Aging Joyfully: A Lesson from the Oldsters

I recently completed a course on geriatric nutrition and before my first class I have to admit, I was not excited.  Studying nutrition specifically geared at the elderly population is so far off the nutritional topics I am typically drawn to and so, I went to my first class with very low expectations.

What I anticipated to be my least favourite course in the program ended up being truly life changing and my perspective on aging, the elderly population, and the general concept of happiness were challenged and reformed.  The instructor, Japanese Naturopathic Doctor Mami Ishii, brought a unique perspective into a population that is generally considered unglamorous and a life stage that most of us are not looking forward to all that much.

Aging Population

Dr. Ishii had the class read Healthy at 100 by John Robbins which has literally, even after studying nutrition for over 2 years, revolutionized the way I view what constitutes vitality and healthy living.  In his book, Robbins starts by outlining the dietary and lifestyle habits of four of the world’s longest-living societies; Abkhasians (South Russia), Vilcabambans (Equador), Hunzans (Central Asia), and the Okinawans (Japan).  Each of these four places has an extraordinarily high number of people who live until and beyond 100 years and they share the same approach to diet and lifestyle.  In fact, the commonalities are staggering.

Okinawa

Okinawa, Japan

 What Robbins outlined in Healthy at 100 is that each of these groups eats a plant-based, whole foods diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.  They eat very little processed foods and sugar and opt for whole grain carbohydrates.  The concept of retirement is null and void and “oldsters” in these areas are active and live purposefully throughout their lives.  Culturally, the older you are, the more esteem you’re given.  They are very active, yet their caloric intake is less than 2000/day.  They limit animal based products to 1% (Hunzans, Vilcabambans), 3% (Okinawa), and 10% (Abkasian).

Healthy at 100

Robbins goes into describing the changes China has undergone in the past few decades and nicely summarizes findings from one of the largest epidemiological studies ever conducted all of which you can read in a book called The China Study by Dr. Colin Campbell.  The China Study had researchers collected blood, urine, and diet journals from 50 people in each 65 counties and 130 villages selected throughout China.  Researchers analyzed the data with respect to over 50 diseases and though the results are plentiful, findings can be summarized as follows.

china-map

In areas of China that are still developing, people are dying from diseases related to nutritional deficiencies and hygiene inadequacies which includes ailments like tuberculosis, respiratory illnesses, measles, and diarrhea.  Conversely, in areas of China that have been developed the diseases have shifted dramatically to deaths from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and obesity related illnesses such as complications from Type II Diabetes.  Dr. Campbell coins this shift as death from “nutritional extravagance” because it has been directly linked to an increase in refined foods and a much higher intake of saturated fats stemming from animal foods (meat and dairy) and hydrogenated foods.  In short, the one of the largest indicators of wealth in China is the level of ones cholesterol levels.  You can bet that high levels of HDL cholesterol are not found in the developing areas of China, but instead larger more prosperous cities.

China_Obesity_Chart

What does all this have to do with geriatric nutrition?  We should expect to live into old age and this part of the life-cycle is natural, beautiful, and meant to be experienced.  The idea that we are all going to die from a chronic illness is rubbish and believing in dying from disease is something worth reconsidering.  Reading Healthy at 100 made me reconsider my dietary choices and the overwhelming evidence that supports the longevity associated with a whole foods, plant-based diet that is low in animal based foods is undeniable.  It’s a hard revelation to come to for those us use to eating meat each day…or even several times a week.  The idea of aging joyfully and experiencing life to its fullest is definitely something I am striving for and the advice in Healthy to 100 makes it seem possible, if not expected.

Oldsters

Healthy at 100 is a positive and encouraging read that will inspire you to look at your diet, connect with your community, and move intentionally each and every day.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr

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Green Smoothies 101 in 100 Words: A Veggietastic Breakfast Solution

What is the most important thing I’ve learned at school over the past 12 months?

what did you learn today

Drink more water and eat more greens.  Okay, that is technically two but lucky for you they’re both included in this next nutritional recommendation.  If you’re interested in learning about the benefits of adequate water consumption, click here and for information on why leafy greens are important, this will help explain things.

Green Smoothie

Green smoothies are the easiest way I can think of to get a huge dose of vegetables into your diet.  When starting your day of with one of these diddy’s you’re paving the way towards a full day of health eating.  The sugar content is extremely low because the only sweet ingredient included is fruit which is naturally occurring.  With a dash of complex carbohydrates and a whole lot of fiber, green smoothies will help stabilize your blood sugar levels and prevent ravenous cravings later in the day.  Green smoothies are alkanalizing and are busting with vitamins and minerals.  Here is a recipe to get you started but the beauty of green smoothies is that the combinations are endless…as are the health benefits.

