Longevity is the length of a person’s life [life expectancy]. Prolongation of life usually goes beyond acknowledging the basic short span of human life; it also includes thinking about methods of extending life.
An “optimised natural longevity” plan is something we can reach through the use of modern medicine, appropriate lifestyle and diet choices, calorie restriction, exercise, regular health check-ups with your physician/therapist, appropriate supplements, and suitable healthcare management.
Genetic predisposition. Genetics plays a major role in increasing, or decreasing, our life expectancy. Certain common diseases of adult life, such as diabetes, high blood pressure [hypertension], schizophrenia, and congenital malformations, such as cleft lip, have a strong genetic component to their occurrence. Genetic influences on lifespan are minimal prior to age 60, but they increase subsequently.
Medical care. Medicine and science have increased the average person’s life span by nearly three decades over the past century.
Lifestyle habits. Smoking and alcohol are contributory factors in affecting longevity. Cigarette smoking has been clearly linked to one of the most common causes of death in the elderly. It also contributes to a higher death and disability rate associated with many chronic illnesses common in this age group.
Smoking increases the production of free radicals in our body. This damages our cells and healthy tissues and also weakens the immune system.
Anti-oxidants are substances that reduce, neutralise, and prevent damage caused to the body by free radicals. By their very nature, anti-oxidants are capable of stabilising free radicals before they can react and cause harm, in much the same way that a buffer stabilises an acid to maintain normal balance.
Anti-oxidants are present in foods such as vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, and polyphenols, among others. Many anti-oxidants are often identified in food by their distinctive colours – the deep red of cherries and tomatoes; the orange of carrots; the yellow of corn, mangoes, and saffron; the blue-purple of blueberries, blackberries, and grapes. The most well-known components of food with anti-oxidant activities are vitamins A, C, and E; b-carotene; the mineral, selenium; and, lycopene.
Longevity through diet
It has been proven that we can extend our age by 10-20 years by way of a healthy diet. Longevity diet provides us energy; it makes our day active, not sluggish and sleepy. Food provides the building blocks for our extraordinary, high-energy, mobile body.
Simple changes in the food we eat may significantly lower the risk of developing obesity, heart disease, some cancers and diseases of the digestive system.
A diet in the best sense of the term is essentially a lifestyle choice to be followed indefinitely. It is also known as calorie restriction [CR] diet. CR diet is suggested to slow down the aging process and maintain peak vitality. If the first rule of good health is a regular medical check-up, the second rule is balanced diet, since food is critically connected to the onset, or control, of ailments. Let’s take a tour of the miracle world of medicine called “food.”
Cereals are an important part of our diet. Unrefined cereals, such as oats, barley, brown rice and whole wheat, contain large amounts of starch, some proteins, B-complex vitamins, fibre, phytic acid and saponins. However, refined cereals, like polished rice, processed wheat flour and maida, lack fibre and B-complex vitamins.
- Phytic acid has iron-binding capacity. It prevents cancer-causing free radicals from inflicting damage to the body
- Saponins are known to bind to cholesterol in the intestinal tract and flush them out of the body unabsorbed. Saponins are also said to increase the number of natural-killer cells and boost immunity. A daily consumption of 8-10 servings of cereals is recommended.
Try to include vegetables, including leafy vegs, roots and tubers, and other vegs in your daily diet plan. Examples: palak, methi, chowli, potatoes, suran, kand, bhindi, dudhi, ambat chukka, lettuce, radish, turia, and cauliflower.
- Leafy vegetables contribute value to our diet in terms of vitamins, especially A, C, folic acid and B-1, minerals such as calcium and iron, water and, above all, fibre
- The yellow and orange vegetables contribute significant amounts of vitamins, especially vitamin A and C, minerals such as potassium and large amounts of water
- Roots and tubers are rich in carbohydrates; they provide mainly energy. Most of them are a fair source of several nutrients.
This low-calorie food group also provides good amounts of anti-oxidants, innumerable phytochemicals and, of course, beautiful colour to our diet.
- Flavonoids [found in onions]: They are found to disarm free radicals and prevent formation of carcinogens [cancer-causing substances]. They prevent platelet aggregation, clot-formation, and also lower blood pressure
- Lycopene [tomatoes]: This is an exceptionally strong anti-oxidant
- Indoles/glucosinolates [found in brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli]: They help in detoxification. They are a powerhouse of our cancer-fighting “ammo.”
Take at least 3-4 servings each of raw and cooked vegetables, daily.
Legumes and pulses
All legumes and pulses are rich in proteins, folate, iron, phosphorous, potassium, zinc and vitamins A, C, and B: thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and pyridoxine. The content of these nutrients varies for different types of pulses. Since cereals are lysine-limiting [lysine is an amino acid], a combination of cereals with pulses complements deficiency, and improves the quality as well as the quantity of protein in the diet.
