In his book, “Healthy at 100”, John Robbins explores the scientifically proven secrets of the world’s healthiest and long-lived populations. He describes the characteristics of various indigenous peoples who are famous for their longevity and health.
These societies contain the world’s healthiest documented elders, longest recorded life expectancies and highest concentrations of centenarians (people above the age of 100). The majority are physically fit, mentally healthy and outgoing. Within these populations rates of heart problems, diabetes, dementia or cancer are extremely low or non-existent. In addition, most have their own teeth and reports of fractures, poor hearing and bad eyesight are rare.
What makes these cultures so different? Robbins points out a few common lifestyle factors:
- Large Amounts of Physical Activity. Exercise is built into everyday life routines. This includes mostly walking through rugged terrain and working hard at daily work.
- Lack of Emotional Stress. These people live at a relaxed, simple pace that aligns with the rhythms of nature. They also enjoy peaceful quality sleep.
- Respect for the Aged. People’s status increases with age and they receive more privileges as years pass. Wisdom is admired and the process of aging is cherished.
- Celebration is Part of Life. Music, singing, laughter and dancing are common. They maintain a positive attitude, sense of humour and gratitude with only few possessions.
- Community-Minded. These cultures are highly relational and have a strong sense of interdependence. They find joy and purpose in being together and loving each other.
- Plant-Based Diet. Their focus is primarily on plant-based, natural, whole foods.
As each group has developed unique dietary patterns based on their surroundings and what they have to work with, there are some overall common themes that have been discovered.
- They generally have a very high vegetable intake, usually eaten raw or lightly steamed. These include both leafy greens and root vegetables. They also cultivate herbs.
- Fruit is enjoyed either fresh or dried and in moderation, as a snack or dessert.
- They get the majority of their protein intake from unrefined complex carbohydrates such as whole grains (i.e. wheat, millet, buckwheat, barley, quinoa), nuts and seeds, and legumes (beans, lentils and peas), which may be soaked and allowed to sprout.
- Nuts, avocadoes, coconut, seeds and fish are the primary sources of fat intake, depending on the culture and what is available to them.
- The emphasis is on foods that are grown locally and consumed in season as much as possible, for peak nutritional value and freshness.
- These diets contain no refined, processed or artificial ingredients. Ingredients are generally consumed in their original form without modification, additives (i.e. sugar or salt) or substitutions. Their focus is on food from the earth and not boxes or cans.
- These people generally eat very little (less than 2000 calories per day). They are able to get their daily requirements from less food, as they choose nutrient-dense ingredients. They don’t count calories, but instead make every calorie count! They are also careful not to overeat and generally stop when they are 80% full.
- Meals are often enjoyed together as a social event, eaten slowly and chewed well.
- Every diet contains at least some measure of animal food, usually enjoyed occasionally and always coming from healthy animals. Depending on the group observed, this could include wild game, eggs or fish. Others with farmland may consume meat or raw, fermented dairy from pastured cows, goats or sheep.
- Organic farming is practiced, as no chemicals or synthetic ingredients are used on their land. A great deal of effort and thought is put into its preservation and enhancement. There is an emphasis on resourcefulness and sustainability. Soil health is incredibly important and is therefore highly mineralized.
Due to the fact that our lifestyles and circumstances here in North America may not necessarily resemble those of these cultures, it is difficult to directly compare ourselves and ways of life. However, it is interesting to note the prevalence of plant-based foods in these diets as well as the overwhelming reports of good health and longevity. Regardless of dietary style, many agree that increasing the amount of plant based foods in the diet can lead to positive health benefits as these ingredients are rich in minerals, phytonutrients and fiber, among others. Various professionals who advocate plant-based diets will aim for different ratios of plant to animal-based food. In the end, each person needs to find what works best for them and fits their unique needs. However, if increasing the amount of plant-based foods in your diet is of interest, here are a few tips and precautions.
It is of utmost importance to consume high quality sources in order to attain proper nutrition for each calorie. When choosing ingredients, look for organic, whole foods grown in good soil. Also, aim to sprout, soak and ferment plant foods as much as possible in order to increase nutritional status and reduce “anti-nutrients” that may hinder digestion. When consuming animal products, look for free-range, wild, grass-fed and pasture-raised sources.
Ensure that you are receiving adequate protein and amino acids from your food intake. Do this by combining and rotating a variety of whole grains, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, sea vegetables, beans and legumes in adequate portions throughout the day. Depending on the amount of animal products consumed and other digestive factors, potential deficiencies include Vitamin B12, Omega-3, iron, zinc and calcium, as these may be predominantly found in large amounts from animal foods. Regardless of dietary style, consider natural supplementation if you are not getting adequate amounts from food or due to malabsorption.
Some of the best plant ingredients include spirulina, quinoa, black beans, hemp seeds, almonds, buckwheat, pumpkin seeds and avocado. If you are unsure where to start smoothies, salads, soups and powerbowl recipes are easy, versatile and tasty options! For quick and nutrient-packed options, consider grab-and-go plant-based protein powders and bars.
-This column is sponsored by Good N Natural in Steinbach -