Friday, January 27, 2012

Secret 35: Combine Your Foods

When Sally Beare wrote the original "the live-longer diet" that was published by Piatkus in the UK in 2003, it only contained 15 secrets. For the 2006 publication of "50 Secrets of the World's Longest Living People', the list of secrets, as the title implies, was expanded to fifty. Some of the new secrets seem superfluous and seem to have been created simply to reach the promise in the title. Even Sally Beare seems hesitant about strongly endorsing Secret 35. Basically, this secret states that is may be smart to combine/not to combine certain foods in order to enhance assimilation of nutrients during digestion or to minimize exposure to toxins due to faster movement through the intestines. There may be some truth in this as, for example, common lore states that combining a food that contains Vitamin C (such as a lemon) when consuming a food that contains iron (such as meat) enhances the uptake of iron. The idea of combining foods such as proteins, fats, starches, vegetables and fruit dates back to the 1900s, when an overweight, middle-aged American doctor by the name of William Howard Hay decided that the root cause of his health problems lay in his intestines.  According to Beare Dr. Hays proclaimed that: "Death begins in the colon" (I thought this wisdom dates back to the Greeks).  This may well be true, since the digestive system is the first point of contact between our bodies and our major source of energy (one could argue that oxygen enters our bodies via our lungs and ambient heat enters our bodies via the skin, however, our main source of energy still comes in via mouth and throat). 

Pizza: a popular staple in Italy, not an option for those who adhere to the Hay diet
Hay's main premise is not to combine protein with carbs in the same meal.
Really?  You should not eat carbs with proteins?  How about Asians who enjoy rice and fish or rice and tofu?  Italians who enjoy pasta and shrimp? Americans who like starting their day with cereal and milk? Germans who enjoy cheese on bread?  Moroccans who like couscous with chicken or beans? Are so many cultures around the world getting it wrong? Or was Hays just not eating his vegetables and pigging out on junk food instead?

Fish and rice -not allowed on the Hays diet (and don't dream of adding a few drops of lemon to that salmon).  
The main tenets of the Hay diet are:

  • do not combine protein and carbs and acid-containing foods
  • eat more vegetables and fruit, less protein, carbs and fat
  • replace highly processed foods such as white sugar and white flour with whole grain, less processed versions
  • wait four hours between meals

Nope. sorry, not allowed either if you are on the Hay diet...
I prefer listening to my body. It has nearly 50 years of experience and has digested tons of food. In contrast to the Hay's rules, I enjoy my salmon with a few drops of lemon. The lemon seems to aid digestion, and the Vitamin C may enhance the uptake of iron from the salmon (and my anemic body needs iron). I choose to adhere to my own food combinations. One combination I avoid, simply because it does not feel good to me, is a meal that consists of different types of meats mixed together (as on a BBQ skewer). I prefer eating fish, chicken, beef, lamb etc. separately. Another combination I avoid is one that is very popular in the U.S.: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Uggh! I prefer a peanut butter banana 'sandwich' without bread i.e. I slice the banana length-wise and spread the peanut butter between the two halves. Delicious! (Hay would approve). When eating a hamburger, I never eat both halves of the bun. But my all-time favorite is a combination very few fellow humans care to share: bread with hard cheese and honey. Yum!  I am sure you have your unique, favorite combinations. A combination my husband likes is a martini with olives (he can even enjoy it without the olives). Maybe some of your favorite combinations are Hay-friendly, others less so.  Whatever works for you.

So in conclusion, Secret 35 in '50 Secrets' seems to be an empty stuffer rather than a serious recommendation.  My suggestion? Combine foods the way that works best for your body!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Secret 34: Drink Water – the Most Essential Nutrient

Water. This is by far the most difficult blog to write. I have been struggling with this blog for over a month.

Life as we know it would not exist without water. The human body is, for the most part, water. At a recent health assessment I was informed that I consist of 80 lbs. of water. 80 pounds of water!  Since so much of what we are is water, and since water is a prerequisite for life, it seems that supplying our bodies with the right amount of excellent water is a precursor to a long and healthy life.

