The Green Guage

A diet rich in unprocessed foods combined with yoga and stress management can not only reverse diseases but also delay the aging process at the genetic level, informs Priya Chaphekar

Priya Chaphekar

QCI-Certified Yoga Instructor

Take a look at the first picture you ever uploaded on Facebook, and then look at your reflection in the mirror. Don’t you wish you could go back to looking the way you did when you were younger? Well, we all do, and the good news is – we still can. Not with $100 moisturizers, but with eating foods straight from the lap of nature. 

TALKING ABOUT TELOMERES

A first-of-its-kind study conducted about a decade ago at San Francisco’s Preventative Medicine Research Institute revealed that eating a plant-based diet, getting moderate exercise, and engaging in stress management interventions such as yoga and meditation, may actually make you younger. The study, published in The Lancet Oncology, was led by Dean Ornish, M.D.

The participants in the study were men with early stage prostate cancer. The study looked at their telomeres, the protective caps on the end of chromosomes. These are a marker of health and longevity, and their damage and shortening is a major contributor to the aging process and development of disease. Researchers asked 10 out of the 35 men to practice healthy living for five years. This included eating a plant-based diet, walking daily, practicing yoga and meditation, and participating in group support. The control group, on the other hand, didn’t make any lifestyle changes. By the end of the study, the men who followed a healthy lifestyle had lengthened their telomeres by as much as 10 percent. This was an important finding in the study because until then it was proved that telomeres got shorter. The study confirmed that they could also be lengthened. The telomeres of men who did not change their lifestyle got shorter.

VEGAN VERSUS PLANT-BASED

Some people choose to label themselves as ‘vegan’, while others use the term ‘plant-based’ to describe their lifestyle. The term ‘vegan’ was coined in 1944 by English animal rights advocate and founder of The Vegan Society – Donald Watson. The term was used to describe a person who avoids using animals for ethical reasons. Being a vegan also means abstaining from using leather, silk, fur, and products tested on animals. In the 1980s, Dr. T. Colin Campbell introduced the term ‘plant-based’, and defined it as “a low fat, high fiber vegetable-based diet that focused on health and not ethics.”

A plant-based lifestyle consists of eating loads of fruits, vegetables, whole unprocessed grains like brown rice, quinoa, millets, colorful legumes, beans, variety of nuts and seeds. Animal foods and processed foods like sugar, oils and refined flours are kept at a minimum.

Call it vegan or plant-based, it’s imperative to consume foods that come without labels, and if you do, it’s important to start reading up on the ingredients. A seemingly healthy granola bar might be packed with emulsifiers, artificial flavors, class II preservatives, and at times, vegetable fat. Why not make the bar at home with ingredients off the shelf instead? 

WHAT TO EAT AND WHAT NOT TO EAT

The true essence of this lifestyle lies in its simplicity. Instead of creating a timetable for yourself, speak to your body and nurture it with what it needs the most – life foods brimming with prana (energy).

Fill your plate with food straight from nature, with no or minimal human interference – foods that are fresh, wholesome (unprocessed, unrefined), juicy (water-rich), freshly cooked, and lightly seasoned. These include all fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds and whole grains.

Choosing brown rice over white rice is healthier because brown rice is wholesome. When we remove the bran, it becomes white rice. The digestive mechanism of the rice lies in the outer bran that we conveniently decide to throw out so the rice can have a longer shelf life. Eat dates or jaggery instead of sugar and whole coconut instead of almond oil. 

MAKING THE SWITCH

The rise in veganism has created a huge market for vegan products that may look fancy but do not provide the nutrients which our body demands. When your body is hungry, it is asking for nutrients, not empty calories. Processed and packaged foods do not offer health benefits. “One way to ensure you can make your transition to a plant-based diet easier is to have good amounts of complex carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are our body’s preferred source of energy. Sixty percent of our diet should include good sources of carbs that come from fruits, vegetables including starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, yams, squash, corn, and pumpkin. Whole grains like brown rice, millets, and steel-cut oats provide slow-releasing sugars which provide extended energy. They also have loads of vitamins and minerals. Beans and pulses are high in protein content, enough to meet our daily requirements. Small amounts of fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, and coconuts help us stay full longer. It is what you eat all the time that matters. One highly nutritious meal once a week cannot provide the benefits. Try to make all your meals as nutritious as possible,” explains health coach and plant-based nutritionist Upasana Bijoor.

RAINBOW ON YOUR PLATE

About 70 percent of our body is water, so about 70 percent of our diet should consist of water-rich foods. Remember that your salads need not be the old-school beet-cucumber-tomato. Go all out to play with colors – indulge in shredded carrots topped with homemade tahini dressing, a drizzle of cashew cheese on a colorful bed of broccoli and bell peppers, and zucchini noodles garnished with cherry tomatoes and lush green basil.

“Red-coloured fruits and vegetables have lycopene that promotes heart health. The yellow and orange-colored antioxidant is called beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A – great for eye health and immunity. Our greens contain chlorophyll, which promotes healthy cell growth for younger-looking skin. Pink, purple, and blue-pigmented foods have anthocyanins, which protect against UV damage from sunlight exposure,” shares Upasana.

Needless to say, while the food on your plate is sure to take those years off your face, it won’t do the magic if you’re living a sedentary lifestyle, consuming alcohol and drugs, not drinking enough water, and sleeping at odd hours or not sleeping enough. Even the kind of relationships you share with the people around you determine your growth. While loving relationships will nurture your health, toxic ones will drain you out.

A healthy lifestyle comprises a cruelty-free platter of food, fresh air, ample sleep, sunlight, and a kind and compassionate heart that will always heal you. And when you heal, you smile more, you laugh more, just like the way you did on your prom night or in your first Facebook picture.

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