I want to live to 92
Will the Food4healthylife project grant me my wish?
Courtesy of Grubby.co.uk
Lars Fadnes from the University of Bergen and the lead author of a recently published healthy life report, has developed a new predictive model which demonstrates how dietary choice affects life expectancy.
What caught my eye was the news that a 60 year old man, sticking to an optimal diet could add 9.1 years of life expectancy. If I ditch a traditional western diet, which presumably means a lot less meat and sugar and optimise with a lot more legumes, vegetables and fruits, my likely death in my eighties has now been bumped to my nineties.
My tongue in cheek pact is with my children. Although, being the ever competitive one, I’ve been taking my commitment to live longer more seriously than they might have expected. 30th December 2053 is the precise time I have to get to. It happens to be Finlay’s 50th birthday, his two sisters reaching the milestone a few years earlier. The thinking is he’ll be able to cope just fine without me by then. I expect to attend the celebrations, although I won’t be drinking much and might have to slope off to bed early with the wonderful Mrs H; who I’m sure will still be in fine form.
Raised on milk and alcohol (and meat)
Like Doctor Feelgood, I certainly had my fair share of milk. It was free at school until I was 7 years old and I always had cereal in the morning, apart from on Sundays, when Dad cooked a fry-up, which often included fried bread. Delicious.
My father’s love of meat started young. He wasn't drafted until 1942, when he was 19. Having left school at 14, he started work as a trainee butcher and must have known all the cuts of meat before the government shipped him off to Burma (Myanmar).
When I was growing up, there was a trend for chest freezers, often hidden away in garages. We regularly had half cows, pigs and lambs buried deep in its bowels.
It was always a week day evening when Dad arrived home and asked for help emptying the boot. The whole family was seconded for the next 2 hours in the kitchen repackaging what Dad was carving up into meals for four. Everything went into polythene bags, labelled up and for some reason vacuum packed if you count sucking the air out of each bag with a straw before sealing with a twisty. The second worst evening activity was a visit to the Cordon Bleu Freezer Centre in Birkenhead (now Iceland) for gallon tubs of vanilla ice cream, frozen peas and absolutely no chance of Birds Eye potato waffles or any other flavour of ice cream. The only luxury I can ever remember being bought in an occasional moment of weakness by Mum, was an Artic Roll.
The competition of living longer
Little Grandad, my Dad’s Dad, lived until he was 87. He walked everywhere, never owned a car and being a devout Pentecostalist, rarely drank. I am acutely aware that I look a lot like my Dad. I’m full of his genes and he died a decade sooner than his father.
We ate well growing up. Nearly everything was home-cooked, chips never more than once a week. There was a variety of vegetables to accompany our meat; potatoes, turnip and carrot (although it was always swede not turnip?), cauliflower, peas, green beans. Dad was nearly as passionate about fish as his meat, a fine substitute, but never more than once a week. Fish on Friday was not unusual with homemade chips and frozen peas. In my younger years we always had a pudding as well. Homemade rice pudding, steamed puddings, apple pies, a good reason for buying vanilla ice cream by the gallon. Although ice cream went so much better with a pie already smothered in hot custard.
What to do?
I’ve already blathered on about meat and the need to eat less of it, The Problem With Meat, back in December. With Mrs H’s blessing, we now get a 3 meal delivery of plant-based food from Grubby each week. These are kits of fresh food which come in recyclable brown bags with a recipe card. It’s cooking, not a take out.
I’ve always enjoyed eating vegan occasionally over the years. The odd Planet Organic takeaway, the wonderful Redemption restaurant nearby, which sadly closed during lockdown and never reopened, and very recently the Farmacy for dinner on Westbourne Grove.
It’s always been a treat rather than an everyday choice because the thought of spending at least an hour in the supermarket shopping for Jackfruit, Artichokes and Shiitake mushrooms before setting too in the kitchen making soups, dips and main courses where you could swear there was meat in there somewhere, is frankly too big a barrier to entry.
Grubby is vegan cooking with stabilisers on. We’re paying for the convenience of having everything we need in one bag (apart from the olive oil) and a set of simple instructions which promises results in 30 minutes or less. It’s easy to set-up an order and you can skip whenever you like, which means nothing is wasted. With currently 80 recipes of UK produce to choose from, we could be here for a while. And if we fancy a change we could always try Gousto, Green Chef, Mindful Chef or Feast Box, which all offer something similar.
The food4healthylife project
According to Fadnes (unfortunate surname), the uniqueness of their modelling methodology, is how it bridges the gap between the health benefits associated with separate food groups or specific diet patterns and the health impacts of other dietary changes.
The largest health gains are to be had, you guessed it, by eating more legumes, whole grains and nuts, less red and processed meats. I couldn’t find any references to alcohol, exercise and stress, but then this study was only about food.
It feels like half a picture, it’s roughly true for broad population groups but it doesn’t apply to you specifically and your own outcome. Tapping in how many grams of nuts and legumes you now eat compared to last year can only provide a feel good factor. The real question is whether the calculator changes our behaviour, or does it remain a headline soon forgotten?
I suspect Grubby and their competitors will continue to do a far better job of taking meat off our tables. Bon appetit.