Coming into work this morning I heard a segment on National Public Radio about a long-term study of women that showed how little changes in our diets can add up to great gains as we age.
The study followed women's eating patterns starting in their 50s and found that those who ate fewer meat-and-potatoes meals and more fish-and-fresh vegetables suppers were about 40 percent more likely to reach the later decades without developing chronic diseases and memory or physical problems compared to those with less healthy eating patterns.
The research, conducted over 15 years, tracked who among the women developed a whole host of chronic diseases including Parkinson's, cancer, lung and pulmonary disease. The study subjects also underwent memory and physical fitness tests. Perhaps not surprising, those that ate less butter, more olive oil and swapped Cheetos for almonds tended to fare better in later life.
Meir Stampfer, a co-author of the study, says "this study adds to a growing body of evidence that all point to measurable benefits of eating a diet that is rich in plant-based food, low in saturated fats, meat and refined starch. He says he's changed his own eating habits based on the weight of the evidence," according to the NPR report.
"I'm eating more nuts, berries and fruit," he says. As well as fewer potatoes, and less meat. "And I'm happier."
Many people struggle with proper nutrition, especially in lower-income areas where access to fresh produce and quality whole foods is not easy. Most of us are aware of the obesity epidemic our nation's undergone in recent decades since food manufacturers began to heavily market processed foods for their convenience and dense calories.
One big problem with that, however, is growing proof these same companies "rig" those less healthy foods to make you want to eat more of them. In fact, in this year's best-seller Sugar, Fat, Salt, author Michael Moss showed the degree to which the food industry will manipulate consumers and try to stay ahead of watch groups and regulators to maintain huge profit margins.
Our taste buds adapt to the higher levels of sugars and salt, so it takes time and dedication to reverse eating habits and develop a taste for more natural foods.
As the NPR report and others advise, start with small changes. For instance, substitute olive oil for butter when cooking. Snack on nuts instead of chips made with high saturated fats and sodium.
Over time these new eating habits will build traction and, believe it or not, the taste of those old foods you craved will suddenly not taste good.