Dan Buettner, in his recent TED talk that shared lessons learned in the study of vibrant centenarians, noted that longevity is 10% genetics and 90% lifestyle choices. Second on his list after meaningful social connections was “Eat wisely.”
Of course, we’ve all heard the message that we need to pay attention to what we eat, in tandem with leading an active lifestyle, but what does that actually mean in an everyday practice? How can we get to that place where the Greek physician Hippocrates’s admonition, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” has a real and profound impact on our own lives?
The answer is not as daunting or complex as it may seem. “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” says renowned food expert and journalist Michael Pollan, which is a great guiding principle when making that key choice about what’s for dinner. In this article, I’ll unpeel the benefits of a few awesome foods you can add to your wellness toolkit this week. Why not try eating your way to a more vibrant you?
Kale: Top of the list for super foods, kale is a member of the broccoli family. It’s rich in magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C — a combination that makes it even more potent than spinach for lowering blood pressure. In some cases, consuming kale regularly has been shown to lower blood pressure as much as taking a blood pressure medication. Add kale to your salad, soups, eggs, and stir fries.
Blueberries: Packed with the highest intensity of antioxidants, which help fight aging and certain types of cancer, blueberries can also help lower your cholesterol and reduce the risk of diabetes. The chemical that gives these berries their blue color (anthocyanin) is the source of the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Blueberries are low in calories and are known to help improve memory! Make fresh or frozen blueberries a healthy snack choice, add them to your oatmeal or granola, and mix them in your smoothies.
Green Tea: Favored since ancient times for its health benefits, green tea has not only its own antioxidants (catechin) but also promotes your body’s ability to make nitric oxide, which has been shown to increase arterial diameter by 40%, lowering blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 31%. Matcha green tea, especially, has been linked with preventing several common cancers and can even be beneficial for dental health. Studies in Japanese society (where green tea consumption is more common), showed that drinking several cups a day offered major decreases in mortality rates from all causes. Green tea does contain caffeine, so you can swap out your coffee at the next break when you need a warm, uplifting cup.
Fish: Two to three servings per week of fish increases the Omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, which improves cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. Most of our dietary vegetable oils are high in Omega-6, which, by themselves, are harmful to heart health. Increasing Omega-3 intake in proportion against Omega-6 reduces risk substantially, whether this is sourced from fish, walnuts, duck eggs, olive oil, or flax seed, for example. Oily fish like salmon are preferred for this purpose, though generally eating more fish than red meats is a healthy choice. Tilapia raised in a clean environment has also been shown to be heart healthy, with its boost of magnesium, potassium, and calcium. And no, this doesn’t mean eating more fried fish, because the cooking oils bring in more of those Omega-6 rates again! So poach, bake, broil, grill, or pan-fry in olive oil your next serving of clean-raised fish.
Garlic: With an active ingredient of allicin, this aromatic sulphur compound is released when the cloves are crushed, chopped or chewed. But it’s valuable for more than just its culinary characteristics. Just two cloves a day may lower blood pressure as effectively as a prescription medicine after 24 weeks, as well as can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels by 10-15%. Garlic can help stabilize blood sugar levels and aid in preventing cancer, so chop them up and add them to all sorts of dishes, including roasting them with your favorite root vegetables.
Yogurt: When they say “go with your gut,” it’s true. Research is continually finding connections between the health of the bacteria in our gut and our emotional and mental well-being. But not all of the flora in your alimentary tract are friendly. Foods rich in natural and healthy bacteria cultures, like yogurt, help to improve and maintain beneficial bacteria. There are more microbes in your gut than cells in your body, so keeping that colony happy and healthy is no small undertaking! Make sure your choice of yogurt is labeled as having “live” or “active” culture. Its high levels of calcium and vitamin D can also help to prevent osteoporosis and other bone ailments. Have some yogurt with your blueberries for breakfast or a snack, and try plain, unsweetened yogurt in a variety of savory dishes for a fun twist.
Dark Chocolate: Yes, you read that right, chocolate (in small amounts) is actually good for you. 70% cocoa or more kicks this treat into the healthy bracket. Rich with flavonoids (which dilate blood vessels), dark chocolate has been found to improve blood pressure and your mood. Consuming just 30 calories a day (one small square from a classic chocolate bar) has been demonstrated after 18 weeks to be effective in lowering blood pressure and raising HDL (good) cholesterol. More is not better, though, because of the refined sugars. So take your daily dose of a square of dark chocolate without having to apologize to anyone!
Ready to eat your way into vibrancy? I hope you try including these delicious and healthy foods into your grocery list, pantry, refrigerator, and regimen. Why not? And there’s all sorts of other foods that will help to improve health and well-being. Go for foods with deep natural colors (beets, broccoli, oranges), strong natural aromas (cinnamon, basil, onions), and distinctive natural flavors (asparagus, cashews, watermelon). These characteristics are often markers of chemical compounds that can have their own, distinctive health benefits to offer.
This week, let food be thy medicine of choice. You can find more on the “food as medicine” theme in the new section of our farm’s website at www.northstarhomestead.com/NSHF/food-as-medicine. See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453, www.northstarhomestead.com.