Swap for health

Most of the food products we eat today have healthier alternative items. If we are serious about staying healthy and maximizing our natural longevity, that option is open to us. All we have to do is to educate ourselves, which, today, is not hard to do, thanks to Dr. Google and the world wide web.

Unlike Spanish Conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon’s quest for that elusive fountain of youth, which, unbeknownst to him was right under his nose, we, in this 21st century, equipped with evidence-based medical data, know that we have in our hands the knowledge and ability to live a healthy lifestyle to boost our immune system, minimize our risk for preventable diseases, and extend our life span to its full potential. Life expectancy in the US in the 1800 was about 35, in the 1900, around 47, and today, an average of 79.3.

There are some food items in our own pantry at home which make our skin look older and our body aged faster. They are a group of food items with compounds called AGEs (Advance Glycation Endproducts) which have aging effect on our skin, our immune system, and body as a whole. Replacing food items with healthier options could help slow down aging.

            AGEs are bad compounds that result from proteins or fats in our system combining with sugars. Low carbohydrate meals, minimizing or, even better, eliminating rice from our diet is a healthy option. Many vegetables and some protein foods also contain some carbohydrates (sugar), so we do not have to add rice to our diet. The Mediterranean and the South Beach diets are basically offering a lot of vegetables, fruits, nuts, sea food and low-carbs and less red meats. And then there is the keto diet of high in protein and negligible carbs. All these basically acknowledge the health hazard in sugars and red meat, especially processed meats (bacon, sausages, hot dogs, etc.), toxic items that induce oxidation and inflammation, which also increase our risk for cancer.

What are the healthier alternatives?

  1. Sweet potato instead of rice – Rice, even the brown variety or Basmati, has high glycemic index, causing our blood sugar level to spike fast, unlike vegetables, which take longer to bring the blood sugar up and therefore maintaining a healthier even keel. As such, eating rice leads to overweight or obesity in most people, and abstinence from it helps reduce weight. Rice is indeed the arch-enemy of diabetes and obesity. Sweet potato has a lower glycemic index, even lower than regular potato and unhealthy French Fries. Sweet potato also contains a lot of copper, which counteracts AGEs and helps in collagen production for our skin.
  2. Honey or fruits – For sweetener, honey or fruits are better alternative to white sugar, brown sugar, or even raw sugar. Of course, the less sugar (carbs). Fruits, like berries, grapefruits, mangos, pomegranates, apples, mangosteen, avocados, etc., and quinoa, whole grains (barley, oats, rye, triticale and flaxseed), and nuts are healthy. Diabetics should always comply with their prescribed caloric intake. Drinking coffee black is healthier, sans cream and sugar. Sugars are sweet but a bitter enemy of our health.
  3. Sprouted bread to white bread – Like rice, white bread and pastry made of wheat and white flour, cause inflammatory reaction in the body. They also have high glycemic index, besides containing AGEs. Sprouted bread or those made with whole grains are more anti-inflammatory, rich in antioxidants, which help in flushing out AGEs.
  4. Fish and chicken instead of red meat – Fish and chicken (especially chicken breast) is healthier than red meat. Processed meats of any kind (deli meats, bacon, hot dog, sausage, salami, etc.) contain additives and are unhealthy. Eating red meat regularly (more than twice a week), as we have written in the past, is associated with increased risk for colon and pancreatic cancers, etc., especially when grilled over high temperature. Red meat and rice are not essential food items. We can live healthier and even longer without them.
  5. Dark chocolate instead of sugar-loaded candies – Chocolates, rich in antioxidant flavonoids, especially the dark variety, which aid in counteracting the adverse effects of free radicals and AGEs, reduce the oxidative process that makes us age faster and develop diseases.
  6. Filtered water instead of soft drinks – I have labelled all forms of soft drinks as “liquid candies” in my book on healthy lifestyle and disease prevention, Let’s Stop “Killing” Our Children (view at philipSchua.com and amazon.com). This beverage is toxic to adults and children alike. It increases the risk for metabolic syndrome, the precursor of diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and cancer. The safest beverage we have is water which has undergone 8-stage reversed osmosis filtration, which removes harmful chemicals in water, and UV light treatment to eliminate bacteria and viruses.
  7. Virgin olive oil instead of margarine, butter, or other veggie oils– For cooking, it is healthier to use olive oil, preferably the virgin variety, compared to using any vegetable, corn, or canola oil. Olive oil can withstand higher temperature unlike the others, but in either case, the use of very high temperature higher than 300 is not healthy. Contrary to popular belief, coconut oil, which is good as cosmetic oil for the hair and skin, is not as healthy as virgin olive oil as food.
  8. Brussel sprouts instead of corn – Corn is starchy and induces inflammatory reaction in the body, causing GI problems and obesity for some people. Occasional indulgence in corn is fine. Fructose induces collagen destruction. Brussel sprouts contain a lot of Lipoic acid, which counteracts this fructose effect to maintain good collagen level in our skin. Not to mention the beneficial anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory effects of this vegetables plus the fiber in them. They are good sources of Vitamin B1, B6, C and K, and folate, choline, manganese, potassium, phosphorus and omega-3 fatty acids too.
  9. Carrots, celery, broccoli instead of hamburgers and sweets – For snacks, meats, sweets, desserts, cakes, are health-snatchers. The better alternatives are carrots, celery, broccoli, and veggies in general, for their anti-stress, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant properties that boost our immune system, lowering our risk for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, and cancer.

Besides the quality of food items, quantity of our daily caloric intake is most essential to health and longevity. Pushing ourselves away from the table less than full and drinking a lot of water to fill the gap is a healthy and most rewarding discipline.

At any rate, a full and happy life is worth all the effort we put into it. Juan Ponce never found his miracle water of youth. He died in 1521, barely 61. That ephemeral fountain that eluded JP is what we today call healthy lifestyle.

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is a medical lecturer/author, and Chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian foundation in the United States. Websites: FUN8888.com, philipSchua.com   Email: [email protected]