Forever Young: Foods That Will Help You Get There
International Health Day includes a customary practice to compare international health indices and, of course, check where we, Israelis, stand in relation to others.
One health index in which we excel is the Life Expectancy Index that examines life expectancy since birth. Global life expectancy figures have placed us in top places over the past years.
Israel ranked above the average of OECD countries
Life expectancy in Israel is one of the highest in the world, which ranks us fifth among OECD countries. The average life expectancy of OECD member-countries is 79.7 years, while in Israel it stands at 81.7.
The average life expectancy of women in Israel is 83.6 years and of men 79.9. Israeli men rank in second place along with the Japanese and after the Swiss whose average life expectancy is 80.6 years. Israeli women are placed only 3 years after the Japanese, but still in the same league with Australian, Finnish, Swedish, Icelandic, Austrian and other women.
The question always repeats itself – How did we get there? We know that the contribution of genes is important, but they make only 30% of the bigger picture- the rest is attributed to dietary habits, physical activity, family life, happy life, and more.
When it comes to nutrition and longevity, we are typically inspired by the people of Okinawa in Japan or Sardinia in Italy, however, even if we adopt their daily diet (based on the principles of the Mediterranean diet: Rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, low-fat dairy products, fish and some meat) we couldn’t possibly imitate the peaceful and serene conditions in which they live.
Longevity or extended youth?
Discussions on longevity have undergone many transformations: In the past we talked about anti-aging, then moved to LONGEVITY ie postponing the “end of time” as much as possible, and today we talk about extending our YOUTHNESS for as long as possible, which means preserving our physical and mental functions for older ages, and focusing less on extending our years once we start aging mentally and physically.
Your diet can make you younger
The realms of nutrition and longevity should address foods that shorten our lives. Cutting back on all those fatty foods, sugar and calories will help prevent, or at least delay, heart disease and diabetes later in life.
Many people indicate that calorie restriction improves longevity, although this model has only been proven in mice at this point. A study on monkeys failed to prove this, and there are still no studies on humans that can support this claim.
Recommended Foods Groups
Some foods contribute to quality of life within longevity, and even extend youthness (foods high in antioxidants, for example).
I examined several recent studies that addressed the consumption of foods and their contribution to the prevention of life-shortening illnesses and to improved quality of life. Such improvement is manifested in high mental and physically fitness among old ages in populations that enjoy Western living conditions (this is only a small part of a long list of foods).
Foods rich in resveratrol – Resveratrol is an antioxidant found in grapes, cocoa and berries. Many studies have shown its contribution to the prevention of heart and blood vessel diseases and to improved cognitive abilities, linking it also to the prevention Alzheimer’s disease and more.
Foods rich in betalains – Betalain is a red and yellow (purple) indole-derived pigment in the anthocyanin group, which is found in various foods such as beetroot, raspberry and purple cabbage. This powerful antioxidant is also associated with preventing disease and improving blood vessel function.
Caffeine-rich foods – A recent study published in August 2012 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that average consumption of 2-5 cups of coffee a day with 200-300mg caffeine reduces the risk of developing age-related illnesses such as heart disease, type2 diabetes, stroke, Parkinson’s disease and more. Coffee is rich in antioxidants, magnesium and potassium- all associated with the prevention of these diseases.
Calcium-rich foods such as milk and cheese – a study in the UK, to be published by the Journal of Heart, followed thousands of children between 1948-2005, and found that children who consumed more dairy products lived longer. It also found that they had a lower risk of developing heart disease and other chronic illnesses.
Foods rich in friendly bacteria – One of the indices known today as a contributor to shortened life and a substrate for chronic disease is the inflammation level in our body. Foods known to tackle inflammation are those containing friendly bacteria such as probiotic yogurt, and foods in which bacteria is formed during their preparation process, such as pickles, sauerkraut etc..
Foods containing phytosterols – Studies in recent years have established the contribution of phytosterols (natural ingredients derived from plants) to reducing LDL cholesterol. Small amounts of phytosterols are found in fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains, and larger amounts in fortified foods such as yogurt drink with phytosterols.