The title of this HEB comes from a reader who recently lamented that every food on the planet has been demonised. Meat gives you cancer, fish are full of metals, grains inflame your brain, dairy causes arthritis, carbs shoot up your insulin, fruit has too much fructose, fat clogs your arteries, legumes are ‘anti-nutrients’ (contain lectins) and vegetables are poisoned with pesticides. There are more different food pyramids than there are Egyptian pyramids and Humpty Dumpty is still sitting on the fence. So what’s left?
Ironically what we eat is not the most important factor when it comes to our health. A 75 year Harvard study meticulously tracked the lives of 724 men and uncovered that good relationships mattered more than good food when it came to being healthy and happy. Feeling that we matter to other people and that we are making a positive contribution to their lives, predicts how long we live, better than do cholesterol levels. Importantly, quality matters more than quantity. It isn’t the number of friends that counts, it’s the depth and meaning we attach to those relationships. When the researchers included women in the study, the findings were the same. Those who were most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. Not only do meaningful relationships keep us physically healthier, they also keep our memories sharper and halve our risk of developing dementia.
So let’s think outside the plate and come up with the real ingredients for optimal health:
- Regular good quality sleep – if we’re sleep-deprived, everything in our lives deteriorates: our immune system is weaker, our decision-making skills erode, our hunger hormones are elevated and we have less to give to others.
- A sense of purpose – this refers to feeling that our lives matter and that we are making a positive contribution to others. Are you doing what matters most to you? How can you do more of the truly important things with the people you care about?
- Feeling connected to other people and surrounding ourselves with enriching relationships.
- Daily pleasurable physical movement – this has the opposite effect of sleep deprivation. Our bodies function better in every way, our brains are sharper, we have more energy and we feel better about ourselves. All this adds up to instinctively eating better and having more to give to others. Thirty minutes or more of your choice of movement every day is a great goal but any amount is better than nothing.
My point is NOT that food doesn’t matter, it’s that we need to shift our focus to the true foundations of good health: sleep, purpose, relationships and movement. These four factors will raise our ability to intuitively know what to eat. Just like the rest of the animal kingdom.