Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What Can Other Countries Teach Us About Eating Right?

Ever notice how people in some countries never seem to get the same diseases we do?

The secret is in what they eat.
By Mehmet Oz

In spite of all the bad news about Americans' health, the truth is that we have one of the highest life expectancies in the world, 77.9 years. (Andorra has the highest, 83.5.) But there's a caveat: A big part of why we live so long is that we're good at treating what you might call lifestyle diseases -- things like high blood pressure and diabetes. It turns out that there are places in the world where people live about as long as we do without needing fancy medicine or surgery. We can learn from them.

Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula
Fruit every day -- especially papaya, which you can now get year- round in the U.S. Papaya contains enzymes that help break down food in the stomach, which lets you absorb more nutrients. It's also a prebiotic, which means it promotes the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Bonus tip: The staple food in Nicoya is a mix of corn and beans. Replace the corn with quinoa, a protein-rich seed from South America, and you've got what I call a perfect meal: rich in protein, complex carbs, fiber, and vitamins.

Sardinian wine from the Nuoro region contains five to ten times the procyanidins -- powerful antioxidants with cardiovascular benefits -- of most other varieties. Look for it next time you're at the wineshop. Bonus tip: Many Sardinians farm their own food, including naturally grazed meat. It doesn't just taste better, it's also better for you, because it contains omega-3 fats that feedlot meat doesn't. Buy grass-fed beef whenever possible.

The incidence of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's is significantly lower there, and we think the reason is the use of curry spices. The science isn't complete yet, but studies on three specific spices -- turmeric, chili, and cinnamon -- are solid enough to report that they help reduce everything from inflammation and chronic pain to bacterial infections and cancer.

Okinawa, Japan
Okinawans drink a lot of tea, which I'm now recommending Americans use in place of coffee. Green tea in particular contains the most antioxidants. Bonus tip: We should all follow the Okinawan philosophy of eating: Hara hachi bu, which translates to "eat only until you are 80 percent full." That's excellent advice. Calorie restriction is the single most potent antiaging trick we know about. You'll be hearing a lot more about it soon -- by pure coincidence, my new book talks about it -- but for now, just start saying no to a second helping.

I recommend drinking kefir, the thin yogurt popular in Turkey, for overall gut health. Almost anything with live cultures in it -- kimchi and kombucha, the Russian health drink you see a lot these days, are other examples -- will do the trick. They're all probiotics, meaning they supply you with good bacteria you need to absorb maximum nutrition from your food.

Mehmet Oz is a heart surgeon and the coauthor of You: Staying Young (Free Press, $26), out October 30.


9_Reps said...

Great article...I can't overstate how much more "present" in my own life I feel since "detoxifying" a significant part of my diet after camp. Terry and i really took the nutrition lessons to heart (no pun intended hehe)...I never knew what enriched meant...what a sneaky word...I always thought it meant "extra vitamins" or something...

the nickster said...


Ever since I was a kid I would occasionally travel back to the old country over the summer with my parents to visit family. We would stay in these quaint, picturesque little villages in southern Italy. Man, you couldn't find a burger and fries within 150 miles, let alone anyone who knew how to even cook the stuff:) However, though, these people would go out in their backyards and lop off the head of a goat or a chicken without any hesitation. Meat was definitely on the grocery list, as were a lot of other tasty things like potatoes, grains, pastas, greens, fruit, gelato, and other sweets. You know, one thing I remember was that obesity was virtually nonexistent. I mean, no one was really fat. In fact, the fattest kid in the village was ME at the time! They would call me the American giant!

The most notable characteristic of food that I seemed to notice was that everything tasted good, really good. And interestingly enough, many years later I learned that the meat was grass-fed or fed with organic grains. The soil was fertilized with organic matter, no pesticides, no hormones, no spraying, just the sun and rain.

I know that our wonderful country is the breadbasket of the world, and we have to feed a lot of people in an economical way, but I truly hope that organic farming proves profitable enough that we can develop methods to feed the multitudes in a healthy, tasty, low-cost and wholesome way.

Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Tony.
God bless!