice to treat metabolic syndrome.

The study was published in the journal Cell Metabolism.