The East Cork Slow Food Convivium was delighted to welcome Karen Brosnan, to the cookery school last Thursday 12th May to explore the topic of eating well, or 'mindful eating' - something of a catch-phrase of late, but a subject that has always been central to our philosophy here at the cookery school.
In today's hectic world, for many of us, our lifestyles have become drastically imbalanced, with our diets often suffering the most. The reasons for this typically include:
- Increased stress levels
- Habitual eating
- Emotional eating
- 'Psychological contracts' with those who feed us
- Family-style eating as opposed to portion control
- Lack of time to cook from scratch
- Lack of motivation; depression
This kind of imbalance is a threat to our well-being and longevity, and can be a direct cause of the inflammatory states which lead to serious life-threatening illnesses, such as Alzheimers, Cancer, etc. The effects of a sugar-laden, heavily processed diet are undeniable now with plenty of supporting evidence to prove that the combination of excess sugar and fat lead to
- Reduced cognitive flexibility
- Diminished ability to understand new concepts
- Reduced ability to adapt to new experiences
- Impairments to short and long-term memory
Research suggests that Type 3 diabetes is a title that has been proposed for Alzheimers disease, which results from resistance to insulin in the brain. Experiments carried out on rats who were fed increasing amounts of sugar showed them to suffer increased disorientation, rendering them unable to find their way home. Additionally, with our gut bacteria thrown significantly out of balance, a perfect environment is created for inflammatory conditions in the body.
In stark contrast are the lives of those communities who inhabit the world's 'Blue Zones' - traditional cultures whose diets consist of "ancient grains" and fish oils, rich in essential Omega 3s. In his TED talk on these regions of the world, Dan Buettner outlines the societal and dietary differences which contribute to the optimal longevity of these cultures:
Essentially an isolated Bronze age culture, these people eat primarily a plant-based diet with grass-fed cheese, low-wheat bread and a type of wine that has three times the levels of polyphenols of any other wine in the world. Being shepherds, they maintain a constant level of physical activity. The elders in their society are valued for their wisdom, and there is a direct correlation between time spent with their elders and lower mortality and disease levels, even among children. This is known as "the grandmother effect."
Okinawa boasts the oldest living female population and the lowest incidence of disease in the world. Again, they eat a largely plant-based diet with plenty of tofu. Eating mindfully is achieved both by the use of smaller plates, and by stopping eating when their stomach is 20% full. They socialise as part of a small tribe of a half dozen people (a moai), and their singular focus is their life's purpose.
America's 'Blue Zone' is inhabited by Seventh Day Adventists - a conservative, faith-based society. Central to their way of life is their Sabbath Day - a 24hr sanctuary in time which they take very seriously. The inspiration for their diet is taken directly from The Bible (seeds & plants); they engage in nature walks every week; they commune with other Adventists mostly, and their faith is their foundation.
Common to these three centenarian cultures is a simplicity of living. They do not engage in structured exercise, but rather "nudge themselves continually into physical activity". They all have a sense of belonging to a tribe or 'family' greater than their immediate relatives. They take a little wine each day. Their diets consist of simple, organic foods - nothing processed. And they eat their food together with respect and mindfulness.
And that is the formula for a long and healthy life.