Hippocrates said, ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’ Is it true that you are what you eat? And is it possible to move from dis-ease to ease and enjoy a life of longevity through the foods you consume?
Yesterday I was sitting on the couch with my partner chowing down on rice cakes. I was bragging to him about how much lighter I’ve been feeling since cutting wheat out of my diet, and congratulating myself on this amazing new lifestyle change. He looked at me quizzically and announced, ‘You know those rice cakes are highly processed.’ I stared back at him, defensive, and protested, ‘They’re just rice. Brown rice. They’re good for you.’ He disagreed, telling me about a study where two groups of rats lived on either rice cakes or cardboard. Apparently the cardboard eaters outlived the rice cake group (I never did find any evidence of this alleged study, but that was after I’d well and truly lost the debate). I frantically started Googling, hoping to find something that legitimised my belief that I was making a healthy snack choice. Much to my dismay, all I found was article after article about how I would be better off with bread – at least it has some fibre. I sulked out of the room and was mad at my partner for ruining my ignorant bliss (and just, you know, being right).
Food comes with so much baggage. And, let’s be honest, there’s a hell of a lot of information out there that pulls us in a million different directions. We know that eating crap leaves us depleted and diseased, and that the right combination of foods has the potential to inspire longevity, health and happiness. But how do we find it?
Where many doctors advocate for medicine to support health, Dr. Michael Greger believes that health and longevity comes down to diet and lifestyle. Greger is a physician and best selling author of books including How Not to Die, he exposes the medical community for their ulterior motives. He explains that some doctors are not paid for the time they spend counselling their patients on diet and lifestyle. They are, however, incentivised to prescribe pills and prescriptions (at least this is the case in the US). This does not give doctors a reason to treat the underlying causes of their patients’ diseases, but rewards quantity over quality.
Greger is the founder of nutritionfacts. org – a strictly non-commercial, science-based public service that provides free resources on the latest in nutrition research. Here, he mostly advocates for a diet that’s rich in plant-based whole foods and explores the enormous amount of research that provides insight into what we should and shouldn’t eat. Long story short – there’s no easy approach. There’s a lot of research to delve through, but the gist of it is this: enjoy a diet that’s rich in plant-based foods and, as much as you can, limit your consumption of meat and dairy.
Before you dismiss Greger as judgey and self-righteous (which, let’s be real, some vegans can be), know that he’s simply presenting the research. He cites all of the studies that he refers to, giving readers the opportunity to do their own independent research and make up their own minds. He offers practical suggestions for how to cook meat in a way that is less carcinogenic. He even explains the importance of not going overboard with the greens (bye bye green smoothies) to prevent kidney stones through overdosing on oxalates (present in spinach, chard, beetroot greens and more). It’s clear that he’s not simply following the trends of today, but seeking the truth.
Liz Dene, a senior lecturer in Nutritional Medicine at the Australian College of Natural Medicine and Torrens University, an exercise scientist and qualified nutritionist, agrees with Dr. Greger that “having a diet that is rich in plant-based foods helps to gain most of the antioxidants that are needed for a healthy diet.” This will, she explains, assist with prevention of disease and aid in the recovery of some health issues, especially those linked to long-term inflammation.
Some doctors are not paid for the time they spend counselling their patients on diet and lifestyle. They are, however, incentivised to prescribe pills and prescriptions.
When asked what the number one superfood she would recommend is, Dene answers simply: cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. She says, “Olive oil contains a range of good mono-unsaturated fats and phenolic compounds which have been proven to increase HDL, the good cholesterol whilst reducing LDL, our bad cholesterol.” She goes on to explain that olive oil is wonderful for reducing inflammation, decreasing oxidative stress (an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body) and reducing blood pressure.
Let’s take a closer look at the latest research on food that is said to reverse ailments.
PLANT BASED FOR HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
High blood pressure is one of the main risk factors for death. Greger explains that in order to live a long and healthy life this is something we must address. In the western world, as we age our blood pressure tends to go up. However, in parts of rural Kenya and China, research shows that blood pressure actually goes down with age. Why? Dr. Greger credits it to the traditional diets that are plant-based, with meat eaten only on special occasions. This suggestion is supported by research from the American Heart Association, who has found plant-based eaters are the only people whose blood pressure goes down with age. Further studies suggest that it’s not all or nothing. You don’t need to be strictly plant-based to receive the benefits. Dr. Greger says, “Any movement we can make along the spectrum towards healthier eating can accrue significant health benefits.” According to the research, however, the best way to minimise blood pressure is to minimise meat. For more information on this study and more, see www.nutritionfacts.org
BLUEBERRIES FOR CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE
A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition illustrated that eating a cup of blueberries every day can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 15 per cent. The research team found that blueberries have a positive effect on metabolic syndrome – a condition that includes at least three of the following: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, low levels of good cholesterol, high levels of triglycerides and excess fat around the waist. Metabolic syndrome significantly increases the risk of heart disease, as well as stroke and diabetes. Co-leader of the study, Dr. Peter Curtis, said, “We found that eating one cup of blueberries per day resulted in sustained improvements in vascular function and arterial stiffness – making enough of a difference to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by between 12 and 15 per cent… The simple and attainable message is to consume one cup of blueberries daily to improve cardiovascular health.” For the full study, see ‘Blueberries improve biomarkers of cardiometabolic function in participants with metabolic syndrome—results from a 6-month, double-blind, randomized controlled trial’ at www.academic.oup.com
WHITE TEA FOR CANCER
According to a recent study that looked at colon cancer, white tea has antioxidant and antiproliferative effects against cancer cells and, at the same time, protects normal cells against DNA damage. Researchers concluded that regular intake of white tea can help maintain good health and protect the body against disease. In the study, the white tea (Silver needle, KWF Food Industries, China) was prepared by placing 2g of leaves in 100ml of distilled, boiling water and then brewed for five minutes. For more details, see www.sciencedirect.com and look for a study titled ‘White tea (Camellia sinensis) inhibits proliferation of the colon cancer cell line, HT-29, activates caspases and protects DNA of normal cells against oxidative damage.’
Overwhelming, right? As well as an almost indigestible amount of (sometimes conflicting) information and research available, there’s really no one-size-fits-all approach. What works for one person might not work for the next; we’re all made a little differently. It’s important to come back to your intuition, and remember why we eat: for sustenance and for joy! Food is part of the fabric of our culture and our relationships with others, so it’s important that we allow it to nourish us, not force us into a constant state of fear over whether or not we’re making the ‘right’ decision.
7 SCIENCE-BACKED SUPERFOODS
- Ginger has a long list of research-backed benefits including: preventing and alleviating nausea and vomiting, improving morning sickness in early pregnancy, relieving menstrual pain and helping with migraines.
- Sesame seeds contain anti-inflammatory compounds which researchers suggest may treat various inflammatory diseases such as osteoarthritis.
- Beans have been shown to produce a drop in resting heart rate that matches time on the treadmill.
- A number of randomised controlled trials showed that vitamin D supplements may reduce the risk of dying from cancer.
- Turmeric decreases hematuria, proteinuria and systolic blood pressure – all present in those suffering from lupus kidney inflammation.
- According to in vitro studies, pomegranate extract can suppress the growth of prostate cancer cells by up to 95 per cent.
- Walnuts take the lead with the highest antioxidant and omega-3 levels in terms of suppressing cancer cell growth according to in vitro studies.