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Why Western Diets Lower Your Life Expectancy

November 16, 2016
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The reason why other cultures live longer than the majority of us in the west? It all comes down to something that all of us do every day—eat. In fact, our “Western” diets and appetites may be what is lowering our life expectancy in comparison to areas around the world sustaining life past their nineties. So if you want to stay on this Earth a little longer, perhaps you should pack your bags and take a trip—or at least broaden your palate while at home. Longevity hotspots around the world are known as blue zones. They are in Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Ogliastra, Sardinia; Loma Linda, California; and the Nicoya peninsula, Costa Rica. The people here live long lives—often reaching years in the triple digits—largely free from any chronic diseases and often passing peacefully. They also boast the largest number of centenarians in the world. Being generally healthy and active is a large contributor to this longevity, but clues have started to indicate that the specific diets of the areas may be the final key to living long and prospering. In Ikaria, Greece alone the people experience 20% less cancer, almost no dementia, 50% less heart disease and the people tend to live eight years longer than most Americans. While the elderly in Okinawa, Japan can be found hiking up the nearby mountains for their daily exercise. Our Western appetites are used to and desire processed foods and this cultural addiction has been linked to cancer, obesity and diabetes. The fundamentals of the blue zone diet rely primarily on minimally processed plant foods. The centenarian-filled communities primarily consume foods with simple core ingredients like wholegrains, vegetables, fiber and a form of protein—mostly fish. So what can we take from these communities and use in our cooking back home? Here is list of tips for longevity from the blue zones:
  • Cut-up and mix meat into the dish so it isn’t the central part of the meal
  • Eat your meals early and not in excess, blue zoners generally only eat what they need in a few, light meals.
  • Spicing things up can be beneficial to your health. Both turmeric and ginger have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.
  • Be more agrarian. Producing your own food not only keeps you active but ensures that your food is as fresh as possible.
  • Take a page from tapas (or small plates) culture, eating smaller portions of more things.
The secret to living a long and healthy life isn’t exclusive to Greece, Asia or Costa Rica. Eating healthy and making smart, active life choices is easier than it seems and can be done back in the states. Try to incorporate fresh vegetables and fruit into your diet as you can while also minimizing meat intake and upping your daily dose of fiber. And, when you’re on vacation next time, remember that the best souvenir that you can take home from a trip may in fact be years of your life.
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