Diet & Nutrition: The Dirty Dozen
Studies show that lifestyle factors affect long term health and longevity itself. A 2009 study from Harvard University, The Preventable Causes of Death in the United States, investigated 12 risk factors, establishing that good lifestyle choices, not just good genes, are key factors influencing life expectancy. And, new research, published in the online edition of The Lancet in October 2009 shows that losing weight and exercising can delay or prevent the onset of diabetes more effectively than prescription drugs.
To live your best life, eat well, exercise and limit the dirty dozen:
Cigarettes are the leading cause of preventable deaths. About 45,000 Canadians die from smoking each year. More women are now killed by lung cancer than breast cancer, states Dr. Aileen Burford-Mason, an expert advisor for Orthomolecular Health. Because cigarettes take about 20 years to kill most smokers, a dramatic rise in female smoking during the ’70s and ’80s is now reflected in the rates of women dying from smoking-related cancer.
2. A diet low in dietary omega-3 fatty acids (seafood)
The average Canadian diet is woefully low in fish, shellfish and other seafood. Studies have suggested that foods with omega-3 fatty acids, a polyunsaturated fat, can reduce the risk of coronary artery disease. They’re also sometimes called brain food, for reducing memory problems typical of aging and helping prevent dementia.
ï¿½> Get combat ready Take an omega-3 supplement. There’s lots of buzz around krill oil, extracted from a shrimp-like marine animal, which is very high in omega-3s and may have beneficial antioxidant phytochemicals. For vegetarians, algae are a good source of omega-3 and other nutrients.
> Nutrition strategy Salmon, sardines and herring are high in omega-3 and low in mercury.
3. A diet low in dietary poly-unsaturated fatty acids
There are two main families of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which the body needs in balanced quantities: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Replacing saturated fatty acids (the main dietary source of high cholesterol) with these polyunsaturated fatty acids reduces the risk of heart disease.
5. A diet high in trans fatty acids
Trans fatty acids, or partially hydrogenated oils, are created by a process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. They’re particularly bad for your cholesterol levels because they raise LDL (bad cholesterol) and lower HDL (good cholesterol). Dr. Natasha Turner of ClearMedicine (www.clearmedicine.com) recommends not cutting all fats from your meals — some are good fats — as this will trigger food cravings. Pick trans-fat free products that list liquid canola and olive oil in the ingredients.
> Get combat ready Don’t eat anything labelled hydrogenated on the nutrition label. All physical exercise raises HDL levels. That’s as simple as walking your dog.
> Nutrition strategy “Add one to two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil every single day,” says Turner. “Eat more vegetables and fruit, fish and other seafood, whole grain breads and cereals, beans, lentils and nuts.”
> Nutrition strategy Protein, low-fat dairy, vegetables and modest amounts of good fats help lose fat and build muscle.
7. HighLDL (bad) cholesterol
Cholesterol and triglycerides are two forms of fat (lipid) that circulate in your blood. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol, builds up in arteries, reducing blood flow and increasing risk of heart attack or stroke. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL (good) cholesterol, moves LDL cholesterol to the liver for removal.
Eating too much salt can raise blood pressure. People with high blood pressure are at increased risk for stroke, heart attack and heart failure. The average Canadian consumes nearly 3,100 milligrams of sodium a day, according to Statistics Canada, one-third more than the daily recommended maximum. Burford-Mason adds, “It’s not just that we’re eating too much salt but that we are deficient in magnesium, which is necessary for controlling sodium absorption by cells.”
> Get combat ready Drop packaged processed foods. Incorporate aerobic exercise into your day.
>Nutrition strategy A low sodium diet of 200 to 300 milligrams per meal (200 milligrams equals 1/8 teaspoon of table salt). Add potassium- and magnesium-rich leafy greens, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetable to your diet. Take a daily magnesium glycinate supplement of 350 milligrams for women, 420 milligrams for men.
> Nutrition strategy Current acceptable daily levels are one to two drinks for women, two to three drinks for men. “Healthy proteins and carbohydrate foods with supplements like Tyrosine, B vitamins, essential fatty acids and borage oil are beneficial for controlling the cravings of addictions,” adds Turner.
10. High blood pressureï¿½
Around the mid-30s, blood pressure starts creeping up in both men and women. “Roughly 20 per cent of Canadians have this condition that hardens flexible arteries, strains the heart and can cause an aneurysm or stroke,” explains Dr. Andy Wielgosz, a cardiologist professor at the University of Ottawa and spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation (www.heartandstroke.ca).
11. A diet low in fruits and vegetables
Most Canadians fall far short of the seven daily servings of fruits and vegetables recommended by Health Canada for adults over 50. Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, fibre and powerful antioxidants to counteract age-related damage to the heart, arteries and other tissues. At this age, some people may experience changes in digestion and bowel habits. Dietary fibre from fruits and vegetables will help to reduce your risk of constipation and improve bowel habit and health.
> Get combat ready “A fruit smoothie drink delivers two to three servings of fruits immediately. And eat a salad with your lunch and dinner,” suggests Turner.
> Nutrition strategy Incorporate a wide variety of multi-coloured fruits and vegetables into your diet.