The Health Junction Green Combustion

  • 2-3 cups of leafy greens.  I like mixing red leaf lettuce and kale.
  • handful of frozen blueberries
  • half a banana
  • stalk of celery
  • 1/4th avocado
  • 1 scoop of vega energizing smoothie powder (I like the Choc-a-Lot Flavour)
  • 2 tbsp oats
  • 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk + 1 cup of water
  • Cinnamon (optional)
  • A couple of tbsp’s of hemp, flax, or chia seeds (optional)

Throw ingredients in the blender – it’s best to layer the denser foods (frozen blueberries, celery) on the bottom and the lighter ingredients on the top.  Pour in water and almond milk last.  I usually start blending on the ice crushing setting of my blender but do whatever works best with your home blender.

Pour into a large glass and sprinkle with some cinnamon.  This contains 7-8 servings of fruits and vegetables!

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

 “Each of us has two “doctors”—the left and the right leg.”

– Vilcabamban philosophy on the importance of walking

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40 Days and 40 Nights of Eco-Awareness: Plastic Bag and Coffee Cup Challenge

This past week I got an email from Toni “T-Town” De Mello, a friend of mine who likes to challenge  herself by giving something up for lent each year.  This year she had all kinds of goodies on her list; giving up Facebook, no traveling, no TV, no buying anything online, no sugar, and no fried food.  In the end Toni decided to give up swearing for 40 days and 40 nights.  Good job T-Town!

No Swearing

I’m by no means a religious person, but enjoy the idea of giving up a guilty pleasure in an effort to challenge myself and maybe even get rid of a bad habit.  Toni motivated me to think about something I do regularly that really need not be a part of my lifestyle and it just so happens that lent coincided with a course I’m taking on Ecology & Nutrition.  So, I’m on a two-fold challenge for the next 40 days and it starts with coffee.

Take Out CupsDon’t be alarmed.  I’m not going to stop drinking coffee – I’ve already tried that not once, but twice and the best I could do is cut down to one cup of 1/2 regular and 1/2 decaf coffee per day.  This challenge will be not to avoid coffee, but to avoid using takeout cups because in Toronto alone 1 million paper cups of coffee are sent to the dump each year…that’s enough to make up the length of the CN Tower 216 times.

coffeecups

Yikes.  All for what?  A little convenience so that my lazy behind doesn’t need to bring a portable mug with me?  Sure lots of cups can be recycled but that is still a waste of material and energy resources.  So, enough is enough.  No more paper cups for me in the next 40 days and instead I’ll use a reusable stainless steel mug.

plastic-bagWhile I’m at waste reduction, what about the loads of plastic bags used at the grocery store.  I’m pretty good at bringing reusable cloth bags but I started thinking about all those little flimsy plastic bags used for bagging produce like fresh fruit and veggies.  For the next 40 days, I’ll be using nylon produce bags or reusing old fruit and veggie bags.

Changes to coffee cup habits and plastic bag usage will help improve my health (and the health of others) by reducing waste to landfills and decreasing energy expenditure.  I feel good about the next 40 days.

What’s your nutrition or health related goal?

You may want to consider creating a SMART goal, that is something which is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Sensitive.  Here is an example of my coffee cup goal:

Specific:  refrain from using takeout cups

Measurable:  at the end of 40 days, no takeout cups will have been used

Attainable:  I can achieve this goal by bringing my own reusable mug with me to work or making coffee at the office and using a ceramic mug

Realistic:  definitely not brain surgery.  I can easily refrain from using takeout cups…this isn’t going to kill me.

Time Sensitive:  40 days.  Hopefully a lifetime.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“Think globally, act locally.”

– Sir Paul McCartney

Eating Likes the Aztecs: Amaranth 101 in 100 Words

Amaranth

What’s up with Amaranth?  I always see it on the standard list of gluten-free grains but it’s not so commonly used in western cooking.

Amaranth Plan

Amaranth, popular with the Aztecs, is a plant with a flowery head that contains the seeds we eat.  The nutritional profile of amaranth is interestingly similar to swiss chard, beets, spinach, and quinoa – this because they all belong to the same Chenopodiacease family.  Like many dark leafy greens, amaranth is chalked with magnesium, calcium, and iron in much higher quantities than most grains (like wheat for example).  In terms of taste, it can be described as nutty, earthy, and ever so slightly sweet.

Lysine

What’s cool about Amaranth is that it is rich in the essential amino acid Lysine.  An essential amino acid, btw, is protein building block that we cannot make and therefore must be obtained from our diet.  This particular amino acid is used for making carnitine which we need to convert fatty acids into energy.  Also, it helps the absorption of calcium which works very synergistically with the fact that Amaranth is a good source of calcium.  Overall, it has more protein than any other gluten-free grain and lots of fiber too.  Here is a amaranth porridge recipe from an awesome site called Naturally Ella that is DELICIOUS!

