Diet is perhaps the most critical aspect of living a long, sustainable, healthy life. There is an extreme amount of diet variety, so how do you know which one is for you? While diet matters, it might not be what you think it is.
You can travel around the globe and find out many different techniques countries, cities, and even individuals use to maintain a healthy diet. Yet, before we dive into the thousands of ways we can eat better, we must start with the most simple of terms when it comes to diet, intake. Firstly, we can look at how much you eat.
What is your discipline level in terms of portion control? Do you have any limitations, or do you eat until you have a food baby? Don’t fret; if you chose the latter, then you’re like me. I’ve tried to get better at portion control over the years because I know I don’t always need to eat until I feel like I can’t breathe. Of course, this is due to having food readily available to me that others don’t always have, and for that, I am grateful.
However, the older I get, the more I’ve become serious about my diet. I haven’t eaten fast food in probably eight years. But that was only one step in me obtaining a better diet. I still struggle with eating too many starches and calorie-filled dishes, such as bread or fries. It’s something I almost do naturally now. I love my turkey sandwiches for lunch and my burger and fries for dinner. But if I genuinely wish to live a long healthy life, my diet will need to evolve just like my gym workouts do.
For example, as you get older, your body can’t perform the same athletic functions it once did when you were younger. Your muscles, tendons, and bones naturally weaken over time, resulting in your athletic prowess decreasing. When this happens to professional athletes, do you know what they do? They evolve. They modify their game to focus more on specific regions of their craft that they know they can perform at a high level.
A terrific example would be NBA great, Michael Jordan. The older Jordan got, the less athleticism he had, therefore, the more he focused on his post-up game. He started to focus more on his technical ability as a basketball player on the post, rather than relying solely on his ability to jump high and maneuver so quickly. In this same way, our diets must evolve. The older we get, the less our body can handle processed, sugar-filled foods.
You see, your diet always matters, but it isn’t as dire when you’re younger. One could argue it is just as dire when you’re younger because what you do then will set the stage for what you do as an adult. But generally speaking, a younger person’s body handles unhealthy foods better. It’s why when you get older, and all of a sudden have high blood pressure, the first thing your doctor brings up is diet.
It’s not all about calories
Contrary to popular belief, calories can be useful for humans. Good calories contain protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. Yes, there is such a thing as healthy fats. The diet market is saturated with names such as ketogenic, mediterranean, vegetarian, and vegan. Yet, with mainstream diet conversation comes a long-running misinformed piece of advice, don’t eat calories.
If that’s the first advice you get from a trainer or weight loss expert, run while you still can, because it couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s not that you can’t eat calories or must reduce them to 100 a day, it’s that, as with most things in life, you should only consume them in moderation. More specifically, what matters is the calorie count in comparison to the nutritional value you are getting from them.
Consuming 100 calories of Coca Cola versus 100 calories of orange juice is still 100 calories. But it’s about the nutritional value of those 100 calories you are consuming. The Coke is made up mainly of sugar and has very little nutritional value. Whereas, the orange juice is rich in vitamin C, folate, and potassium. Additionally, it is high in antioxidants and can help boost your immune system and play a role in heart health.
Yet, even nutrient-filled foods such as peanut butter and avocados can become problematic if you overeat. It’s where portion control becomes such an important factor within your diet. You’ll often hear from many health gurus to drop the bread. Once again, that couldn’t be further from the truth when you look at studies conducted on health over the past 50 years. Just as important as portion control is the type of bread or any other food you consume. There are meats labeled with 90% lean meat, 10% fat or 70% lean meat, 30% fat. Which one do you think is going to be better for you?
But we’re not just talking about labels here, we’re talking about ingredients. You know, all the words you can’t pronounce or don’t know the meaning of when you check the back of whatever food you buy. It’s as critical to purchase food that isn’t littered with tons of GMOs and pesticides. Although there aren’t many direct studies, they have been linked to an increase in the likelihood of having health-related issues, even cancer. From a base level, we can view it as an unnatural process, in which we spray foods with a mist so they can have a longer shelf life.
It brings to light the last crucial component of a healthy diet, locally sourced food. Have you ever heard of blue zones? They are zones on the planet with the highest concentrations of centenarians. A centenarian is someone who lives to be 100 years old. Over the past 30 years, many researchers have become intrigued by these places. Some have even dedicated their whole lives to studying what makes these individuals live so long. It’s not just a coincidence or happenstance, either. It’s undoubtedly a stable trend. There are seven blue areas altogether, two examples being Sardinia, Italy and Okinawa, Japan.
Specifically, in Sardinia, so many families have individuals living well into their 90’s or even 100’s. They can also trace many of these people back on a family tree, showing that many are related. Researchers state there is a genetic aspect; however, the more you learn about these families, the more you know it isn’t purely genetics that leads to a long, healthy life.
The most perplexing facet here is the diet of many people who live in Sardinia, Italy. It contains mostly pasta and vegetables. While most health-minded people would agree on vegetables being one of the keys to sustaining a healthy life, many would cut out the calorie-filled pasta. But, as mentioned earlier, all calories aren’t bad. These individuals are a prime example of how calories can be so critical to a well-balanced diet. As we look at how much pasta they consume, we must look at how they do so.
Perhaps more important than any other aspect in the pasta and vegetable diet of Sardinians is that it is locally sourced. Meaning they don’t import any of the pasta or vegetables they eat. Instead, they plant, grow, cook, and eat them. Talk about farm to table. The United States imports roughly 15% of its food. That’s not too bad considering the amount of food America consumes relative to other countries. However, much of the food we make ourselves gets sent on a long journey around the country.
Most vegetables lose 30% of nutrients three days after harvest. Let’s think about that for a minute. Idaho produces the most potatoes of any state in the country, and Indiana produces the second most tomatoes out of any state in the country. Yet, those vegetables get shipped all around the United States. It takes days, and sometimes weeks, for those vegetables to get loaded on a truck, driven around the country, unloaded at a grocery store, put on a rack to sit until they are purchased by you, cooked at your house, and consumed by you. Talk about the opposite of farm to table.
The longer almost any food sits around, the less healthy it becomes for you to consume it. One of the best examples of locally sourced food done right is in Sardinia. Researchers have studied the area for years and most certainly found a link to consumers harvesting, preparing, and ultimately consuming their food locally, including pasta. Which goes to show you, it’s not just what you eat but where it’s grown and how long it takes to get to you.
In this way, Sardinians don’t feel the need to spray their vegetables with pesticides, since they eat them as fresh as possible. I want to become more knowledgeable about the food I put into my body and its origins. After all, my body is my temple, and I want to take good care of it. That way, I can still enjoy life well into old age. My goal is to grow in this aspect of life and pay more attention to what I consume, and I hope you will too.