If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you know that we cover a lot of ground here – we talk about Thinking Right, Eating Right, Moving Right, and Living Right (and actually, I’m thinking about expanding that out to include more detail across other aspects of wellness). But at the core of everything we do is this idea of longevity – living well and living long – and how our lifestyle choices determine the length and quality of our lives.
What does that look like in practice?
I know plenty of people who are alive well into their 90s, but they sit unresponsive in a wheelchair or a bed day after day. That grieves me. I don’t want that life for them OR for you. So, when you see me practicing what I preach, it’s not just because I want to lead by example, but because, whether anyone follows me or not, I am responsible for how I maintain my body. And for purely selfish reasons, I want to be able to travel and speak and teach people to enjoy wellness well after my peers have retired. And when I retire, I want to be healthy and active every day.
Living Your Best Life
Over the past few weeks, and into November, we are talking about how to live your best life in a practical way. Last week, we talked about telomeres, and a couple of simple lifestyle changes you can make that will lengthen your telomeres (the little hair-like fibers on the ends of your DNA strands), and, by extension, your life.
As with anything, the hardest part of living a great, fun, healthy life is the making the little lifestyle modifications that need to happen to achieve that wellness. Your body might scream at you when it doesn’t get what it wants, your mind might scream at you, but you will overcome all that because the end result is better than the momentary pleasures of our favorite snacks.
Which brings me to this week.
Eating Right Is A Key To Longevity
In my writing and teaching, I reference the Blue Zones Project a lot. Their research into the cultures that have the greatest longevity runs exactly parallel to (and has helped me focus) my teaching on the lifestyle habits that promote longevity. They identified nine behavior patterns that all of those cultures had in common, from California to Greece to Japan. Of the nine behaviors (or “Power 9,” as they like to call them), three are related to food. No shock there, right?
That’s why it’s always such a shock to me when I see what people in America are conditioned to put into their mouths, but more so how they don’t seem to make any connection between food and disease. Sure, we’ve come a long way, and there are more Whole Foods and organic grocers than there were a generation ago. People are growing in awareness, but there are still an overwhelming majority of us who eat things that make our bodies sick.
Your body was designed to eat vegetables, fruit, some meat, some grains, and drink plenty of clean water. Of course, my paleo and vegan friends will challenge me on different parts of that. But somehow, people don’t understand that eating processed foods full of sugars, bleached flours, and preservatives violates their bodies’ natural flow. Not all food is created equal; not all food is good for you. As I’ve said many times, if it came from the earth, your body knows how to get nourishment from it; if it comes from a chemistry lab, your body considers it a toxic invader.
The Standard American Diet
The Standard American Diet (SAD) has been contributing to increasing obesity, chronic diseases, inflammation, joint pain, and premature death. If you want to see a startling book sometime, get a copy of Dr. Weston A. Price’s great book, “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration,” which documents the drastic decline in the health of different indigenous people group when they introduced American food. There are photos showing how, in one generation, a plague of birth defects and deformations sprouted up among these once-healthy people. It’s shocking.
I don’t like to scare people into eating right, but if you need motivation like that, this book will do it. You will never eat the same again.
Get Rid Of The Drug Named Sugar
Last week, I mentioned another book that has rocked my practice: “The Longevity Paradox” by Steven Gundry, MD. He calls out the sugary food industry and takes them to task for creating a wasteland of sweet, tempting, addictive foods that people can’t get enough, and at the same time is fostering a laundry list of diseases inside them. The total “Trojan Horse.”
These foods trigger the reward/pleasure mechanism in your brain faster than cocaine, so you keep going back to them. We used to hear that all calories were basically alike, and you could lose weight simply by reducing the number of calories you take in. But not only is that not true, it set a generation of people up for constant failure, disappointment, and depression. Sugars got them hooked, and then made them fat.
Not saturated fat – sugar.
Sugar Is The Culprit
We all ate margarine instead of butter and still got fat. Why? Because we kept the sugar, and the sugar gave us temporary energy and temporary pleasure. When those wore off, we had to go back for more to satisfy the cravings and proper ourselves back up. This is a messed up system.
If you want to lose weight, get rid of the sugary foods first. Even if you don’t reduce your total calorie count, you can improve your metabolism, avoid those energy spikes, reduce cravings, and set yourself free from the sugar bondage. It is literally worse than cocaine. Eat more whole foods, like fresh vegetables, yes, but first cut the sugars.