Amaranth Banana Porridge

Banana-Pecan Amaranth Porridge

(adapted from Naturally Ella & recipe created by Erin Alderson)

Ingredients

  • ½ cup amaranth
  • 1 cup water
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup pecan pieces
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 bananas
  • Milk (almond or coconut), to serve

 Directions: 

Combine amaranth with one cup water and salt. Bring amaranth to a boil, and reduce to a simmer and then cover and  simmer for 15 mins.  Remove from heat and let sit for 10 mins.  If it’s too thick, add some almond or coconut milk and set aside.  Add pecans to a dry skillet and toast over medium-low heat, stir often. Toast ar0und 3 minutes.  Set aside.  Heat coconut oil, maple syrup, and cinnamon over medium-low heat. Cut bananas in ½” slices and add to skillet, cook until bananas are extremely tender and maple syrup has absorbed into the slices.  Stir together ¾ of the bananas and amaranth. Pour into bowls and top with remaining bananas, pecans, and a drizzle of milk.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.” 

– Irish Proverb

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When you don’t have 2 hours and $22 to take a yoga class…

Restorative Yoga

Like many of you reading, I quite enjoy yoga but find it really difficult to actually make it to classes.  There are two reasons for this and the primary is that it’s a huge time committment.  Classes are usually at least one hour and when you factor in the time getting there and home you’re looking at 2 hours of you day.  Secondly, I’ve been finding the prices of yoga classes exorbitant these days.  With tax it can be upwards of $25 dollars which is ridiculous!  It’s a nice treat every now and then, but it got me wondering how to get more yoga into my life without breaking the bank and my schedule.

Time and Money

Earlier this week, I paid a visit to Toronto’s best esthetician Louise T who at nearly 60 is fit as a fiddle and beautiful to boot.  While we were taking care of business she mentioned the idea of finding yoga videos FOR FREE online.  It doesn’t cost a penny and puts you in charge of the time you spend in your practice.  I’ll gladly take advice from Louise T.

yoga at home

So, here is how it works.

1.) go to YouTube

2.) search for the type of yoga you like and then the number of minutes you want to spend.  ex:  “restorative yoga, 15 minutes”

3.) save the clips that interest you to your favourites and enjoy!

Here are some of the clips that I liked:

Restorative Yoga (12 minutes):  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzZM-pPM0mk

Hatha Yoga @ Home (10 minutes):  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAA-SZ05zSg

Hip Opening Yoga (45 minute):  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lUqo5Qceh0

Morning Yoga for Flexibility (7 minutes with Tara Stiles):  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRsC1YdXqOc

De-Stress Yoga (10 minutes with Tara Stiles):  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqWpt1xyn8A

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“Yoga is the study of balance, and balance is the aim of all living creatures: it is our home.”

– Rolf Gates

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Ear Infections and (Onion) Earmuffs

The number one reason for antibiotic prescription is for the treatment of ear infections and while antibiotics can be useful, they are grossly over prescribed and often misused.  84-93% of US children will get an ear infection within the first year of life and the primary course of treatment would be antibiotics.

E-Tube Adult vs Kid

Kids have a tendency to get way more ear infections than do us adults and the reason is anatomical in nature.  The eustachian tube is a pathway that connects the middle ear to the pharynx, that later is the cavity that is just behind your nose and mouth which leads into the esophagus.  The function of the eustachian tube is to drain mucous and equalize pressure in the middle ear which is why when there is a problem with this part of the body, we can feel dizzy and disoriented.  You’ll notice from the picture above that the eustachian tube in kids is much shorter and also quite horizontal as compared to the that of an adult.  When fluid accumulates, it creates an ideal situation for bacteria to breed and you can see from the picture that the shorter and horizontal angle of a child’s ET make fluid accumulation more likely as compared to an adult.

Fluid Accumulation

Inflammation in the ET causes fluid to accumulate more readily – here are some contributing risk factors to the development of ear infections in children:

  • Food or environmental allergies
  • Teething
  • Daycare
  • Being breastfed for less than three months
  • Use of a pacifier
  • Swimming in a public pool
  • Cigarette Smoke

Though antibiotics are effective for the treatment of ear infections, the overuse of antibiotic medication doesn’t come without side effects.  Aside from eliminating sources of inflammation from the list above, there are natural methods of treating an active ear infection.  It’s best to confirm that it is a simple ear infection and nothing more serious before trying any of the following suggestions.

onion ear muff for ear infections

ONION EARMUFFS!  I love remedy for its price point and high degree of funkyness.  Cut an onion in half and heat it up (saute or bake for 10 minutes) so that it gets hot.  Wrap it in a cheesecloth and allow to cool to a temperature that is comfortable when placed on top of the ear (flat side to the ear).  The fumes from the onion are antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory and will help break up the infection and get things flowing.

garlic_eardrops_m

GARLIC OIL DROPS:  put a couple of cloves of garlic in a dropper bottle and fill with olive oil and let sit for at a few hours.  You can place 5 drops in the infected ear and plug with a cotton ball to make sure that it doesn’t seep out.  Garlic is antimicrobial.

No Sugar

CUT THE CRAP.  And by crap I mean sugar.  Bacteria feeds off of sugar so it’s the last thing you want to your child to ingest during any type of infection.  This includes fruit, juice, fruity yogurts, ice cream, sugary cereals, and even peanut butter (which is usually chalked with sugar).

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

 “Water, air, and cleanliness are the chief articles in my pharmacopoeia.” 

– Napoleon I

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