What scares you most about growing older? Disease? Dementia? Disability? And what exactly are you doing to make these all less likely to happen to you, or to the ones you love? Do you tend to automatically dismiss the majority of aging preventatives, like dietary restrictions, regular physical activity, periodic checkups (out loud, or quietly, in your own head, or after a day or week or two of attempting them)? Have you instead gone out of your way or deep into your wallet to buy expensive face lotion, shampoos and conditioners, or even Botox or plastic surgery?
I’m not saying any of these last options should be off the table if that’s what makes you feel good. However, the vast majority of the aging that is visible in the mirror is a result of what’s going on under your skin – in your connective tissue, joints, vital organs, bones, in every cell of your body. Before it shows up on the outside it’s being manifested within, and within is exactly where you need to go to prevent all of the potential specters of age-related decline.
Sure, you kind of knew that already, you say, but there’s another part of you that says that another day of just fleshing out the details of a health plan won’t hurt, that another slice of pie can be worked off tomorrow, or what most people like to throw out every once in awhile in exasperation, when yet another friend or family member gets cancer or diabetes or Alzheimer’s – “We’re all doomed, anyway!” or “Everything gives you cancer,” or “We’ve all gotta die of something, right?”
My mother likes to refer to her friends with degenerative diseases as if they never did a thing to deserve them. Of course no one out there “deserves” them (well, I could think of a couple of people, but details, details). And sure, there are certainly plenty of people out there with diseases or disabilities who were born with them, or were so predisposed to them they probably couldn’t have done a thing to prevent them, or who were unknowingly exposed to any number of environmental toxins that are naturally occurring or the result of industrial pollution. But really, do you think we as a human race evolved to do such incredible things with our minds and bodies in spite of being somehow overwhelmingly predisposed to degeneration?
The majority of us live in an environment that has an overwhelming influence on how we treat our bodies – from what we feed it to how we make it move to how we pharmaceutically manipulate its chemistry – and most people assume that if it’s on the shelves of our local supermarkets that it’s not bad for us, or that if everybody else moves likes this (or doesn’t move at all, really) that it’s the way we’re meant to move, or that if the FDA or the WHO say it’s fine to ingest then it’s harmless, or far better than the alternative.
The truth is this, though. U.S. residents are in decline and more so every day. Our grandparents are outliving our parents, and my generation is set to die even younger, in SPITE of having an incredible array of drugs, so-called health foods, workout gyms, classes, DVDs, and generations worth of nutrition data to draw from. So when people roll their eyes at the idea that what the government and the FDA are telling you should eat – i.e. a low-fat diet high in grains, soy, corn, and vegetable oil, as well as dairy and meat from tortured sick animals – is actually not only less than ideal, but is what is actually causing every successive generation to become sicker, ignore them, and LEARN for yourself. Learn about the realities of our Standard American Diet. Look around you and truly notice how people have changed in just the last couple of decades. Then, figure out how YOU can avoid the fate of the majority. What bodily issues have been bugging you? Headaches? Stomach aches? Depression? Bad PMS? Frequent colds? Skin conditions? These annoying pains in the wherever can often be ignored for months or years, but they’re not normal simply because you’re accustomed to them. They’re actually indications that something in your body needs attention, and they can be symptomatic of more serious issues, particularly the longer you wait to address them. A body that struggles daily with gut pain can indicate a digestive system that is stressed by dealing with proteins (like gluten or casein) that it’s not able to process, a lack of good gut bacteria (from using antibiotics to not eating fermented foods), or simple sensitivities to common foods like dairy, soy, or wheat. When the body has to mount a daily battle against something you’re ingesting that it can’t handle, it makes sacrifices on other fronts—meaning an immune system that doesn’t have the capacity to fight off infection or remove toxins from your bloodstream. A few decades or so of this, and having a disease becomes infinitely more likely. Here are a few simple things you can do today, before you start doing your own research or figuring out what personal nuisance you’re first aiming to squash. If you start with just a few simple tweaks, you’re already way ahead of your average Standard American Human.
1. Avoid sugary beverages, which include soft drinks, fruit juices, and syrupy coffee drinks. Your taste buds will quickly adapt accordingly. Here’s a terrific New York Times article about why fructose is the unhealthiest form of sugar.
2. Eat more vegetables. (See my “Simple, Cheap, and Tasty Meal Ideas” blog for how)
3. Don’t eat processed foods. Nothing in a box, shelf-stable, or with more than a few ingredients.
4. Exercise half an hour a day, even if it’s just walking.
Here’s one of my favorite recipes for a side dish that’s perfect for winter potlucks, with a combination of textures that I love in food – soft and crunchy at the same time. I first found this in the cookbook Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair and have probably made it thirty times since because people beg me for the recipe at every potluck I bring it to. The lemon juice, garlic, cilantro, and olive oil combine to create an insanely delicious aroma as soon as it’s mixed into the warm quinoa. Conveniently, this is also the kind of dish that doesn’t show a few missing spoonfuls when serving, so in-depth taste testing is encouraged.
Lemony Garlic Quinoa
1 cup dry quinoa
1¾ cups water
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup carrots, chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped (the original recipe calls for parsley, so you can use either or both, but I greatly prefer cilantro’s flavor)
¼ cup sunflower seeds (I prefer to buy these raw but then lightly toast them in my toaster oven at home)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 tablespoons tamari (I prefer tamari to soy sauce because it’s made without wheat and has a more complex flavor. The soy is fermented so it’s not as problematic as regular soy).
Always rinse quinoa before serving to wash away its natural defenses, the saponins which make it bitter to pests. You can do this with a fine mesh strainer or in a pot (swirling it around and draining it most of the way a few times). Try to buy quinoa (of any color) in bulk as it’s far cheaper. Place the rinsed quinoa and water in a 2-quart pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer 15-20 minutes, until all the water is absorbed. Tip the pan to the side to make sure all the water has been absorbed. Let stand for 5-10 minutes then fluff with a fork.
While quinoa is cooking, prepare the dressing in the same bowl as the dish will be served in and chop your carrots and cilantro. I like carrot pieces about as big as my pinkie nail and I chop the cilantro pretty coarsely. After you have combined the dressing in the bowl you can add the seeds, cilantro, and carrots. Scoop the warm quinoa over the top and mix it until ingredients are uniformly distributed, and try to resist being overwhelmed by the incredible lemony garlic scent.