- Soybeans contain fairly high levels of several compounds with demonstrated anti-cancer activity, including a high content of isoflavonoids, such as genistein. These isoflavonoids have been shown to inhibit the growth of both human breast and prostate cancer cells. In addition, regular use of soy protein [soybeans, tofu, soy nuts, and soy beverage] can lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels by 10-15 per cent, especially in persons with elevated lipid levels. In addition, soy is a rich source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids
- Sprouts contain about three times the amount of vitamins as compared to the corresponding whole pulses. 2-3 servings of pulses a day are recommended. Also, include at least one serving of sprouts in your daily diet.
Meat comprises of lean and red meats.
- Excessive consumption of red meat increases the risk of atherosclerosis [thickening of the arteries], because of the large content of saturated fats. A healthier option would be lean meat like chicken and fish, which have smaller amounts of saturated fats. Meats, in general, provide good quality protein, iron and calcium.
- Nutritionally, eggs are one of the most complete foods. The only nutrient absent in eggs is vitamin C. Egg yolk is rich in cholesterol; it should, therefore, not be consumed daily by individuals affected by cardiovascular disease. However, egg white can be consumed safely everyday.
- Fish is the only animal protein rich in PUFA [polyunsaturated fats], especially omega-3 fatty acids. It is, therefore, ideal for consumption by atherosclerotic/heart patients.One serving of lean meat is recommended daily.
You love citrus fruits such as orange, sweet lime, amla, and lemon; and, other fruits like banana, chickoo, sitaphal, melons, and papaya, don’t you? All fruits are excellent sources of anti-oxidants, phytochemicals [nutraceuticals], vitamins, minerals, fibre, and carbohydrates.
- Limonene [found in all citrus fruits, especially lemon]: It works like aspirin and helps prevent platelet clumping. It is particularly beneficial in fighting breast cancer in women
- Carotenoids [found in yellow and orange fruits]: All carotenoids are powerful anti-oxidants and help fight free radicals.
Take at least one serving each of a citrus and a non-citrus fruit, daily.
Milk and milk products
In spite of a host of theories for and against its consumption, milk remains the most common commodity in any Indian household, rich or poor. The milk group is a good source of high biological value proteins, calcium and all vitamins [except vitamin C]. Cow’s milk is a better choice over buffalo’s milk, because of the high fat content in the latter. Using skimmed cow’s milk is ideal because all nutrients are made available, while the fat is discarded.
2-3 servings of milk and/or milk products are recommended, daily.
Fats and sugars
Dietary fat is a vital nutrient that helps promote a healthy lifestyle. Dietary fat supplies essential fatty acids, such as linoleic acid, which is extremely important to children for proper growth. Fat is also required for the maintenance of healthy skin, regulation of cholesterol metabolism, and certain body processes. However, either of these in excess can cause obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
Fatty acids in food are classified as saturated [SFA] and unsaturated, monounsaturated [MUFA] and polyunsaturated [PUFA]. Foods which contain predominantly MUFA are avocado, olives, olive oil, peanut butter, peanut oils, lard, regular margarine, vegetable shortening, pork, poultry, eggs, and cashew.
Foods which contain predominantly PUFA are corn, cottonseed, safflower, soybean, and sunflower oil, walnuts, and mayonnaise, french dressing, if made with the above oils, fish and fish oils. The ratio of SFA:MUFA:PUFA should ideally be 1:1.5:1. Hence, it is advisable to use a blend of the oils cited above rather than any single oil, as no single oil gives the fatty acid composition in the right amounts.
3-4 tsp of fats per person/day is recommended.
About 5-6 tsp of table sugar is considered okay for a non-diabetic person.
Sauce, chutney, pickle
Love their tickle and tang? They trio is an indispensable part of Indian diet. Due to high salt content, they contribute a significant amount of salt in our diet. Those having high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease would do well to avoid their use.
Water, the forgotten nutrient
We can probably survive without food for 30 days, but we would die in 3-5 days without water. Drink water even if you are not thirsty. It’s unbelievable, yet true! Water is beneficial in various disorders: constipation, bladder problems, headache, kidney stones, heartburn, acne, skin allergies, and so on. Drink 8-10 glasses [250 ml each] everyday. Bear in mind, if you don’t drink enough water you would poison yourself with your own toxins.
Foods to avoid
- Excess of sugar: Puddings, cakes, sugar in beverages, ice-cream, milk shakes, mithai
- Excess of fats: Butter, margarine, ghee, vanaspati, fat, meats [mutton, beef, pork], eggs, cream
- Drinks: Alcohol, aerated beverages/drinks
- Excess of additives: Salt, sauces, pickles, excess [more than 4 cups] of tea/coffee, and commercially prepared foods.