I always like to get people to think about their bodies as a car, you can polish the outside, jazz it up and it looks great, but if you don’t run it well and don’t use the correct fuels and lubricants it will let you down and end up in the scrap yard much sooner than it should have done! The human body is not a lot different.
What this means is food that is as unprocessed as possible, so you won’t find Blue Zone inhabitants spinning the fat out of their yogurt or juicing the fibre out of their fruit. They don’t add or enrich their food, instead of taking supplements they get all they need from their nutrient-dense, fibre rich whole foods.
A definition of a whole food is food containing one or minimal ingredients, raw, cooked, ground or fermented and not highly processed. Food that is seasonally available and local even better. Fruit and vegetables are some of your best versions of whole foods, eaten raw, they are nutrient and fibre dense, all essential for our bodies. Nuts and pulses are also used as an essential part of their diet.
They use fermentation as a way of making and preserving their foods, a known way for increasing gut health, unlike digesting artificial preservatives, which can have the opposite effect on our gut health. They avoid naturally highly processed bread by eating wholegrain or sourdough bread, which have a much smaller impact on your blood glucose levels, reducing the impact on your pancreas and the need for excess insulin release into your blood stream. The proteins eaten come from small amounts of fish & meat with a strong slant towards beans, pulses, nuts and tofu.
If you were going to build a house based on nutrition the strongest of foundations would be fluid, mostly made up of water. In Blue Zones, people did not drink soft drinks including diet versions, these types of drinks have a big impact on our sugar intake and over consumption of diet/low sugar versions have high levels of artificial additives. They drink tea (natural green and good quality herbal teas made themselves often using herbs known to have anti-inflammatory properties). Coffee, a great get-me-up-and-moving drink, is consumed during the early morning but as mentioned in a previous blog, it's better to avoid drinking this later in the day as it can affect your quality of sleep.
Seven teaspoons of added sugar a day is all we should be consuming a day. Blue Zone residents have sugar in their diets eaten intentionally, but found in naturally in their foods, fruit and vegetables and milk, they consume only small amounts of added sugar certainly within the seven teaspoons of sugar a day recommendation. They tend to only eat baked and sweet items at times of celebration and not part of their daily intake.
In the last 50 years, the amount of sugar added to processed foods and drink has risen to a point where the government has now implemented a sugar tax in a bid to cut the amounts of “hidden” sugar added to our foods. Sugar has many links with health issues, not least contributing to spikes in insulin levels and can lead to type 2 diabetes, increases weight gain, can suppress our immune system responses and even shorten our lives. Where you can, cut down on added sugar, such as reducing or removing the amounts you have in tea and coffee; this is a quick win change. If a product has sugar within the first five ingredients on the list, a good move would be to pop it back on the shelf. Our adult weight management team recommend the Change for Life Food Scanner App (*links below), which scans the bar-code on a food label and can tell you how much sugar is in the product.
Almonds (high in Vitamin E and Magnesium) Peanuts (not salted or roasted) are high in protein, folate and B vitamin, Brazil nuts (high in selenium), Cashews (high in Magnesium), Walnuts (omega 3 rich fat great anti-inflammatory source). The good fats found in nuts can also support a healthy diet and has beneficial effects on your cholesterol levels. People are always weary of eating nuts as they are high in fats (healthy fats it has to be said) and that they may not help with weight loss, however if we focus on cutting out added sugar and trans fats from our diets, eating a handful of nuts will only be beneficial, packed with vitamins and minerals and good anti-inflammatory fats. You can toast them yourself and add some spice to make them a little more exciting.
Of course, it’s difficult to know exactly how full you are but as a guideline - it takes our brains about 10 to 20 minutes to catch up with our stomachs, so if we practice eating until the point when we think we are feeling almost full and not eating until we feel physically full, we will be more unlikely to overeat. I know at present we cannot go out to a restaurant but try to think about how after your main course, how quickly the waiting-on staff come to clear your plates and ask if you would like a dessert, you will at that point think yes I could manage one of those too and have a dessert, only to feel absolutely stuffed and uncomfortable 15 minutes later. Whereas if you ask the waiter to return in ten minutes you will be less likely to order dessert as your brain will have had time to let you know you are full.
Try to put this into practice by having slightly less on your plate, and then seeing if after 20 mins you feel full. Make sure your plate is balanced and varied with lots of whole foods and few highly processed refined foods, which tend to be not great at keeping you feeling full and can lead to snacking between meals.
It’s important to enjoy food and have a positive relationship with food and drink in general. Using food as a reward or coping mechanism usually means we choose “treats” that are often full of added sugar or highly processed savoury products. Pay attention as to why you eat certain foods, it's important to tackle the behaviour and habits formed with food, to be successful in the long term.
Lisa Dean, Lead Health Coach
April 30, 2020