It may begin with noticing grey hair, struggling to read a menu, or stiffness in the joints upon wakening, growing old certainly sneaks up on us but it doesn’t mean you have to succumb to giving into it. If you approach aging with intention there is evidence, that you can slow down and even reverse the body clock. The best anti-aging secrets lie in the foods we eat and the habits we choose. In the ‘blue zone’, regions of the world, where people tend to live longer lives, reaching up to age 90 and even age 100 and beyond is not uncommon. What is common is blue zone residents have access to pesticide-free fruit and vegetables, processed foods/ pre-made foods are non-existent, and they nurture their bodies with healthful recipes. This can come somewhat easy to those living in remote, laid-back areas but what this does is provide us with ideas on how to translate these values to Australians.
On the flip side, there is a growing trend of ‘longevity hackers, those who use the best scientific insights to help slow down aging in order to improve their lifespan and health. By using themselves as guinea pigs they try data-driven hacks or ‘biohacking’ to turn back the clock. Although this is an extreme way of looking at things there is merit in the thought that we can slow down aging to achieve body self-optimisation.
In order of finding a balance between the two, I know living life into old age with vigor, and vitality and being free of ailments sounds far more appealing than not. Health is wealth, so what are some simple ideas we can take into our daily lives that will help us live out our years with longevity and quality?
- Eat more plants
Increasing the amount of plant-based foods in your diet has many positive effects. Not only does it crowd out the chances of consuming too much animal protein (prevalent in Western diets) but also is our best ally against cancer and disease. Dark leafy greens such as kale, baby spinach, beets, beans, sweet potato, fruits, nuts and seeds, and wholegrains of the gluten-free variety (oats, barley, rice, corn) are all great examples of foods to eat more of.
- Limit meat
There is a safe level of meat consumption with anything overwhelmingly excessive in our diets said to be harsh on the body and reduce our longevity. Choose quality protein over quantity in aid to consuming a wide range of amino acids by choosing free-range chicken, lamb, or pork. Game meats such as kangaroo and venison are low in fat, high in iron, and are free roaming so not dosed with hormones and pesticides.
Aim to keep servings in check by using your palm as a guide, so half a chicken breast, the height of a deck of cards for beef, pork, or lamb. Put aside two days a week for meat alternatives such as fish, beans or lentils, or tofu, and avoid processed meats such as hotdogs, ham, bacon, sausages, or fatty beef cuts.
Eggs in moderation (two-four a week) that are free range offer complete protein, minerals, and vitamins. There are studies that show correlations to higher rates of prostate cancer in men and kidney problems in women but I’ll leave this one to individual circumstances and research.
- Decrease Dairy
Cheese, cream, butter, and milk does not feature highly in blue zone diets for good reason. The human digestive system is not geared toward the consumption of dairy with it being found nearly 60% of the population struggles to digest the ever-present enzyme, lactose. For decades we have been drilled by clever marketing we need dairy to help meet our calcium requirements but if there is a focus geared towards plant-based alternatives this will cover our bases. An example of this is that 2/3’s a cup of tofu will give as much bioavailable calcium as a cup of milk.
Dairy alternative milk such as soy, almond, or coconut matches regular milk for protein and look to cheese made from goats or sheep when a craving hits.
- Sugar be Gone
The World Health Organisation recommends consuming no more than 6-8 tsp of added sugar daily (does not include fruit sugar). Quickly doing a tally of how much sugar you may be consuming daily could easily go into the high twenties or even thirties once a bowl of cereal is consumed for breakfast, a muffin for morning tea, sugar in your coffee, and heavy sauce meals for dinner – not to mention dessert!
A good rule of thumb is to avoid products that list sugar in the first 5 ingredients. Soft drinks, smoothies, and juices are high in sugar and will leave you feeling hungry not long after. Reach for fresh fruit to squash a sweet tooth or use honey in your tea. Blue Zonians enjoy honey for its anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and antimicrobial properties but of course, it is eaten mindfully with intention.
Eating a diet that is focused on wholefoods with minimally added sugars being mindful of meat, dairy, and gluten, and choosing products that contain no more than five ingredients if buying from a store is going to go a long way in providing energy, vibrancy to live a long life with health and intention.