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Key Health

How to eat for longevity with simple lifestyle changes

"If there are more than three lines of ingredients on a food label, put it back."

Real foods, like the fresh produce found at the Sarasota Farmers Market, are a cornerstone of a healthy diet.
Real foods, like the fresh produce found at the Sarasota Farmers Market, are a cornerstone of a healthy diet.
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Editor's note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series on eating for longevity.

The phrase “you are what you eat”’ was coined in France in 1825, by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a politician, gastronome and author. 

The phrase's meaning has evolved over the last two centuries, but it’s as true today as it was then, and it may be even more important now. 

Our bodies are constantly rebuilding themselves. In fact, all the cells in our bodies, brains, muscles, bones, everything, get replaced about every seven years. And the food we put in our mouth is what our body has to work with. So you can see the direct correlation between what we eat and who we are. 

Are we built of the best stuff to keep us alive, healthy and feeling great? 

Or are we built out of junk food that keeps us moving slow, feeling sluggish and depressed.

Back in 1825 there was only fresh food. No junk, no empty calories, no chemical preservatives, no artificial flavors, colors or artificial anything. 

These real foods are still available. We‘ve just fallen out of the habit of eating real food and developed addictions to the fat, salt, sugar and chemicals manufacturers have put in processed foods.

If you want to start eating better, try this. Keep a log on your phone or write down everything you eat for three days: two weekdays and one weekend day. Take a look at the food you’ve eaten. How much of it was healthy real food and how much of it was loaded with artificial whatever. 

How did you feel after those meals? Glad you ate them or angry with yourself?

If you felt yucky, don’t beat yourself up too much. These habits develop slowly over time and you’re reading this because you’re getting ready to make the changes you need to make to eat for health and longevity. 

Changing your eating habits isn’t the horror show you may think it is. You’re simply going to gradually substitute new favorite real foods for old favorite junk foods. And you’ll start to feel better as your nutrition improves.

Nutrition is a very complex subject. Scientists spend their entire lives studying and modifying what we should and shouldn’t eat and why. Their work has changed the way we live. But you don’t need a doctorate to eat for longevity. Just a few rules of thumb can keep you pointed in the right direction. 

  • Cut out the junk. You’ll be surprised at how your palate will change. Once you get used to better food choices your body won’t want you to go back. The salt will be too salty, the sugar will be too sweet and the saturated fat will taste yucky. And too much alcohol will not be fun anymore.
  • Read food labels. When I teach my nutrition course, Lose to Win, I tell my class “If there are more than three lines of ingredients, put it back on the shelf." Anything after line No. 3 is almost always just preservatives, chemicals and junk designed for longer shelf life. 
  • Substitute old favorite foods for new favorite foods. Gradually regulate the amount of salt, sugar, and saturated fat in your diet. Nutrition labels will tell you how much in whatever it is you’re about to put in your mouth. Here are some daily guidelines from the American Heart Association to shoot for. Salt: Less than 1,500 milligrams. Added sugar: 25 grams women (6 teaspoons), 100 calories; 37.5 grams men (9 teaspoons) 150 calories. Saturated fat: 5% of calories.
  • Create your own personal cuisine. As you get going, you’ll find foods you like that meet healthy guidelines. It will take some experimentation, so consider it an adventure and an investment in your longevity. Below is a hint at where you’ll find them. 
  • Mostly Mediterranean. You don’t have to stick to these foods exclusively, but you’ll find most of what you need to build a healthy personal cuisine in this Mediterranean diet pyramid. Numerous studies show it to be one of the healthiest and most readily available while also being one of the easiest food plans to stick with. 

You can also add Asian, Southwestern, Middle Eastern and just about any other seasoning to the mostly Mediterranean ingredients to give you a huge variety of choices that will make you forget about ever going back to a junk food diet.

These are the kinds of foods people who live to be 100-plus years old eat every day. 

Not only the types of foods, but the quality of those foods can make a difference in how your body reacts.

Next month, we’ll look at places in the world, known as Blue Zones, including here in the U.S., where people often live to 100 and beyond. 

We’ll see how you can apply what you’ve just read and easily do what they do right now. You’ll also learn about eating clean, intermittent fasting and how various foods affect specific health issues. 



Mirabai Holland

Mirabai Holland is CEO of NuVue LLC, a health education and video production company. She is a certified health coach, exercise physiologist and wellness consultant for Manatee County government employees and has a private practice. Her wellness programs are implemented in hospitals, fitness facilities, resorts and corporations worldwide. She is also an artist who believes creativity enhances health. Contact her at [email protected].

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