Health scientists and medical researchers have confirmed that there are areas of the world in which people have maximum life spans. These areas are coastal Asia, California, and the Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Sicily. People living in these areas tend to have lifestyles that have proven to contribute to longer-than-average lifestyles. Diet is a major component of these areas, and their diets can tell those of us outside of these areas how we should be eating now to prevent problems later in life. These are the earmarks of the diet that seems to promote the longest lifespan:
- Primarily semi-vegan. While strict veganism doesn’t seem to be required, consuming meats sparingly is strongly correlated with long lives. A semi-vegan diet bases meal in vegetables, fruits, beans and nuts, and uses animal meats and dairy products like cheese as condiments, rather than the focus of the meals. To increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, eliminate processed snack foods and replace them with fresh fruits and vegetables. Another healthier snack choice is trail mix containing only nuts and dried fruits. You can ease your family into a semi-vegan diet by observing ‘meatless Mondays’, and serve dishes that do not contain meat for Monday night dinners. Once your family members see that meat is not necessary for a yummy meal, they will be more receptive to further decreasing their meat intake.
- Significant consumption of fish. People who live in the areas of the world’s highest longevity rates live in close proximity to the ocean, and therefore eat fish at least twice per week. Fish is typically a lean source of high-quality protein. Fish contains some fat, but the fat that fish contains is far more beneficial to the human body than the fats found in other animal products. Fish contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids which benefit the heart, joints, and brain. To increase your intake of fish, substitute fish for 1-2 meals per week that might ordinarily center around red meat. For example, instead of hamburgers, serve salmon patties made from canned salmon.
- Light consumption of dairy. While dairy products provide calcium, protein and minerals that are vital for our bones, skin and muscles, once most of us are out of childhood, there’s no need for daily servings if we are eating an otherwise balanced diet. Many people assume that they should continue to drink lots of milk as they age to ward off osteoporosis, but studies show that milk consumption is not the only important nutritional variable in order to avoid bone fractures. In fact, studies show that those who have a diet low in sodium and high in fruits and vegetables have less risk for developing osteoporosis than those with daily dairy consumption. Dairy products also contain high levels of cholesterol and saturated fat, which none of us need in our diets. One easy way to decrease the amount of fatty dairy in your diets is to stop cooking in butter and use olive oil instead, a plant-based fat that is much more beneficial nutritionally than butter. If you drink milk, switch to skim milk or almond milk. Almond milk is nut-based and contains far fewer carbohydrates than cow milk.
- Occasional consumption of red meat. Red meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and iron. Many of us need more dietary iron as we age. The drawbacks of red meat are its strong correlations with colon cancer and type 2 diabetes. Proponents of red meat point out that when red meat is consumed in unrefined, unprocessed foods, it is much healthier Detractors of red meat point out that iron, protein and vitamins can be part of our diet with green, leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds. Grocery shoppers regardless of their feelings know that the price of red meat is higher than white meats, so decreasing the amounts of red meat in our diets will benefit us in more ways than one. Decrease your consumption of red meat by using it as a condiment, for example in pasta sauce over whole-grain pastas.
- Significant consumption of eggs. Eggs have been unfairly vilified as cholesterol bombs. In reality, eggs are inexpensive sources of quality protein, vitamins and minerals. Eggs do contain significant levels of cholesterol, but egg-based dishes a couple of times per week are beneficial to everyone except those who have been diagnosed with heart disease or cholesterol levels that are already dangerously elevated. If you’re thinking about incorporating eggs into your diet in a more meaningful level, ask your physician if you are in a risk group for heart disease or high cholesterol. If you are a good candidate to consume eggs a couple of times per week, serve a ‘breakfast for dinner’ meal once per week, with eggs, fruit and vegetables.
- Significant consumption of chicken. Chicken is an inexpensive source of animal protein that contains far less saturated fat and cholesterol than red meat products. Chicken is also high in tryptophan, which is a substance that relaxes the brain and can have antidepressant effects as well (similar to turkey). Chicken needs to be prepared very carefully, as it is a carrier of harmful bacteria that can cause grave illness when consumed. Be sure to observe careful food preparation standards when preparing chicken in any recipe.
- Drinking plenty of water. Drinking plenty of water has many health benefits. One of the lesser known benefits of water is calorie management – drinking the recommended amount of water each day makes us feel less hungry. Water also energizes our muscles and keeps our skin supple. When we consume 2-3 liters of water per day, our kidneys and bowels function optimally as well.
- Limiting alcohol consumption. In general, alcoholic beverages have little nutritional benefit. The most nutritionally valid choice of alcoholic beverages is wine, since it is pressed from grapes. The grapes give wine chemical compounds that benefit the heart when consumption is limited to 1-2 servings per day. Other alcoholic beverages have few nutritional benefits, if any.