On Dec. 19, I talked about the many chronic illnesses that beset Hawaii residents including heart disease, cancer, dementia, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke.
My colleague Kirk Hamilton, a physician’s assistant and researcher based in Sacramento, Calif., has come up with a lifestyle regime using a plant-based diet that can help us prevent and combat these maladies.
The first part of the triad is diet. Hamilton suggests only having whole (unprocessed) foods in the house and with more than half your diet coming from vegetables.
The lack of animal protein is a concern for many when considering eating mostly plant-based foods. Hamilton says, “This shouldn’t dissuade you.” Protein, he maintains, can be garnered from plants (like beans), although you may have to work a bit harder for your protein intake.
Stay away from processed plant foods like muffins, crackers, chips and cakes, which are refined carbohydrates loaded with added sugar and oil and high in calories. I have known several vegans that eat little but white bread and pasta, with few whole grains, vegetables or fruits. This limited diet is the antithesis of a healthy diet.
He also recommends eliminating specific foods for one to two months on a trial basis to determine potential food sensitivities or minor allergic reactions. These undiagnosed reactions can lead to digestive issues, mental fogginess, joint pain or other issues.
While this is still an early science with ongoing research, some persons appear more sensitive to dairy products, glutinous grains (especially wheat), eggs, peanuts, corn, alcohol, refined/added sugar and packaged and processed “fast foods.” Hamilton says this can help you to pinpoint exactly which foods, if any, might be giving you problems.
The second component is physical activity. Try to get 15-60 minutes daily of aerobic exercise (running, walking, biking, swimming, hiking, etc.), strength training and flexibility training, such as yoga, tai chi, Pilates and stretching.
The third component entails training your mind daily. Allot time each day for meditation, quiet time or time to be thankful. It also means affirming your optimal health verbally, visually or by writing it down.
The plan Hamilton has presented — a healthy diet, regular physical activity and a positive attitude — is strongly supported by evidence-based science. They work. I’ve seen these positive dynamics in the longest-lived, healthiest people on the planet in my own research and they can work for your family, too.
The caveat is, they must be taught. I have learned that it’s not about what you don’t eat. We love in America to say, “I don’t eat this, I don’t eat that,” but the key to optimal health is balance. Teach your children well about the value of plant foods, physical activity, a positive attitude and a balanced diet and they’ll have the gift of health for a lifetime.
Remember to always check with your physician if you are contemplating any significant lifestyle changes for you or your family.
Dr. Bradley J. Willcox is principal investigator of the National Institute on Aging-funded Kuakini Hawaii Lifespan Study and Kuakini Hawaii Healthspan Study. He is a professor and director of research at the Department of Geriatric Medicine, John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii.