We have all heard the phrase “you are what you eat”, but how true is this? How does what you eat and your lifestyle choices affect how you function on a day-to-day basis, and how you age?
In this week’s podcast and blog, I speak with Dr. Steven Gundry, a cardiothoracic surgeon and NY Times bestselling author, about why we may be living longer but not living better, how to reverse the “disease” of aging, how what we are eating may be making us sicker, and why we should help our children develop healthy eating habits from young.
Dr. Gundry started researching the link between diet and health as a student at Yale University. When he became a surgeon, he noticed how changing the way his patients eat dramatically affected their health, potentially eliminating the need for surgery. Consequently, he decided to study the link between lifestyle choices and wellness, opening several restorative medicine centers and institutes across the country. These centers focus on teaching people how to make good lifestyle decisions before they need surgery; Dr. Gundry uses his research to create reproducible lifestyle patterns, healthy supplements and easy diet plans that help people age well, or, as he puts it, “die at a ripe young age”.
Even though we are living longer than before, most people now see their health begin to decline at age 50. This paradox has become so pervasive that many of us assume we’re meant to spend the second half of our lives in a state of steady decline, but this doesn't have to be the case! You can take charge of your life and how you age by changing your lifestyle!
How? Over the years, Dr. Gundry observed that the modern diet is full of lectins: specific plant proteins that are designed to protect the plant by causing negative side-effects in the animals that eat them. As humans evolved, we developed specific protections against these lectins, most notably our gut microbiome and mucus layer. However, the modern diet is full of new and processed lectins that are affecting our gut health, which, in turn, affects our overall mental and physical wellbeing, because the gut is the center of our health: it is our internal protection from the external world. Moreover, many of the medicines we take and the foods we eat, which are often full of antibiotics, are wreaking havoc on our gut microbiome (as I discuss in my book Think and Eat Yourself Smart). Taking just one ibuprofen, for example, is like punching a hole in the gut lining. As a result, more and more people are suffering from long-term chronic issues and diseases, while the trend of people living longer is slowly being reversed!
Thankfully, we can heal this damage by changing the way we live. A healthy diet and lifestyle, as Dr. Gundry notes, plasters the holes in our gut lining, helping us develop a diverse and healthy ecosystem in the gut, which, in turn, protects the rest of the body, from the immune system to the brain. We can do this by:
1. Exercising and moving regularly: For example, studies have shown that, for women, exercising regularly can prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and the dementias, which is why Dr. Gundry tells his patients to get a dog, which forces them to get out and move more.
As we get older, it’s all too easy to convince ourselves that it’s okay to exercise less and allow a sedentary lifestyle to creep in. This is what our society deems normal, but the truth is that we have it completely backward. A sedentary lifestyle is what causes us to age!
2. Eat more vegetables: But be careful what you eat and how you cook them! Some people maybe experience more digestive pain from certain plants, so learn to love the foods that love you back. And be wary of highly processed and refined plant proteins—just because it came from a plant doesn’t mean it is good for you!
3. Practice time-restricted eating: Don’t just watch what you eat, but also when you eat! It is always good to limit the amount of time you spend eating in one day, so that your body can properly digest and use what you eat.
Dr. Gundry recommends not eating 3 to 4 hours before bed (barring specific health issues that may affect this), since your brain requires a significant amount of blood flow and energy to detox and clean up while you are sleeping, but doesn’t get this if your stomach is still trying to digest food. It is also a good idea to restrict your eating window, spending around 14 to 16 hours a day fasting. This turbocharges the mitochondria in your cells, making them more efficient and helping you age well.
4. Be careful of fad diets: Although you may lose weight and feel better in the short-term, many fad diets can cause all sorts of long-term problems. Think, read, research and explore before you choose to eat a certain way, and, remember, no one diet works for everyone!
5. Protect your gut: A recent study from the China Institute collected and analyzed gut bacteria from more than 1,000 healthy Chinese participants ranging in age from 3 to over 100. They found that a healthy gut is a key indicator of individuals who live past age 100; the health of your gut microbiome is really important when it comes to aging! In fact, our gut bugs—the bacteria that make up the microbiome—largely determine our health over the years. From diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s to common ailments like arthritis to our weight and the appearance of our skin, these gut bugs are in the driver’s seat, controlling our quality of life as we age. The good news is, it’s never too late to support these microbes and give them what they need to help them—and you—thrive. You can do this by eating more foods that contain prebiotics, which feed healthy bacteria, avoiding taking too many medications and antibiotics (when and if you can, depending on certain health conditions), avoiding processed and refined foods, and taking probiotics that can survive stomach acid.
6. Teach your children: Helping your children to make healthy choices like these from young can really benefit them later in life, giving them the ability to take charge of their wellbeing, both mentally and physically, and live phenomenal lives. In fact, with more and more children suffering from illnesses like Type II diabetes and heart disease, it is imperative that we teach them from young how to eat and live well.
Of course, at any age it is incredibly important to be proactive when it comes to our health, so cook healthy meals as a family, choose what to throw out of your pantry together (you can make it a game with each person choosing one thing they will no longer eat) and spend time talking about and thinking of ways to improve your lifestyle together, such as going for long family walks and eating meals around the dinner table. You may say you don't have the time to do this, but you don't have to spend hours slaving away in the kitchen! Dr. Gundry's book The Plant Paradox has delicious, fast and easy recipes you can start making as a family, so bon appétit!
For more information on diet and lifestyle and how it impacts aging and health, listen to my podcast with Dr. Gundry (episode #129), check out his website, his Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, and his excellent books The Plant Paradox and The Longevity Paradox.
Podcast Time Stamps:
3:41 Dr. Gundry's background
7:00 How he bases his research on his patients
8:00 Importance of human nutrition
8:48 Lectins in the diet
14:20 Growing trend of chronic health issues
15:24 The importance of gut health
20:33 The longevity paradox
23:00 Our longevity is actually declining
27:55 How to die healthy at a ripe young age
33:08 How we have to be proactive from young and teach our children
48:55 Be careful of diet fads
49:40 Know which plants like you