Stay Younger, Longer Factor #1: Diet
So, you want to live forever?
Well, that might not realistically be in the cards, but it’s not too much to shoot for to at least get your fair share of healthy, vibrant existence, right? Nobody wants to get old, and we especially don’t want to get old too fast.
And while TV and movies have convinced the majority of us that health is mostly about really good-looking, heroic doctors rushing in and using science and lasers and scalpels and other extreme measures to save our butts at the last second, the reality is far, far different.
Health- real health- is mostly about maintenance.
Here’s the problem. Maintenance is boring. There aren’t going to be any movies made about health maintenance. Watch, as George Clooney races against time to find the strength to eat his vegetables!
Um… probably not.
But, that’s the real truth, folks. Health is about doing the right things for your body, day in, day out, every day, forever. Or at least, for as long as you want to keep that body of yours running.
Listen, I’m not saying you have to live like a monk and eat nothing but grass or something like that (in fact, don’t eat grass at all… that’s just gross). But, there are some key factors to focus in on that will pay serious dividends in both life span and life quality.
Let’s start with the Big Kahuna first. Your DIET. What you eat will greatly determine how long you live, how sick you get or don’t get, and how your body functions overall.
Oh, and by the way, we’re going to include everything you ingest in the same bucket as “diet”. So water, drugs and alcohol, cigarettes… if you take it in, we’re going to include it in our current discussion.
Diet is a huge topic, and we’re only going to touch on it for a few pages, so don’t expect an in-depth discussion of every facet of what you eat, drink, or otherwise take in. If you want more in-depth information, feel free to ask the doctor on your next visit.
IT STARTS WITH WATER
I know, I know, you were expecting me to start with talking about carbs or pesticides or something like that, and we will get to that… but like we just went over, our discussion on diet is going to include everything you ingest- and one greatly overlooked factor is water.
Your body is mostly water. It uses water as a coolant, solvent, transport medium… all kinds of stuff. And the first problem most people have with water is, not enough of it.
If you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. It takes a little while for the thirst mechanism to catch up with your body’s needs. And while our body is an expert at recycling and retaining water, we still end up losing a lot of it during the course of a normal day.
A good rule of thumb on water intake is to drink between 48 and 64 ounces of water a day. Another way to check is to see how dark your urine is- it should be a pale yellow or almost clear. If it’s a dark yellow, it’s a good sign that you’re not drinking enough.
But hold on. It isn’t just quantity that matters. Quality is important too.
Our water supplies are largely polluted by a number of sources. Industrial or agricultural runoff, discarded medications that have been tossed into the sewage system, and even chemicals used by water treatment facilities to disinfect the water.
As an example, many municipal water treatment facilities use chlorine to kill microscopic health threats, and that’s a good thing in principle. Dysentery (uncontrolled diarrhea) kills untold thousands in third-world nations every year, mostly due to unsanitary water conditions.
The problem is, that the chlorine stays in there, and it’s no good for us, either. No, it’s not toxic enough to kill us off right away, but it’s still a problem. So, the best solution is to filter it out before you drink it.
Filtered water is your best choice. Be wary of bottled “spring water”, which can, by law, just be water straight out of the tap. Distilled water must be purified by steam distillation. There are a number of home units or systems that can filter water, and filtered water is also available in bulk at some retail locations.
DIET: SIMPLER IS BETTER
Now that we’ve talked about what to drink, let’s talk about what to eat. Obviously, there is a vast amount of information on this subject, and we’ve got limited space, so don’t expect a comprehensive guide on all things nutrition… this is just an overview. If you’re burning to know more, feel free to ask when you come in for your next appointment.
When it comes to what you eat, the best strategy is to keep it simple. No, that doesn’t mean eating the same thing over and over again until you go crazy. It means, avoiding the refined and processed junk that chokes our supermarkets and sticking to food in its simplest form.
Humans are clever little critters. So clever that we can’t help from tinkering with this and that, trying to get things to line up a little bit more with exactly what we want. Unfortunately, sometimes, we end up being too clever by half. Meaning, we think we’re beating the system, but we’re really just beating ourselves.
Here’s what that translates to in a diet sense. We really, really like food that tastes a certain way. So, we’ve developed techniques to make food taste more like that. Plus, we’re smart enough to know that food might not be available when we want to eat it, so we’ve figured out ways to keep it from spoiling. Pat on the back for us.
Except… both of those refinements in our food change the chemical nature of the food itself, so that it no longer provides the nutrients it was supposed to provide in the first place. So now we’ve got plenty of food when we want it, and it tastes oh so very good, but it offers little to no nutritional value, which is why you’re supposed to be eating it in the first place.
Oops. Kind of shot ourselves in the food there, didn’t we?
WATCH OUT! CARBS!
A classic example of this is refined carbohydrates. Refined sugar and flour taste great, so great that we can’t seem to stop eating it! And it lasts, too, which is another huge bonus if you live in a world where starvation is an issue.