As Dr. Gundry states:
“Adding healthy foods to your diet is great, but it may be even more important to avoid the kind of processed, sugary, junky foods that feed cellular enemies.”
If You Want To Live Long, Do What Long-Lived People Do (And Don’t Do).
Sometimes, what you don’t eat is more important than what you eat. We saw it with the Blue Zones, and Dr. Gundry did some of his own analysis of people who eat differently and live longer.
“So what do these [long-lived] people all have in common? Surprisingly, it’s not what they eat— it’s what they don’t eat. But before I reveal what that is, let’s look at the type of carbohydrate that two of these populations (the Kitavans and the Okinawans) consume in extremely large amounts. Purple sweet potatoes and taro root (as well as plantains and yams) are not regular carbohydrates. They are resistant starches, a subset of starches that behaves differently in your gut than other carbohydrates, such as corn, rice, or wheat, or fruit. Instead of being quickly converted to glucose, which as you know is either burned for energy or stored as fat, resistant starches simply pass through your small intestine mostly intact. These foods are resistant to the enzymes that break down complex starches—hence their name.
“So eating resistant starches, even in large amounts, generally doesn’t raise your blood sugar or insulin levels. This, of course, is key to avoiding type 2 diabetes, obesity, and inflammation as you age. And because they don’t cause a blood sugar spike, resistant starches keep you feeling fuller longer than regular sources of starch.”
Longevity Starts In The Gut
I’ve heard many people say over the years that they base their life expectancy on that of their parents and grandparents. “Mom died when she was 68 and grandma died when she was 68, so I imagine I’ll die when I’m 68.” That’s false.
The link between family genetics and longevity is largely a myth that people can’t seem to let go of. Again, I refer back to Dr. Gundry, because he said it so well:
“Your fate does not lie in your genes at all—it lies in your microbiome, and many of your daily decisions about food and personal care products influence how happy or unhappy they will be in their home. Paradoxically—and here’s the point to remember going forward—whatever happened to your parents or grandparents, your Ancestry.com or your 23andMe results contributes very, very little to your fate or longevity. Much more of your fate resides with the trillions of organisms living in and on you.”
What? How is that possible?!
“Believe it or not, 99 percent of all the genes that make up ‘you’ are bacterial, viral, and protozoal genes, not human genes at all. Humans actually have very few genes, and the ones we do have are virtually identical to those in our primate cousins, chimps and gorillas.”
Just Beyond The Apes
I’ve heard biologists say that before: we are only three chromosomes apart from the chimp, or something like that. I always thought it was a way of reducing humans down to the animal level, to show that we weren’t as highly evolved as we like to think. But the truth is, as magnificent as humans are, what makes us unique (aside from having a spirit, soul, and intellect), is the bacteria that don’t even count as “human.”
Setting us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, “it was our bacteria, rather than our genes, that made us human. As shocking as it may seem, most of what has happened to us, and what will continue to happen to us in the future, is determined by the state of the bacteria in our gut, mouth, and skin. So let’s stop focusing on taking care of the 1 percent and start paying closer attention to the 99 percent of the genes that make up you.”
What is the lesson from this that we can apply to our longevity?
Applying It To Me
If we will care for our gut flora – the microbiome living in our gut – by feeding it the foods it likes, it will live longer, produce healthier offspring cells, and keep us strong and healthy longer. When you get all the way down to the cellular level, it is our food choices that contribute the most to our longevity.
Want to outlive all your predecessors? Nourish your gut cells with vegetables, fruits, some meat, and some grains. How you balance it will depend a little on your body chemistry, but if you err on the side of too much vegetable and not enough grain – and no sugar – you will be way ahead of your peers.
Take It To The Next Level
Next week, I want to share some insights with you about how to enjoy your best year yet through some simple movements you can do at home at any time of day. In fact, I have a whole YouTube channel full of them if you want to start now. And in a couple of weeks, we will come back together at my office for another Fundamental Foods dinner. Keep an eye out for an invitation to that. I think you’re going to enjoy it.
In the meantime, would yo take a few seconds right now to share this article on your favorite social media app? You might be surprised at who is thinking about their longevity today. This might be just the information they are looking for.
“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas