"Let food by your medicine and medicine be your food." -- Hippocrates
Recommendations for Healthy Living
Based on my continuing review of thousands of studies, I personally recommend the following as good health, nutrition, and supplement habits. Many of these habits have also either been found to help treat or prevent depression or other diseases of the nervous system. On average, these habits will Add 14 Happy Years to Your Life compared to people who don't follow them. These guidelines will help prevent heart disease, cancer, dementia, and obesity. They will probably reduce the risk of mental illness, as well. The recommendations are each discussed in more depth on other pages. While following each of these recommendations is best, changing habits takes time, so don't worry. Just keep trying. (It amazed me how many doctors were eating unhealthy food at the American Psychiatric Association Annual Conference this year. They should have their heads examined!). Knowing and reviewing what healthy goals are will help you get closer to achieving them. The below diet is also a backbone of a very healthy and successful weight loss diet. The studies are listed under the above buttons. Here are the rules:
1) Plenty of Exercise. Ideally, at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise five days a week. However, walking at a good pace for 45-60 minutes a day can have similar dramatic health benefits. Lesser amounts of exercise are still of benefit. Exercise helps avoid and treats all sorts of illnesses including depression, anxiety, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, stroke, obesity, and diabetes.
2) Avoid Mammal Meats and Mammal Fats. Mammals include cows, pigs, and sheep. If you must consume some mammal meat, at least cut away as much of the fat as possible. Eating fowl or birds, like chicken and turkey, is definitely healthier, but it is still a good idea to avoid the fatty skin of chicken and turkey. Avoid grilled, browned, smoked, salted, and aged meats. No bacon, ham, hot dogs, or processed meat. Avoid Butter and Partially Hydrogenated Fats, which are found in most margarines. Avoid baked goods such of pastries, crackers, and store-bought cakes and pies. A good alternative margarine for table use and cooking is Smart Balance margarine. Avoid whole milk and cheese. Skim milk is good except for men over the age of 40 due to its strong effect on increasing prostate cancer. Homemade cakes and pies made without butter or shortening or margarines with partially hydrogenated fats are fine. The best oils are canola, olive, sesame, and peanut. Canola is the least expensive of these. Mammal meats increase Alzheimer's disease, various cancers, and heart disease, and animal meats and fats increase multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease. They may also have an adverse impact on depression and schizophrenia although only a very small amount of research has been done on the psychiatric impact.
3) Eat Nuts every day and Use Beans and Lentils as sources of protein. Peanuts, walnuts, and almonds have all been found to be very healthy. Beans and lentils are excellent sources of protein when combined with healthy grains. Tofu, soy flour, and granulated soy protein are fine as is soy milk. Eat yogurt or take lactobacillus capsules daily. Yogurt is a good protein source and a great pro-biotic for preventing many common and serious infections from infancy to old age. Yogurt appears to lower the risk of breast cancer as well.
4) Get Plenty of Fruits and Vegetables. The current governmental recommendation is five servings a day for children, seven for women, and nine for men. While most people will fall short of these goals, they are the right targets to aim for. Orange, cranberry, and grape juice are healthier than apple juice. Apples and sugar-free apple sauce are great. A banana and an apple every day are good. Red and darkly colored fruits are excellent: strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, cherries, blackberries, etc. Good vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, red cabbage, onions, carrots, tomatoes, etc. Tomato paste can be mixed with water for a low-cost and salt free tomato juice. Eat tomatoes in some form at least five days a week. Avoid salty salad dressings. Eat a serving of dark green leafy vegetables every day. I recommend salt-free canned spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, or mustard greens which I have found cheapest at Super Wal-Marts.
5) Eat Whole Grains rather than refined flour or sugar. Whole grain wheat and rye have repeatedly been found to increase longevity and decrease Alzheimerís disease, strokes, and heart disease. The same may be true of brown rice, and buckwheat, but no research is available. Whole wheat spaghetti and pasta are readily available. Whole wheat pita bread and tortillas are sold at Am-Ko in Champaign, IL. Avoid regular pasta. Salt-free whole wheat or rye bread is best, but hard to find. However, even with salt, 100% whole grain bread is much healthier than white bread or whole wheat bread made with 50% white flour. Popcorn is fine, but avoid the ready-made varieties which are high in salt and partially hydrogenated fats. Use a microwave popper and, after popped, add canola or olive oil and sprinkle with garlic powder (not garlic salt) or any other healthy seasoning desired. Avoid Pastries and Sugar. Use healthy sweeteners instead of sugar or corn syrup as much as possible. Honey is better than sugar, but not as good as fruit. Sugar-free applesauce and raisins are very healthy sweeteners. Aspartame sweetener use (Nutrasweet or the blue packets) is also associated with weight loss and all artificial sweeteners appear reasonably safe. Splenda is great tasting and wonderful for baking. Stevia, an herbal sweetener, may lower high blood pressure a little. Avoid regular Soda Pop completely. If you have to drink pop, stick with the no-calorie varieties. Diets high in nuts and whole grains and low in regular soda pop are associated with successful weight loss as well as living longer.
6) Eat Fish several times per week or Take Fish Oil or omega-3 fatty acid supplements daily. Ocean fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and tuna are higher in omega-3 fatty acids. It is actually less expensive to take two or three capsules of fish oil each day. Donít worry about mercury in fish, but avoid fish caught in the Great Lakes. Flax seeds or flax oil daily is okay for those opposed to fish or fish oil. Fish oil capsules are frequently on sale at Osco's for as little as 3.5 cents a capsule. Two a day are probably enough although 3-4 are okay. Fish should be boiled, baked or broiled, but not burnt, smoked, fried, or fish sandwiches. For more, see Omega-3.