Here’s the problem. Our bodies have evolved to process carbohydrates in a certain form. That natural form is typically mixed in with a lot of other stuff like fiber- think of an apple. Yes, there’s sugar in there, but there are also a lot of vitamins, and this relatively inert material called fiber that slows the whole digestion process down.
Then we clever humans come along, yank out all of that filler material, and guzzle down apple juice, or some other refined sugar or carbohydrate… and now there’s nothing to slow down the digestion of sugar to a pace that’s manageable for our body. It’s like pouring jet fuel into a diesel engine; it’s not what the mechanism is designed for, and so we basically blow out the system.
We do it with other stuff, as well. Cocaine in its natural form is a mild stimulant. Where the plant naturally grows, the locals chew the green leaves throughout the day and use it like a cup of coffee. Then a too-clever-by-half fellow figured out how to remove all the filler material that slows the process down, and you’re left with an incredibly powerful narcotic that’s ruined lives and allowed the Miami Vice TV show to happen.
It’s the same idea. And, the solution is the same: eat foods in as natural of a state as possible. This means fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish, eggs, and nuts…basically, if it comes in a can or a box, it’s a bad idea. Realistically, you’re not going to be able to go 100% in this direction, but the more of your diet that you can shift into what’s sometimes called a “whole foods” or “paleo” diet, the longer you will live. Period.
WATCH OUT AGAIN! CHEMICALS!
It isn’t just that refined foods send your internal organs haywire, usually by messing up your hormonal levels. Refined foods have loads and loads of nasty chemicals added to them that do all kinds of damage to your body.
Pesticides, preservatives, flavor enhancers, color enhancers… sometimes I wonder how much actual “food” is in some of this stuff we buy! All of these chemicals impact the intricate biochemical symphony that your body conducts every day.
Imagine a finely-trained orchestra that’s played together for years, seamlessly working their way through a complicated piece. Then, some knucklehead wanders through, banging two pots together. It kind of screws up the music, doesn’t it?
One of the ways in which toxic chemicals do their damage is with free radicals, which sounds like a terrorist organization, but isn’t. Free radicals are charged particles that damage anything they touch. Ever have a friend walk across a thick carpet, and then give you a shock when they touch you? It’s kind of like that, but a million times worse.
Ever seen a rusted-out piece of machinery? The same process is in play- free radicals have turned that tough steel into crumbling rust. And, it happens inside of you. These toxic free radicals zap and damage all of the structures they touch, weakening you from the inside out and making you age more quickly.
The actual chemical process is called oxidation, and the only reason why you need to know that is because of how we prevent it from happening.
ANTIOXIDANTS TO THE RESCUE
You may have heard of antioxidants in the news somewhere. They’re the good guys. Antioxidants are substances that protect the body from that rusting-out process.
If you slice an apple, the flesh will turn after being exposed to the air- that’s oxidation in action. But, if you put some lemon juice on it, it won’t happen- because the vitamin C in the lemon juice is an antioxidant, and it acts as a shield against those free radicals.
The same works inside your body. Vitamins C and E, selenium, and others all work round-the-clock to keep those free radicals from making you old before your time.
GUESS WHAT ELSE CAUSES DAMAGE?
If you’re a heavy drinker or a smoker, I’ve got bad news for you. Both of these substances dramatically increase the level of free radicals in the body. Both increase a particularly nasty carcinogenic substance called acetaldehyde in the body, which wreaks havoc all over the place and over time, turns you into a slightly less green version of Yoda… shriveled up and old before your time.
The answer to oxidative stress is pretty simple. Reduce your exposure to free radical-causing stuff. Increase your intake of protective antioxidants.
Do you know what has tons of antioxidants in them? Fresh fruits and vegetables. Do you know what has tons of free radicals causing chemicals in them? Refined foods. Polluted water. Drugs, including alcohol and cigarettes.
WHAT ABOUT SUPPLEMENTS?
Again, this is an area that we could spend hundreds of pages discussing. To keep things short and simple, it’s a good idea to be taking a quality multivitamin to fill any gaps that you might have in your nutrition, either from not eating the right things or from your body is under additional stress from illness or even just increased physical activity like exercise. There have been some reports on our nation’s soils being somewhat depleted of vital nutrients, leading to our fruits and vegetables not having what they should in them. So a quality (NOT the stuff you get at Target or big box stores) multivitamin is a good idea.
We just went over antioxidants and how they protect your body from the inside out. It’s not a bad idea to consider adding a little extra protection into the mix with an antioxidant supplement.
Finally, fish oils are a very strongly researched, valuable supplement to look into. The amount of research on the health benefits of fish oils is actually pretty staggering. Make sure your fish oils are filtered to remove any mercury, PCBs, or other pollutants that tend to collect in fish.
If you are interested in more detailed, personalized information on weight loss or nutritional supplements, we offer further services in our office. Just ask on your next visit and we’ll tell you all about it.