Do you want to know what the longest living humans on earth are eating?
Are you wanting to help manage or reduce the severity of a current health concern you might have?
Or are you just wanting to eat a diet that you know is optimum for your long-term health and well-being?
Here is some information from our resident Lifestyle Medicine Practitioner Robyn Chuter, on the benefits of eating a wholefood plant-based diet and the correlation between diet and the longest lived humans on earth from the 5 'BlueZones'.
Benefits of eating a WFPBD for optimal health
Optimal health is not merely the absence of disease, but a state of physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual well-being. To gain and maintain this level of health, you need to be getting the right amount of sleep, moving your body regularly, nourishing your mind and soul with fulfilling relationships and purposeful work, drinking clean water, and fuelling your body with the highest quality food that’s ideally suited to the unique anatomy and physiology of human beings.
A wholefood, organically-grown plant-based diet provides that high quality fuel in the perfect form. Whole plant foods - comprising fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices - contain:
- Plentiful healthy carbohydrates, ‘packaged’ in a form that provides long-lasting energy for your body and brain, while maintaining stable blood glucose levels.
- High quality protein for building and maintaining lean tissue (muscles and bones).
- Essential fatty acids, for glowing skin, brain health and fine-tuned immune function.
- A rich diversity of fibre and other indigestible carbohydrates, to nourish your microbiome which in turn keeps you functioning at your peak.
- Abundant vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals, without which the myriad of activities required to produce energy from our food, detoxify and excrete wastes, defend ourselves against invaders, repair after injury, and keep chronic disease at bay, simply grind to a halt.
The science behind a WFPBD
When scientists went looking for the longest-lived humans on Earth, they found unusually high concentrations of healthy, active centenarians in five locations. These longevity hotspots have become known as ‘Blue Zones’. The five Blue Zones - Loma Linda in southern California, the Okinawa prefecture in Japan, the Nicoya peninsula of Costa Rica, the Greek island of Ikaria, and a cluster of mountain villages in Sardinia - are geographically distant from each other and their inhabitants are culturally and genetically distinct. However, they share certain common features, among which is a dietary pattern that is centred on whole plant foods that are grown organically and prepared in traditional ways.
For example, the inhabitants of Loma Linda, who follow the Seventh Day Adventist faith which endorses a plant-based diet, live an average of 10 years longer than their fellow Americans - despite living just an hour’s drive away from heavily-polluted Los Angeles.
Japan has the highest life expectancy at birth of any nation on Earth, yet Okinawa, the poorest prefecture in Japan, previously enjoyed a significant longevity advantage over the rest of the Japanese population. Back in 1949, foods of animal origin (fish, dairy products, eggs and meat) contributed less than 4% of the average Okinawan’s daily intake. Sadly, younger Okinawans have adopted a Western-type dietary pattern. Average meat intake now tops 100 g per day, vegetable and legume intake have dropped sharply, and rates of heart attack and stroke have shot up while the life expectancy at birth in Okinawa has plummeted.
Unsurprisingly, the same dietary pattern that promotes a long, healthy life, also reduces the risk of, treats, and even reverses some of the most common and troubling chronic diseases that plague Australians today, including coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases (such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and multiple sclerosis), gallbladder disease, high blood pressure and gastroesophageal reflux disease - just to name a few!
The science is clear: if you wish to enjoy optimal health now, and to ‘die young, as late as possible’ like the residents of the Blue Zones, choosing a diet that comprises mostly or entirely minimally processed plant foods is critical.
What does an ‘Optimal Health’ Meal Plan look like for the average Australian? (% of protein, carbs, fat, macro/micro nutrients)
Research on health and longevity, including that conducted in Blue Zones populations, demonstrates several key facts:
- Limiting (or eliminating) your intake of animal protein is critical. Animal protein drives several key pathways of the aging process. Put simply, the more animal protein you consume, the faster you will age at a biological level. On the other hand, plant proteins do not drive this accelerated aging process, and replacing animal proteins with plant proteins decreases the risk of dying prematurely.
- When it comes to carbohydrates, and fats, it’s quality that matters, rather than quantity. There is a wide range of intakes of carbohydrates and fats among the residents of the different Blue Zones, with the traditional Okinawan diet comprising just 6% of calories from fat, and 85% from carbohydrate, while in Ikaria close to 50% of calories come from fat. However, most of the fat eaten by the majority of Blue Zones residents is derived from plant foods, rather than animal foods. And the carbohydrates are from whole plant foods - starchy vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fruits - rather than refined sugar and flour.
- Overeating is bad news for health. All traditional Blue Zones diets are lower in energy intake than typical Western diets, despite the higher physical activity levels of these healthy superagers. Eating more calories than your body needs, turns on biological aging processes that make you old before your time. Fortunately, a wholefood plant-based diet makes it easy to avoid over consuming calories, because its high fibre and water content makes you feel fuller sooner, and for longer.
- The phytochemicals found in abundance in minimally processed plant foods - such as sulforaphane from broccoli, resveratrol from red grapes, and polyphenols from berries and cacao - improve every aspect of your health, from immunity to brain function to liver detoxification to cancer prevention - and slow down biological aging.
Quite simply, if you want to live your best life now and enjoy optimal health into your 80s, 90s and beyond, a wholefood plant-based diet is the only way to eat!