Everything. Just not always.

I have spent many years researching foods with preventive properties. Therefore it is not so strange that I sometimes get questions about how to eat to have a long and healthy life. And provided that the person asking is not allergic or has any condition that requires a special diet, the answer is actually straightforward.

Eat with variation, and not too much or too little. 

In contrast to the miles of health columns written every week about everything from so-called super berries to whole diets that will make us better and healthier inside and out, the simplicity of the answer may seem provocative. Especially as it comes from someone who “should know better”. But in addition to being easier to put up with for a lifetime, this approach also has research support. Let me take a few examples (you will find links to the research articles at the bottom): 

Researchers in Malmö in southern Sweden monitored the eating habits and health status of about 20,000 individuals for almost 20 years. It turned out that those who ate varied and with a large element of dietary fiber and vegetables held their weight more easily and were less likely to develop type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  On the other hand, among those who ate a low-fat diet with a high intake of light margarine, low-fat milk, and -yogurt and a low intake of butter, there were indications of an increased risk of type-2 diabetes. 

Two other studies showing how a varied diet can prevent disease were done by my colleagues at the Antidiabetic Food Centre at Lund University. In those studies, the subjects received a diet composed of various foods and raw materials with anti-inflammatory properties. The “menu” included whole grains, colorful vegetables and berries, vegetable fats, and acidic products. And the result was amazing. It turned out that the different foods strengthened each other’s health properties. In a short time, this way of eating resulted in, among other things, lowered cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and a more alert brain. 

Exactly what the term “varied” means is not so easy to pinpoint. The basics are that over time, the diet should contain the so-called macronutrients – carbohydrates, fats, and proteins – in the right proportions. Regarding the ratio that should consist of carbohydrates, for example, a study from the prestigious journal the Lancet shows that an intake of 50-55 energy percent was linked to the lowest risk of dying prematurely. In contrast, both higher and lower intake increased the risk. For those with low carbohydrate intake, the risk was significantly higher if they chose to eat mainly animal products but lower if they switched the carbohydrates to plant-based fat and protein sources instead. Even though we know more about what is useful and healthy than ever before, the development is, unfortunately, going in the wrong direction. Both obesity and lifestyle-related diseases are increasing rapidly. One might think that this is entirely unnecessary. And considering how great the interest in food and health seems to be today, it is also a little incomprehensible. There are, of course, many reasons. One may be that unhealthy choices are sometimes cheaper and more accessible than healthy ones. Another could be all the more or less contradictory advice, tips, and diets that constantly hail over us. Therefore I thought I would share an advice of my own, which works well for most people: 

You can eat everything, but not always. 

And what do I mean by that? Well, we must not forget to sometimes treat ourselves to things we like, even if they are not the most healthy. Otherwise, life will be too dull hence unsustainable in the long run. And then it’s essential to keep track of your body and how it is affected by different foods. If you notice that something makes your body or mind work less well  – avoid it and try something else.

Research Report Malmö

Research report Antidiabetic Food Centre

Article from The Lancet

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