Last night (18/6/17) Chanel 7 presented on their Sunday Night program, a story titled Forever Young. It was enjoyable viewing, however, as a nutritionist, my mind was ticking over with thoughts of the questions I’m often asked by our customers in our cooking classes and clinic as well as the thought of millions of people starving themselves in order live longer and disease-free lives.
People tend to believe what they see and read in the media and whilst the story reported on what it could in the time slot it had, there are many factors that a show like this does not have time to cover. So, let me expand on this topic to provide you with information so you can make an educated decision before rushing off for an “anti-ageing pill”’ or starving yourself.
Four out of the five “Blue Zone’s” that were mentioned, where many of the residents live to over 100 years, are in coastal regions. Their intake of fresh seafood is higher than other areas which means that their intake of Omega 3 fatty acids is also higher. This nutrient has been repeatedly associated with healthy foetal development, lower risks of heart disease, good mental health and low cholesterol levels. It also plays an important role in reducing inflammation which is a critical component of cancer. The fifth town Loma Lima, is inland of Los Angeles, however the residents there follow a vegetarian diet and eat healthy amounts of nuts and grains which are also high in Omega 3.
Food sources of Omega 3
All seafood contains good amounts of Omega 3 with oily fish such as mullet, sardines, salmon, rainbow trout and bream having the highest quantities. Tinned seafood such as tuna, salmon, sardines, mussels, anchovies and oysters also contain good quantities of Omega 3. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that we eat seafood 2-3 times per week to get enough Omega 3 in our diets.
Plant based sources of Omega 3 include nuts and seeds, especially flax seed, walnuts and chia seeds. Some oils are also a good source such as canola, soybean and vegetable oils, however the star of oils is Flax seed oil, containing more Omega 3 than some seafood. Flax seed oil can be found in the health food section of most supermarkets and whilst is more slightly more expensive than other oils, it can be added to juices and smoothies as well used in your favourite salad dressing (don’t use it for cooking).
All Blue Zone towns follow a diet that is predominantly high in grains, fruits and vegetables with minimal or zero amounts of meat. Whilst following a vegetarian diet is not for everyone, reducing your intake of meat will help reduce your risk of disease such as some cancers, especially colorectal cancer. If you haven’t heard of Meat Free Monday, it may be a good way to start reducing your intake of meat. The principal is simply to not eat meat every Monday. Get the whole family on board so they can help choose a meal that everyone will eat such as vegetarian lasagne or chilli con carne. You can substitute the mince with legumes such as red kidney beans or black beans.
I could not fast for five days, even on the promise of living an extra ten years and we saw that the reporter suffered from a range of negative side effects from not getting enough food in to him. We must remember that the study that was reported on was only one study. There were no other studies cited and it’s a big claim to make that people will live an extra ten, disease free years based on one study. This leads to other questions: at what age do you need to start fasting? At what age is it too late to start fasting? Are there any negative long-term effects of fasting? How can they promise that people will live an extra ten years DISEASE FREE? There are so many other factors that need to be taken into consideration such as genes, physical activity and other lifestyle habits such as alcohol consumption and smoking etc. Fasting for five days each year cannot guarantee a long and disease-free life.
Metformin is a drug given to those with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus to help control blood sugar levels. It was claimed that it also reduces the risk of cancer and heart disease by 30%. Did you know that regular physical activity also helps to control blood sugar levels? Excess blood sugar, also known as blood glucose, is stored in our liver and muscles and when we exercise, it forces the stored blood glucose out of the liver and muscles to be used for energy production, helping to control our blood sugar levels. Not only that, regular physical activity also reduces your risk of cancer and heart disease as well as cholesterol levels, blood pressure and stress levels (reducing stress related eating). It also strengthens your heart, improves breathing, flexibility, fitness, energy levels, balance and sleep. It has also been shown to be an effective treatment in those with anxiety and depression. So, if I had a choice of popping a pill daily or going for a 30-minute walk daily, I’d choose the latter every time.
Apart from eating a healthy diet, those that lived in the Blue Zones also lived physically active lives, spending significant times outside in the sunshine, getting their daily doses of Vitamin D which is important for overall health. It also helps to increase calcium absorption which is crucial for strong and healthy bones, reducing the number of bone fractures, especially broken hips during falls. Healthy Vitamin D levels also reduces your risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes (Types 1&2) and mental health conditions.
The BIG Picture
I am often asked by our customers about this food, that pill, this diet, that media article. People are so confused about leading healthy lives and they come to us for clarification. I always ask people to look at the big picture. If you’re concerned about the fibre being extracted when juicing, look at the other fibre sources you eat throughout the day. If you’re asking about eating more than two pieces of fruit per day, look at the other foods you are eating that contain sugar, such as cakes, chocolate and soft drinks. Look at the big picture rather than focusing on one food or one article. Stories like Forever Young are great viewing; however, they often overlook the big picture.
By eating a diet high in Omega 3, reducing your meat intake, eating a good variety of grains, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables and leading physically active lives, you increase your chance of leading happy and healthy lives well in to your 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and beyond. And this is what we, as Nutritionists and Dietitians, want for everyone.