7) Take Certain Vitamin and Mineral Supplements every day. Much of this is still debatable and my list has had some changes as new research come in. For an adult, I recommend folic acid 800 micrograms, magnesium 250-500 mg., vitamin B-12 500 mcg., and vitamin C 500 mg. daily. Women should take calcium 1000 mg. daily which can be bought combined with magnesium and zinc. Selenium at 200 mcg. daily is a good idea. Men should avoid calcium supplements due to mounting evidence of increased prostate cancer and Parkinson's Disease in men but not women caused by higher dairy and calcium supplements. Also, all adults should avoid vitamin A supplements, which increase cancer, heart disease, and stroke in a number of studies. It's better to obtain vitamin A from vegetables. Even the vitamin A added to multivitamins is not a good idea, so don't take a multivitamin. I recommend vitamin D 1000 I.U. every day for everyone. For the elderly, individuals with darker skin, and from November to March, 2000 I.U. seems more reasonable. Sun exposure is very helpful, but most of us don't get very much. Vitamin K 1000 mcg/day is of great benefit against osteoporosis and may help several other diseases. It is especially important for women after the age of 35. I am uncertain about the research on the benefits of vitamin E supplementation at this point, but a recent research review said that vitamin E might slightly increase the death rate. It was once on the list of good vitamin supplements due to many favorable studies, but several recent large prospective studies for cataracts, heart disease and Alzheimer's didn't find benefit. Extra iron should be taken only by those with proven depleted iron stores: these are primarily teenage girls and young women. Zinc may be of value for everyone, but needs more research. At present, I recommend it in selected cases. Thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin (B-1, B-2, and B-3) supplements appear harmless and might be of value. B-6 research is not very convincing and might not be harmless. I know the above is an a lot of vitamin and mineral supplements (8), but I wouldn't recommend so many if the research evidence wasn't favorable. Actually, I recommend far fewer vitamins and minerals than found in the typical multivitamin supplement but somewhat higher doses for those I do recommend. If you wish, click on Vitamins and Minerals to review the studies for yourself and make your own decisions.
8) Avoid Salt and Salty Foods. Many prepared meats, canned foods, baked goods, and ready to eat foods are high in salt. Check the number of calories per serving and the milligrams of salt. If the milligrams of salt is higher than the number of calories, the food is a high salt food and should be avoided or eaten in small amounts. Avoiding salt during a life-time will dramatically lessen high blood pressure and the brain damage caused by high blood pressure. Avoiding salt will also considerably reduce osteoporosis and do it better than calcium supplements. The DASH study found better health results with half the level of sodium (1200 mg/d) as the federal government recommends (2500 mg/d). For more, see Salt.
9) Keep Your Weight Down. The ideal weight is one that yields a body mass index (BMI) between 19 and 24 with the middle figures preferred. This 19-24 equates to the following heights and weight ranges: for 5'3 = 105-135#, 5'6 = 115-150#, 5'9 = 130-160#, 6'0 = 140-180, 6'3 =155-195#. Being unusually well-muscled, yet with little body fat, may put a man a little above these figures and still be in ideal physical shape. An ideal weight reduction diet combines all of the above on this page. The average person switching to a vegan diet loses twice as much weight and keeps it off better than people in the best large scale studies of the Atkins diet or any other diet. The Ornish diet is mistaken in avoiding healthy fats. The South Beach Diet is the closest to my recommendations, but my recommendations are definitely better. Eat nuts and whole wheat; use artificial sweeteners; Eat Breakfast; have at least one snack in addition to the three meals, and avoid pop, pastries, salt, and sugar; and Avoid Fast Food Restaurants. These recommendations are not only healthy, but they also have each been found to help you lose weight and keep it off. Obviously, on any diet eating fewer calories and getting a good amount of exercise is essential to success. Its just easier to do it successfully on a healthy diet. If you are overweight, see my section on Obesity.
10) Check your Blood Pressure at least every six months and get treatment if necessary. Women should get Pap Smears every two years. Get your Cholesterol tested (statins are good for high cholesterol but expensive. I like policosanol as a first line treatment, but more research is needed) and Blood Sugar tested every couple years. Take care of your teeth.
11) Wear Seat Belts when driving, Donít Own Guns, Drink up to One Beer or a 4 oz. glass of Wine per day But Never More, Never Use Tobacco, and Avoid Marijuana like the plague. Learn to Control Your Temper, Avoid Violent Entertainment and angry people, and have a Good Circle of Friends. Donít Gamble--No lotteries, casinos, bingo, scratch-offs, sports-, or race-track gambling. Avoid pornography and sexualized entertainment. Get a Good Education, Get Married, build a Financial Savings, and be sensible. Have Kids and Have Fun.
12) Some Supplements and Herbs have very favorable research for certain diseases. While I don't think that their use is for everyone, some of the research looks very good for many individuals over age 50, e.g. carnitine or acetyl-L-carnitine, policosanol, glucosamine with chondroitin, taurine, and melatonin and for people with particular disorders. Most supplements and herbs are not worth spending money on. First, check out the research.
Only 3% of Americans Follow Basic Health Recommendations: A study of national data has shown that only 3% of Americans followed all four of the recommended rules: no smoking (76%), maintain a normal weight (40%), eat at least 5 servings of vegetables and fruit a day (23%), and get 30 minutes of moderate to severe exercise (22%)(the exercise was often part of normal living, e.g. housecleaning, gardening, sports, walking, etc). Women, older people, European-Americans, better educated people, people in good health, and wealthier people did a little bit better in following the rules. Younger people were slightly better at maintaining a body mass index of 25 or less. Matthew Reeves, et al. Michigan State University.
Thomas E. Radecki, M.D., J.D.