Challenge #18 ~ Eat to Become a Centenarian

Read the blog post on the July Theme ~ FOOD

Photo by Huyen Nguyen on Unsplash

Aiko is a small, smiling woman of 103 years old who lives in Higashi, a small village on the Okinawa Islands, Japan. She doesn’t speak much but her lively, bright eyes eyes communicate a lot. She says she feels happy and loved. She is still active, she practices gymnastics every morning and cooks lunch for the whole family every day. In the afternoon, Aiko meets up with her friends. They are all her age. In Okinawa, in fact, there are more centenarians per capita than anywhere else in the world.

Do you want to stay strong and full of life into your 80s and 90s and even past 100? What are the secrets of the world’s longest-living population?

Gerontologists have studied people who live to be 100 or older in an attempt to define the qualities or conditions that characterize centenarians as a special population. They have identified a variety of positive attributes, such as not smoking, regular exercise, avoidance of stress, family connectedness, and a positive attitude toward life. But one factor appears to be especially strongly linked to longevity: diet. 

Japan has the highest number of centenarians per capita (0.05% of the population), with more than 67,000 Japanese people who’ve reached 100 years old and beyond. Italy is another country where life expectancy can be very long, with an impressive 0.03% of the population that are centenarian. So what do Japanese and Italian diets have in common? They share some characteristics: plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and healthy fats, and not much sugar, red meat or processed food. These are exactly the features of a diet that promotes a longer life, according to a recent study published in Circulation.

Interestingly, according to several studies the diet that seems healthier for our body appears to be healthier for the environment, too. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are a major contributor to climate change. With smart land-use and farming practices we can limit GHG emissions and its impact on climate change. 

Reducing our weekly meat intake and choosing a more plant-based diet may be the most effective way an individual can stop climate change: “From a greenhouse gas standpoint and a climate standpoint, there are many advantages to a vegetarian diet and a vegan diet,” Rob Jackson, chair of the Department of Earth System Science at Stanford, says. In fact, transitioning towards a more plant-based diet could reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions by up to 70 percent, according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 

Meat and cheese have the highest carbon footprint because it takes a lot of resources to raise and produce these products. In contrast, fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts are plants that grow by transforming carbon dioxide into oxygen and require much less processing to bring to market, therefore have a much lower carbon footprint. 

So, by transitioning to a more vegetarian diet, we have a large impact not only on our health but also on our personal carbon footprint! 

But… where to start?

  • Follow the healthy eating plate – It was created by nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health to help people make the best eating choices.
  • One step at a time – there is no need to completely revolutionize your diet. For example, there is no need to say farewell to meat. Just start reducing it and use the savings in money to treat yourself to the occasional really good cut of meat raised on organic food, doing yourself and the planet a favor. You can follow Graham Hill’s example and become a 5 days a week vegetarian.
  • Share – we have just learned about the impact that food can have on the environment and we want to do our part. Cook for loved ones, host meat-free dinner parties to learn from each other about the enormous variety of delicious, easy to prepare vegetarian dishes that leave you filled and happy and energized. Share this information with the people you love and care about! Maybe they won’t be able to resist becoming vegetarian 🙂 
  • As Michael Pollan says in Food Rules: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Remember, individual actions are easily scalable when everyone participates and makes conscious decisions, just a little bit at a time. 

This challenge contributes to delivering UN Sustainable Development Goals #2 Zero Hunger,  #13 Climate Action, #14 Life Below Water, and #15 Life On Land.