YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT
The right food, drink and supplements can boost health and energy and add quality years to your life
The first three of five basic foundations for a good quality of life were discussed in the previous issue of Elite+. These are to maintain your weight at the right level, to have an active lifestyle and get an annual physical check-up. Remember that the basic foundations are not only for the fitness of seniors but are practical and useful for all walks of life and all ages. In this issue, I will elaborate on the remaining two approaches that we should consider adopting in daily life: consuming good quality food and drinks and taking select dietary supplements.
Quality food and drink
We know from school that food comprises five nutrient groups; i.e., protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals. The first three are designated as macronutrients, while the latter two are micronutrients. It is unlikely that we get insufficient macronutrients, since they are the major components of basic food. However, micronutrients are a challenge, since it is more difficult to get sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals from meals. This is because micronutrients are present in only tiny amounts in natural products (vegetables, grains, cereals and meats). Also, vitamins and some minerals are not that stable, so keeping them for a long period or heating while cooking will substantially diminish the quantity. Theoretically, the nutrients a human needs in a given day are called the “recommended daily allowance”, or RDA, and the ideal quantity has long since been scientifically established. As such, amounts of each of these five nutrient groups should be taken daily as recommended so that our body functions normally.
How much food and drink in a given day?
In general, we should consume sufficient amounts of the five nutrient groups discussed above to help our body function normally. If we eat more than our body needs, the leftover food might be kept in the body in various ways, but the most common observable consequence of eating more than we need is weight gain, where the surplus leads to obesity and has a negative impact on the body.
How about if we eat less than we theoretically need? First of all, we can eat less than we need but should maintain a proper ratio of nutrients, since we need all five groups in a day. Secondly, from scientific reviews, we have found out that by eating less than we actually need our body in the long run will be in a better condition. This approach is called “calorie restriction”, or CR. To explain the effect of CR would require a separate article, so I will touch on it briefly here. Scientists observed better condition and function of internal organs of living creatures – including worms, rats, monkeys or humans – when CR is applied. This led to a longer life span of these animals. Although we have yet to have good human clinical trials on CR, we can expect similar results as with monkeys. Similar results were seen in a group of scientists working in Antarctica who had to be careful of food consumption because of the difficulties in logistics. After five years of working in a remote area and eating less with strictly controlled intake, the scientists were stronger than when they had arrived at the research station.
In a given day, we should consume appropriate amounts of all five groups, meaning not too much or too little. Many of us who want to lose weight may choose to skip some meals, which is not good for our general well-being in the long run. The most practical way to reduce weight is to reduce the calories consumed, either by eating less or by substituting certain foods that our body can’t convert into energy (such as glucomannan, the natural fibre from the indigenous tuberous plant konjac). On the other hand, when not taking in food, our body will move the source of energy to reserves such as body fat, glycogen or muscle mass. This is okay in the short run but could cause organ malfunction in the long term. In short, pursuing the middle way in everything in life may be the most convincing approach.
Meat or vegetables?
Scientifically and biologically, we can separate animals into three groups from their dental profile; i.e. carnivorous (consume meat), herbivorous (consume vegetables) or omnivorous (consume both). For meat eaters such as tigers, teeth are of the blade type with sharp tips, whereas for vegetable eaters such as cows, teeth are all of the grinding type with plateau tips. Humans, by contrast, have both blade and grinding types, and can eat everything. However, grinding teeth outnumber the blade canines; therefore, we should eat more vegetable than meat. This will help our general heath, since we were born to eat this way. A vegetarian approach is quite popular now and in general is quite good for our health. Strict vegetarians should however consider certain supplements for nutrients not present in plants, particularly vitamin B12.
Do we need special health food?
The types of food we should consider, besides the five groups above, are those for a specific need. If pregnant, for example, we need more calcium as an essential building block for our child's growth, so an expecting mother should eat more food containing high amounts of calcium, such as milk. Fruits containing vitamin C, such as orange juice, should also be included if we need more antioxidants. Men over 50 should have more tomato juice, a good source of lycopene, which is good for prostate health. Therefore, we can consume nutrient-rich food should we have a particular requirement.
The best liquid to take regularly – around 2,000cc a day – is water. We can consume other drinks if needed but have to be cautious, especially with sugary drinks, since it is easy to get surplus calories from sweet liquids. Two to three cups of coffee or tea (Western, Chinese or green) a day are also allowed, provided that sugar is kept to a minimum or not added at all. From scientific reviews, we have found many health benefits from coffee and we can discuss that separately at another time. For alcoholic drinks, from scientific studies it is fine to have two glasses (whiskey with soda up to 200cc) for men and one glass for women. Consuming more than this may have a negative impact on our bodies, minds and consciousness.
To consider when taking dietary supplements
It is quite normal to not get enough of the five food groups, especially vitamins and minerals. So as a baseline recommendation, we should take a multivitamin and -mineral tablet to ensure the minimum micronutrient needs of our bodies. Other factors to consider include gender, age, lifestyle and specific needs. The approach for specific dietary supplements tallies with the food we need for special conditions. The difference between eating special food and taking dietary supplements, besides the format (food or pharmaceutical), is dosing supplements more precisely. If we need an additional 500mg of vitamin C as an antioxidant, for example, we can either drink around 1.5 litres of orange juice or just swallow one 500mg vitamin C tablet. It seems more convenient to take a dietary supplement.
I have elaborated on the two remaining categories to arrive at a better quality of life as we grow older: consuming good quality of food and drink and selectively taking dietary supplements. For the next issue, I will find more practical information to maintain good physical health, but if readers have a specific query on health, please ask and I will try my best to find out. So see you next time!