We all understand the importance of nutrition and since the inception of UK guidelines in 1994 we have been given evidence based advice on what it means to eat well. Over the years the interest in nutrition has boomed and this has led to countless books, TV shows and high-profile experts telling us what we should and should not be eating to stay well and extend our lifespan.
Some of the most reliable research to evolve over the years is that related to heart health, gut health and cancer, which have been driven by charities such as the British Heart Foundation and World Cancer Research Fund. The research carried out by these guys has given us a huge insight as to what we can reliably eat to help reduce our risk of disease and improve longevity.
There’s no quick fix or silver bullet, so start by eating at least 5-a-day and before you
zone out here, ask yourself whether or not you really do eat at least this amount, as only 30% of the UK manage to do so. This is literally the simplest thing you can do to improve your health and longevity, as fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients required for all bodily functions, as well as having antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce the risk of disease.
Include plenty of dark green vegetables (kale, cabbage, spring greens) in your diet as these are the most nutritious, containing a wider range of vitamins and minerals than others, although they should never be viewed as superior, as all vegetables are great. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower) have been associated with a reduced risk of certain cancers, by way of the compounds they contain, so include plenty of these as well.
Aside from fruits and vegetables here are a few foods swaps that may help to improve your longevity.
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of butter especially on a slice of toast but if you want to get the most from the fats you include in your diet, then extra virgin olive oil is the way to go. This oil is a true health elixir and particularly good for heart health. Extra virgin olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats which help to balance out cholesterol levels by reducing LDL (bad) and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol. Extra virgin olive oil also contains compounds with powerful anti-inflammatory properties such as oleocanthal which is recognisable by the peppery taste it leaves on the back of your throat.
I’m a massive fan of fibre but despite its many health benefits it still gets little airtime but has a huge amount of solid science to back up its many health benefits. From reducing the risk of heart disease by reducing cholesterol to controlling blood glucose levels and reducing risk of diabetes, there’s no end to the wonders of fibre.
Certain fibres including pectin and inulin found in foods such as bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, onions and garlic act as prebiotics which help to feed good bacteria in the gut promoting a healthy microbiota. The research on gut health is ever evolving and it could be linked to longevity by way of its impact on immunity and the gut-brain axis, which is thought to be linked areas of health including mood and obesity. Research by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has also shown strong evidence that eating more wholegrains in your diet can help to protect against colorectal cancer.
There’s nothing wrong with eating meat as it’s highly nutritious but eating less may be a good way to improve longevity. Red meat can be high in saturated fat and too much of this type of fat in the diet has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease by way of cholesterol. Research from the WCRF has highlighted a link between red and processed meat, and colorectal cancer risk.
Try to incorporate more plant-based proteins into your diet such as tofu, Quorn, beans, pulses and lentils, as these are low in saturated fat, high in fibre and rich in many key nutrients such as iron, magnesium, zinc and calcium.
Ultimately, we all need to eat more oily fish; on average adults only consume 54g of oily fish per week when official advice is to eat at least 140g. Whilst we should be encouraging people to eat more oily fish, year on year, it shows this is something everyone struggles with. I recommend my clients do look at supporting their diets to bridge this gap in nutrition. With an omega as we know there are far reaching health benefits supporting brain, heart and eye health. I recommend ethically sourced and quality supplements such as Healthspan, their Super Strength Omega 3* capsules – 60 capsules £7.95, offers the ideal one-a-day solution for anyone who fails to achieve enough oily fish in their diet or anyone looking for particularly high levels of the omega 3 beneficial fatty acids DHA and EPA.
The majority of people in the UK eat too much salt which can contribute to high blood pressure – a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Rather than adding salt, stock cubes or other ingredients high in sodium try using more spices. These are sodium-free and as well as adding flavour to your dishes they are also rich in minerals and compounds with powerful anti-inflammatory properties, such as curcumin found in turmeric, which may help to reduce the risk of disease.
The key message here is to get back to basics when it comes to how you eat. Cooking from scratch is a good option even if you only do so some of the time. Including plenty of whole foods such as olive oil, oily fish, fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and dried spices as part of a balanced diet is a sure fire way to future-proof your health and improve longevity.