Eating to stay young and healthy
Every so often, there is a popular wave of interest in foods containing natural compounds believed to slow down or reverse the effects of ageing. In many cases such information reaching the public is distorted through the individual or combined effects of dubious research, inaccurate reporting, and advertising hype. Because the desire to prolong youthfulness is generally strong, many of us become vulnerable to a whole range of suggestions and recommendations that are both impractical and unlikely to be effective. To protect ourselves, it must be remembered that no food (or nutritional supplement) is particularly valuable on its own.
Effective nutrition is a complex science since it necessarily involves combinations of many different foods and each outcome is considerably influenced by a range of lifestyle factors.
Organic fruit and vegetables
In many respects, an abundance of raw fruit and vegetables taken with every meal is the best approach for those in search of rejuvenation. When an effort is made to obtain the freshest, organically certified produce available, there is little doubt that the potential for maximum longevity will be increased. After several months of raw salads, the body will adapt toward a higher level of efficiency. Physical energy and vitality should increase provided that some balance is maintained with the other essential food groups. Why should raw fruit and vegetables be so good for health, vitality, and physical appearance? To begin with, they require less effort to digest, enabling additional resources to be allocated to restoring and rejuvenating the body. If a salad contains a sufficiently wide variety of fresh produce, with a range of distinct colours, there will almost certainly be a comprehensive allocation of essential vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and fibre. In certain cases, the only additions required for balanced nutrition will be modest quantities of lean protein and some of the beneficial fats and oils. With the exception of avocado, most fruit and vegetables are extremely low in fat. Avocadoes contain beneficial oils which actually lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
High quality nutrient-dense grains and cereals
Complex carbohydrates in the form of whole grains and cereals are required for sustained energy and to provide protein and anti-oxidant minerals including zinc, calcium, magnesium, and selenium. Organically certified crops contain higher yields of uncontaminated protein and essential fatty acids, making them a safer choice for concerned individuals. The grain most frequently consumed in the western diet tends to be wheat, which should be replaced as much as possible with a number of alternatives including organically certified rice, oats, corn, millet, and quinoa. These alternative grains are easier to digest and less likely to contribute to allergies and intolerance. Quinoa, originating from South America, has a particularly high protein content, approximately twice that of rice. Unlike many other grains, quinoa is quick to prepare and feels light in the stomach.
Protein is essential for tissue repair, and is used to produce hormones like insulin, which regulate bodily function. To promote optimum vitality and longevity, it is preferable to choose widely available sources of plant or vegetable protein and aim to reduce the dependence on animal sources.
Consuming high quantities of animal protein is understood to contribute to low vitality and premature ageing. Unless taken in small portions, meat products are particularly difficult to digest and likely to spoil within the intestinal tract, introducing destructive toxins and bacterial compounds to the bloodstream.
Prior to purchasing, there is the separate issue of unsafe or questionable practices routinely applied in most conventional livestock production. These include the widespread use of antibiotics, artificial growth hormones, and residual contaminants from pesticide treatments on pasture and stockfeed. As these problems become increasingly apparent, there is, understandably an accelerated growth in consumer demand for free range and organically certified meat and dairy products. The basic principle of organic livestock production is a simple one. Adequate protection for soil and environment is the safest, most effective means for improving the health and productivity of livestock.
Unless excluded for medical reasons, it is acceptable for most fit individuals to consume small quantities of organically certified dairy produce. While whole milk, cream, butter, cheeses, and yoghurt all contain significant percentages of saturated fats; they remain a valuable source of natural calcium, phosphorus and several vitamins. Some individuals are born with or proceed to develop intolerance to lactose proteins in cows’ milk. With an appropriate medical or dietary supervision, it may be possible to substitute an organically certified goat or sheep milk. Mediterranean cultures have traditionally employed goat and sheep milk to make a nutritious range of yoghurts, and fermented cheese products.
Vegetable proteins include those found in organically certified soya products, many varieties of nuts and grains, and the legumes such as peas, beans, and lentils. Soya milk is now widely accepted as a healthy dairy substitute. It is high in protein, low in fat, and contains important trace minerals along with dietary fibre. Since most of the cheaper brands are derived from genetically modified and heavily sprayed beans, it is worthwhile investigating the labels, and choosing organically certified whenever possible.
Cold-pressed vegetable oils
Despite a history of negative association, fats or lipids are essential for optimal health and wellbeing. Their role in bodily function includes the maintenance of cellular stability, insulation and protection for vital organs, joints, and nerves, and as storage for reserve energy.
Nutritional therapists make an important distinction between the unhealthy fats which are saturated and the healthy ones which are monounsaturated. Saturated fats include most of the animal fats, particularly those found in meat, dairy products, and processed foods. Coconut and palm oil are saturated fats derived from plants. Both oils are widely used in a range of processed foods including cakes, biscuits, pastries, and toasted cereals. It is a good idea to restrict the intake of all these saturated fats, since they contribute to vascular disease which progressively damages tissue and organs by restricting an effective blood supply. Choosing to prioritise monounsaturated fats will actually lower the risk of vascular disease. These healthy oils are obtained from cold pressed plant material including olives, flaxseed, grapeseed, and avocado. The other important sources of healthy oils are coldwater fish like tuna, cod, sardines, and mackerel.
Control sugar intake and sources
Due to increased promotion of fast foods, convenience foods, flavoured drinks, processed cereals, and other snacks, it is estimated that an average sixteen year old will consume approximately one kilogram of sugar every week. This amount will typically decrease and stabilise with age, however it remains a fact that most adults exceed the recommended limits for their age and lifestyle.
Excess dietary sugar contributes to a number of health problems that are of increasing concern to medical authorities. The most publicised of these is presently adult onset diabetes. This serious metabolic condition arises most frequently in later decades of life, although a trend toward increased prevalence within younger populations seems to be emerging. Adult diabetes is diagnosed when blood sugar periodically exceeds the normal range. In healthy individuals, cells within the pancreas produce the hormone insulin, which regulates blood sugar within safe limits. There is a normal tendency for the pancreas to become less efficient with age and most elderly people will have a decreased sugar tolerance, even in the absence of any clinically diagnosed condition. Most of the complications of diabetes relate to metabolic toxins which build up contributing to cellular damage. When untreated, these toxins will adversely affect functional capacity of major body systems including sensory organs, the heart, and circulatory vessels.
Unlike organic brown sugar or molasses syrup, highly refined white sugars contain no nutrients to offset their calories. Other sources of sweetness such as organic honey, fruit, and nectar contain a blend of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes which can be used by the body.
In order to reduce the intake of sugar, it is essential to become aware of the hidden sources. Most processed foods are saturated with refined sugar. This includes but is not limited to biscuits, cereals, snack bars, sauces and condiments, infant preparations, flavoured chips, drinks, and soups. The other main sources of sugar are alcohol, takeaway foods, supermarket frozen dinners, and rich desserts such as chocolate, pastries, custard, and ice cream. Since sweetness is applied to conceal blandness of flavour, the most effective way to control sugar intake is preparing meals at home, using tasty, wholesome ingredients.