By the year 2050, there will be more than 800,000 centenarians living in the United States. What if one of them is you?
Sue Linja, a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in gerontology, and I have been studying the diets of centenarians from Idaho and around the world. We’ve found that their diet secrets to living a longer and healthier life are pretty simple. Our interviews, qualitative research and observations in Japan, Singapore, Italy, Cuba, Taiwan and the United States have provided us with what we believe to be the best dietary strategies for longevity and happiness.
We’ll be discussing our research Saturday at TEDx Boise, but here’s a sneak peek of a few things you should know to help you become a centenarian:
▪ Every centenarian we interviewed had several dietary habits in common, regardless of which country they came from. Our mothers were right when they insisted that we should eat our vegetables! Vegetables play a fundamental role in the diet of every centenarian we’ve met during our travels. (Check in with a dietitian or find out more at TEDx Boise to learn which specific vegetables or nutrients in vegetables are helpful for your genetic risk factors. You can find a dietitian at eatrightIdaho.org.)
▪ I had the privilege recently of meeting longtime Boise resident Carmen Cook, who is 99. Full of life, mind and spirit, she recalled her early days as a child in Boise. She remembers Chinese-operated vegetable wagons traveling from house to house to sell their produce.
Cook’s mother relied on them to ensure that her family had their daily dose of fresh vegetables. Boise had several “Chinese gardens,” but the largest was the area now called Garden City. In fact, Chinden Boulevard comes from a contraction of the two words — Chinese garden — Chinden.
Fresh-picked vegetables were delivered from house to house early in the morning, and Cook’s mother was a fabulous cook who relied on the nutritious vegetables to feed her family. This habit of consuming a daily dose of fresh vegetables was established at an early age for her. Hint: Farm-to-table dining may be another secret to living a long and healthy life.
▪ Other stories from the centenarians we met suggest eating fermented foods, plant-based diets, and specific nutrients and phytochemicals that help fight inflammation. Also, not eating to excess has contributed to their longevity.
▪ Physical activity, protein intake distributed throughout the day and local foods are also important. Emerging research suggests that these factors may hold preventative keys to reducing the incidence of specific chronic diseases. There is more and more evidence that diet is linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
You are never too late to change your eating habits. Even those who are in their 60s and 70s will find that eating better can make a difference in their health and longevity.
So eat well and live well to make it to age 100. And share this information with your friends. It’s an idea worth spreading!
SeAnne Safaii-Waite, Ph.D., R.D., L.D., is an associate professor at the University of Idaho Dietetics Program and past president of the Idaho Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Learn more about dietitians and healthy eating at eatrightIdaho.org.
Learn more at TEDx Boise on April 8
How do you make it to 100? Boise dietitians Sue Linja and SeAnne Safaii-Waite — the author of this article — will explore that question in a talk at TEDx Boise on April 8 at JUMP.
The University of Idaho, where Safaii-Waite is an associate professor, is a co-sponsor of the 2017 TEDx Boise. The program brings people together to “expose, explore and expand” on key issues.
Other TEDx Boise speakers include Dex Torricke-Barton, who leads communications for Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX); Jimmy Hallyburton, the founder of the Boise Bicycle Project; and Mykelle Walton, an Idaho aerial artist pushing the boundaries of what the human body can do. Learn more about the speakers at the event website.
Tickets are $75 and the event runs from 1 to 7 p.m. Saturday, April 8, at Jack’s Urban Meeting Place, 1000 West Myrtle Street in Downtown Boise.
For more information and tickets, visit tedxboise.org.
Some health tips
▪ Consume fresh foods, including legumes, vegetables and potatoes.
▪ Distributing protein intake throughout the day helps prevent muscle loss.
▪ Another observation from the two dietitians as they researched and interviewed the centenarians was the consumption of fermented foods, such as tofu or wine. Fermentation uses the help of microbes to create an acidic environment to preserve foods, develop their flavor, and change their nutritional and enzymatic properties. In this process, the food becomes predigested by bacteria and allows the nutrients to be more easily absorbed by humans.
Read a story at IdahoStatesman.com/living/health-fitness from 2016 that details Sue Linja and SeAnne Safaii-Waite’s initial research on centenarians from around the globe.