The gift of life 
Water plays many essential roles in the human body. It is the ‘brew’ in which life-giving chemical reactions occur. Water ensures that our body temperature remains within the ideal range for our enzymes to function. It is the body's postal service and one of the body's communication systems.  It plays a huge role in waste management. I would like to emphasize the importance of water as a detoxifier. My theory about illness is simple: many illnesses are caused and exacerbated by the body’s inability to effectively rid itself of toxins. Don’t get me wrong. The body is superbly efficient at detoxifying - through the skin, the liver, the urinary system - via sweat (exercise), urine (by drinking enough water) and deep breaths (exhaling); however, our environment and the so-called ‘food’ we eat is so low in nutrients and so laden with worthless, controversial additives that our bodies are overwhelmed and struggle to cleanse themselves. A study more than two decades ago of the breast milk of mothers in Hong Kong showed that the first nutrient babies were receiving was laden with chemicals. What a challenging start to life. And it only gets worse... If toxins in > toxins out, eventually something has to give. And instead of examining the lack of healthy nutrients in our food and facilitating detoxification by providing our bodies with the tools1 they need, we simply add to the chemical burden by supplementing with costly unregulated supplements and, if that fails, medicating2 and thereby even further burdening our overworked, nutrient-starved livers.

The five healthy, long-living people described by Sally Beare all have access to pure, natural water from mountain springs, glaciers or rivers. The water they drink has been filtered through layers of sediment and is rich in minerals such as calcium, manganese and zinc. It helps keep their bodies alkaline and it has a low surface tension. How does this compare to the stuff we drink? What do we drink: coffee (filtered through paper that may be releasing carcinogens), tea (from tea bags stiffened with epichlorohydrin), soda pop consisting of synthetic chemicals, juices made of colorings and flavorings, milk laden with hormones and synthetic vitamin D, processed soups with chemicals leached from cans, alcohol mixed with pesticides – how pure is our liquid intake?

Water touches all aspects of our life
Assuming that your main fluid intake is water rather than flavored, colored drinks and hot, sugar-laden, caffeinated boosters, how do you know that the water you are drinking is safe? The five senses of our body can only detect so many toxins. In the last century human beings have learned to manufacture a slew of processed foods laden with chemicals that do not grow on plants but instead are synthesized in plants. How safe is tap water really? Our municipal water provider will insist that the water is safe to drink. Do we take the time and pay the extra cost to have our tap water tested by an independent, third party? How about water bottled in plastic bottles?3 Do chemicals from the container really leach into the water if you leave your water bottle exposed to the sun in a car? What about drinking fountains in schools and other public places? Are these simply attached to the main water system or is this water filtered? How hygienic is it to drink from a fountain that another person’s mouth has accidentally touched? How often are the filters in water filtration machines in supermarkets cleaned and do these filters really extract all harmful substances? These are some things to ponder and to explore in future blog posts.

Yet these are not the only questions related to our most essential and precious source of life - water. What about the following:
What is the ideal temperature at which to consume water? 
In China I used to be laughed at if I chose water that was room temperature or below. Water thermos’ were ubiquitous and were constantly being filled with boiling water. In the U.S., on the other hand, I often have to request for water without ice. The author of "50 Secrets", Sally Beare recommends avoiding ice-cold water as “this is not compatible with your body temperature”.
And is it true that one should not drink during meals but drink water outside of meal times, as my Singaporean friend admonished me?  Beare also warns against mixing drink and food, "as water would just dilute digestive juices."
And finally, how much water should we drink? The personal trainer doing my health assessment advised me to drink 100 oz. of water a day. 100 oz.? Sally Beare recommends one ounce per two pounds of body weight (or 30% less than the previous recommendation). Beare and others state that thirst is a late indicator of dehydration. The color of urine – dark meaning dehydrated, clearer meaning sufficiently hydrated – has been mentioned as being a more accurate measure than thirst. Quantity does matter. Colorado, a very arid state in parts, has a higher percentage of premature births due to dehydration.  Expectant mothers are advised to drink more water to ensure that births happen closer to term.

Water = Life
Water touches so many parts of our lives and deserves greater in-depth objective, scientific analysis. For now I suggest:
  • Be vigilant about the quality of your chosen source(s) of water
  • Help your body detoxify by drinking plenty of pure water, exercising regularly to release toxins via sweat, and by trying to limit the amount of unnecessary pesticides and other chemical intake by choosing freshly harvested, organically grown food over processed food.

If you do not like the taste of water but would like to add flavor, make your own juices by investing in a juicer. Or try this simply recipe for delicious homemade cranberry juice that does not take any more time than boiling a cup of water:

Easy to make yourself
Add 12 oz. of fresh cranberries to a quart of boiling water. Within minutes the cranberries will pop. Immediately strain the mixture through a sieve. Add up to one cup of your favorite sweetener (depends on your taste) and briefly boil the liquid one more time. Enjoy!

1Clean air, pure water, unadulterated food rich in vitamins and minerals
2 Dare I mention chemotherapy and radiation (which strikes me as trying to kill a rabbit by carpet-bombing the entire field)? 
3The cover of “50 Secrets of the World’s Longest Living People” depicts a plastic water bottle. Perhaps the editors would consider replacing the image of the plastic bottle with that of a clear glass jug filled with water in a future edition?