“Let your food be your first medicine”, we all know the famous phrase attributed to Hippocrates, a Greek physician from the century of Pericles. She has never been so real. Hundreds of scientific studies now show that the content of our plate has a decisive impact on our health. Some nutrients protect us from premature aging, chronic diseases or cardiovascular problems, while others, on the contrary, increase the risks. But then how should you eat to put the odds on your side?
For the writing of my book, “The Gentle Method for Better Eating” (Editions Leduc), I scoured the scientific literature and, it seems obvious, that there is indeed today a diet to stay longer possibly healthy.
Plants are the Holy Grail
A few weeks ago, a study published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” revealed that the best nutritional diet was the pesciarian diet. A vegetarian diet in which we also consume a little fish and bonus: this diet keeps a satisfactory carbon footprint, although lower than that of a vegan diet. This pescitarian diet is close to the Mediterranean diet, whose health benefits have been confirmed by dozens of scientific studies. His characteristics ? Very vegetable, it provides a wide range of vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and fibers. These are at the heart of any healthy diet. But first, what are fibers?
It is in a way the skeleton of the plant, an armature which will not be digested by the small intestine and which will be fermented in the colon by our bacteria. A feast thanks to which these bacteria will produce anti-inflammatory substances beneficial to our health and the quality of our intestinal barrier. These fibers also make it possible to dampen the peaks of glycemia, thus to avoid that there is too much sugar at the same time in the blood. They also help lower our cholesterol, maintain good transit and feel full. They are found in fruits and vegetables, pulses, oilseeds…
In addition to these fibers, the Mediterranean diet provides good proteins (fish, pulses, etc.) and good fats via olive oil or fatty fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines), essential for our cardiovascular health and precious to limit the inflammation of our body. Conversely, a diet that is too meaty, rich in poor quality fats (mainly those of animal origin) and sugars, but also in additives, pesticides, endocrine disruptors or industrial foods will be unfavorable to our health.
Gain 10 years of life expectancy
“Do you have to eat like an ascetic to hope to age in good health? This is the question asked by Abigail, 62, who came to consult me for an anti-aging diet.
Not necessarily. In 2022, a meta-analysis (i.e. a compilation of scientific studies on the same theme) was published by a collective of Norwegian researchers in the prestigious journal PLOS Medicine (2). According to them, consuming a lot of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, a little fish or eggs, dairy products every day, forgetting sugary drinks, could save ten years of life expectancy if these habits were adopted at the age of twenty. Even eight years if they were put in place at sixty.
Researchers are well aware that this ideal diet is not within everyone’s reach. They also modeled an intermediate diet, called the “feasable diet”, a kind of middle way between the classic Western diet, fatty, meaty and sweet, and the optimal healthy diet. In this case, the occasional consumption of red meat, refined cereals or sweet products is possible in moderate quantities, and the consumption of fruits and vegetables is a little lower.
Result ? This method of small steps nevertheless makes it possible to gain six years of life expectancy for women, seven for men, only if the “feasible” diet is started at the age of twenty. So that’s the one I’m suggesting to Abigail…
The best diet is the one that works for you
I am very attached to this intermediate way, because it is much more compatible with real life! This is the one I defend in my book by proposing, rather than setting unattainable goals, to gradually implement favorable micro-changes: try wholemeal pasta, adopt a vegetarian meal from time to time, cook more often lentils, prepare pizza, but homemade, put color on your plate…
In this same book, I also offer a section “What if it doesn’t suit me? Because we don’t all have the same desires, the same habits and the same health problems. For example, if you regularly have a bloated belly, increasing fiber too much or too quickly can be counterproductive.
And then, food must remain joyful and pleasant. The objective is not to force oneself to eat better, but to find the balance that reconciles pleasure and health in each of us. What happiness when we found it!
(1) American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1 Mach, 2023 DOI: 10.1016/j.ajcnut.2023.01.009 Popular diets as selected by adults of United States show wide variation in carbon footprints and diet quality (In Press) via AAAS 28 Feb, 2023
(2) Estimating impact of food choices on life expectancy: A modeling study Lars T. Fadnes, Jan-Magnus Økland, Øystein A. Haaland, Kjell Arne Johansson, Plos, February 2022