According to the CDC, most of the conditions that cause us to age rapidly and die early are preventable. These conditions, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and arthritis, can be prevented and may also be reversible - at any age.
Around the world, there are certain groups of people who tend to suffer these afflictions far less than others, and who have longer, healthier, and often happier life spans. Author and researcher Dan Buettner spent more than 10 years documenting the world's longest living and healthiest people. The five spots he found with the highest concentration of people who live past 100 he termed "Blue Zones". (Locations of Blue Zones in next article...)
What I found to be very interesting about the Blue Zones, as noted in the author's book called "The Blue Zones Solution" was that each cuisine was very different. Some groups ate fish, some didn't. Some drank alcohol, some didn't. Some had coffee. Some had only certain vegetables. Some ate meat. But what was common among all the groups (regarding food) was that all ate fresh, close to the source, unprocessed, additive- and chemical-free, natural food. Many of these groups obtained produce from nearby farms and prepared their own meals. Packaged foods were not a part of their daily food habits, and meat, dairy and seafood, if any, were not factory-farmed.
If you grew up in India, you can relate. During my summer visits, I remember waking up early with my grandmother to walk to a nearby home where milk was taken fresh from the buffalo and handed in a bucket to us. Nani heated the milk at home to kill any bacteria, and all the butter, ghee, yogurt, and paneer that we'd consume came from this batch of fresh milk. Milk was brought home daily. There was no refrigeration.
My grandfather used to eat meat on special occasions. I remember once I went with my uncle to "purchase a chicken". I think it was this ghastly sight that planted the seed in me to become vegetarian. I was only 9, but I remember my uncle carefully selecting a live chicken from a coop, and it was butchered right in front of us. Talk about fresh.
The food sold to us today is so far from fresh. The produce we get at the supermarkets have been picked sometimes weeks in advance, while still unripe, and made to ripen in unnatural conditions. Hence the fruit or vegetable does not develop its complete nutritional value. The tomato bought at Giant versus the tomato bought at a farmer's market or picked from your backyard have very different nutritional content. A grocery store tomato that's not from a local source can have anywhere from 20-40% less vitamins and minerals than a freshly picked one.
From a yogic perspective, there's less prana in produce that's picked too early. Sometimes, a supermarket fruit remains at low prana level, such as when a banana goes from green to brown so quickly. It never reached a natural state of ripeness due to its artificial environments.
While you can, one of the best things you can do for your health, according to the Blue Zone research, is purchase all your produce from farmer's markets. The difference in taste, ripeness, and juice content is enormous. Most produce at a local farmer's market was picked within days, sometimes even a day prior to sale. You can taste the difference, even after cooking.
Some people question, what's more important - local or organic? I had this question myself years ago and researched it thoroughly. The answer: when both are not available to you (the best option is to get organic or sustainably grown, local produce), then buy local. Believe it or not, a fresh-picked conventional peach will have higher nutritional value than an organic peach picked two weeks ago.
Of course, you don't want to consume heavy pesticides if you're health conscious, so ask the merchant at your farmer's market if they carry any organic produce, or if they use an Integrated Pest Management system, which has reduced amount of chemicals used. Many local farmers now use IPM.
Regarding meat and dairy, you'll read in my article next week, how Blue Zone centerians had limited quantities of these food groups, if at all. You'll also read where you can purchase these fresh if you consume them. I'll note the Blue Zone locations and their respective diets.
In this day and age, it's not easy to get our hands on the kind of fresh food we ate growing up. But it's not impossible. And you're in luck. I've spent the last 20 years of my life studying this topic, and I've found easy, inexpensive ways to provide the freshest food possible for my family. This is what I hope to share with you.
To your long life and good health!