See some of the longevity expert’s top tips about nutrition, from his book Outlive.
We all know that what we eat impacts our health. But, surprisingly, when it comes to specifics, we actually know very little. In his book, Outlive, Dr Attia explains that nutrition ‘boils down to a few basic rules: don’t eat too many calories, or too few; consume sufficient protein and essential fats; obtain the vitamins and minerals you need; and avoid pathogens like E. coli and toxins like mercury or lead. Beyond that, we know relatively little with complete certainty. Read that sentence again, please.’
So, does that mean we should through our healthy habits out the window?
But instead of becoming hyper-fixated on diet, Attia recommends that healthy eating is less about ‘good’ foods and ‘bad’ foods and more about figuring out what works for your unique body and goals. ‘And, just as important, what you can stick to.’
While many factors including ‘genetics, social influences, economic factors, education, metabolic health, marketing and religion’, all influence the biochemical effects of the foods we eat (as well as our decision to eat them), there are a few things we know with certainty when it comes to the main building blocks of our diet – the macronutrients carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
What to eat (and not eat) to live longer
Dr Attia makes a point to highlight that ‘carbs probably create more confusion than any other macro.’ Despite what marketing and popular diets might have you believe, carbs in and of themselves are not necessarily bad. But that doesn’t mean that they’re all good either.
According to Outlive, it is important to consider how refined the carbs you’re eating are. To achieve and maintain good health, try to minimise the amount of refined carbs you eat (white bread, potato chips) and focus instead on carbohydrates that are high in fibre (like legumes, fruits and vegetables).
‘Protein and amino acids are the essential building blocks of life,’ says Attia in Outlive. ‘Without them, we simply cannot build or maintain the lean muscle mass that we need.’ If you’re trying to live longer, it’s important to focus on maintaining muscle mass, ‘and the more easily we lose muscle, the more difficult it comes to rebuild it.’ Instead of struggling to regain lost muscle mass, Attia recommends paying attention to protein to prevent muscle loss from happening in the first place. ‘There is no minimum requirement for carbohydrates or fats (in practical terms), but if you shortchange protein, you will most certainly pay a price, particularly as you age.’
Just like carbs, fats often get the black-and-white treatment, but as Dr Attia points out, it’s not that simple. Fats are neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’, but they have ‘an important place in any diet, and therefore it’s important to understand them.’ If you think of carbs as a source of fuel and amino acids from protein as building blocks, then you can think of fats as having both of those qualities. However, the type of fats you eat matters. Outlive recommends ‘eating more olive oil and avocados and nuts’ and cutting back on – but not eliminating – butter, lard, corn, soybean and sunflower oils.
Have you ever heard that moderate amounts of alcohol can be beneficial? If so, you’re not alone.
However, Dr Attia warns against this myth. Because there are so many other factors to consider when evaluating the impact of drinking on health, Outlive highlights that ‘it is impossible to put much faith in these studies purporting to show a health benefit for drinking.’
Dr Attia takes things one step further saying, ‘drinking alcohol is a net negative for longevity. Ethanol is a potent carcinogen, and chronic drinking has strong associations with Alzheimer’s disease.’ If you’re unsure about giving up alcohol entirely, Attia suggests limiting alcohol consumption to ‘fewer than seven servings per week, and ideally no more than two on any given day.’
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