Food & Fitness

Diet offers secret to longevity

2013-04-16T13:00:00Z 2013-04-18T14:10:09Z Diet offers secret to longevityCarrie Rodovich Times Correspondent
April 16, 2013 1:00 pm  • 

A well-known doctor believes the secrets of longevity can be found by looking at the diets of people who have lived for more than 100 years.

Dr. Mao Shing Ni explores this philosophy in his new cookbook, “Secrets of Longevity.” 

Dr. Mao believes in eating five smaller meals a day, consuming more plants, letting food be your medicine.

“The philosophy behind this cookbook is that by following the dietary wisdom of the centenarians from around the world, we can initiate self-healing within ourselves, enjoy life more in the present, and achieve longevity in the future,” he said. “These longevity recipes come from a world of the past - a simpler world in which food was usually sourced locally, fresh, in season, and free from pesticides.”

He stressed the importance of taking time to cook a healthy meal and to eat together. Too often, he said, people eat in a thoughtless, disconnected way in which the priority is convenience and speed.

Monica Rojas, a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator for Franciscan Medical Specialists in Munster, said Dr. Mao’s diet is based on sound principles.

“I don’t think many other nutrition experts would disagree with the core principles of his diet: a balanced diet, less stress, exercise, meditation, 5 smaller meals with more antioxidant rich foods,” Rojas said. “I think the drawback it getting the average American to comply with those guidelines.   In this day and age, or economy, just getting family to cook at home and eat together is a challenge.” 

Dr. Mao said the diet takes it’s inspiration from longevity capitols of the world, including Okinawa, Vilcabama and Hunza Valley.

“The key players in these recipes are nutritious, plant-based foods with extraordinary healing powers,” he said. “(Including) vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, legumes, seaweeds, nuts and seeds, with fish and/or poultry playing a supporting role.”

Almost all of the recipes in the cookbook are low-sodium, sugar-free, gluten-free and dairy free. He also recommends eating smaller portions five times a day.

“Perhaps what most sets this plan apart from others is that it is not only about what food to eat for longevity, but also how best to prepare them, when to eat, how much to eat, and where to eat,” he said. “Part of (centenarians’) health success is due to making the dining table the focus of vitality and aliveness, a time for gathering with loved ones and enjoying a meal together.”

If your diet needs a radical overhaul, Dr. Mao suggests starting by making small changes. 

“Start the first week by choosing just two recipes to make. By week two, they could work their way to making four recipes from the week, and gradually work their way to following one of the menus for healing as best as they are able,” he said. He recommends keeping an eating journal, eating one less fast food meal every week, and slowly reducing your intake of salt and replacing salt with herbs and spices.

“The real takeaway is to make all changes gradually, because then you will be more likely to create new healthy habits without feelings of deprivation,” he said. 

If some of the ingredients seem hard to find, Dr. Mao suggests replacing them with less expensive, or easier to find varieties.

“Some of the mushrooms in the recipes could be a challenge to find, (but) the reader can replace with easier-to-find Portobello or button mushrooms. Perhaps, someday in the near future, they will be motivated to seek out a gourmet food store or a reputable online distributor,” he said. “For ingredients that are more expensive, you can leave them out. You will be leaving out some of the healing properties, but any move toward cooking healthy food is positive, even if you cannot match the recipes perfectly.”

Most importantly, Dr. Mao said if you commit to a gradual, lasting change, you can heal your body, eat well and enjoy life more.

“It’s never too late to change your habits,” he said. “Never lose hope that it is too late to get healthy, and also, never lose hope that it can be fun to adopt healthier habits.”

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