The Quality of Food Determines Life Expectancy

The Quality of Food Determines Life Expectancy

The quality of food determines life expectancy. However, the quality of food can as well be a savior as a menace. This is best understood in the contribution of food to the rise, and the subsequent standstill, of life expectancy during the past century and a half.

Average life expectancy almost doubled. This great achievement I have always attributed to the presence of clean water and better health care. This is only true to some extent. The rise in life expectancy must be mainly attributed to the mechanization of food production in the US.

However, in the past couple of years in the Western world, the rise in life expectancy has come to a standstill. This is the result of the decline in the quality of the food, more particularly, the prefabricated state of most of it.

This is a serious threat to more and more people. Food no longer is the savior, it also became a serious menace. How can we turn the food menace into a savior again?

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Sewers and better health care

Biological food

For a long time, I have considered hygienic measures and health care the most important contributors to extended life expectancy. Due to collectively organized retrieval systems for feces (first barrels and after that sewers) water got cleaner and fewer young children died of all kinds of dreadful diseases. Such as cholera, typhoid, tuberculosis, diphtheria, measles, smallpox, worm disease, and malaria.

Moreover, I supposed health care had contributed substantially to the longer life expectancy. The improvement of clinical science, drug discoveries, and innovative technologies, reduced the risks of premature deaths due to heart attacks and cancer.

However, both contributions to the rising life expectancy are modest. The most important reason is the revolution in the food supply and the subsequent increase in the standard of living of the general population. With no exception, regardless of age, gender, income, power, or property, this revolution provoked a general rise in life expectancy.

The quality of food as a savior

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In the middle of the 19th century, after the civil war, in the US the rapid mechanization of agriculture provided for abundant crops. Furthermore, the home market had become too small. As a consequence, the surplus was shipped to Europe and caused a fall in food prices.

This enabled more people to buy more food and more varied foods. As a result, their physical condition improved. People became stronger, which made them more resilient to diseases.

Gradually, they were able to work harder, and thus improve their economic circumstances. From 1870 and onward, all of a sudden, almost from one year to the other, life expectancy started to rise steadily.

Modest contributions of hygiene and medicine

Summarizing, the causes for the extension of life expectancy can be classified as follows (in parentheses the estimated percentage of the contribution per cause):

  • 1870-1900: revolution in the availability of food (75%);
  • 1900-1940: improvement of hygiene (10%);
  • 1945-1970: medical progress (15%).

The quality of food as a menace

Avoid the seductive powers of pre-fabricated food

It’s a comforting idea, as long as we keep our food supply on a tolerable level, our health and life expectancy will probably also remain fairly intact. But the increase in obesity, all over the world during the past couple of decades, implies that the quality of the food has become a menace. It’s no coincidence that life expectancy no longer increases, at least not in the Western countries.

Neither is it a comfortable thought, that from 1970 and onward medical improvements no longer contribute to the rise in life expectancy. The dynamics in medical progress have almost come to a standstill. Doctors are increasingly frustrated with this lack of progress.

Despite the enormous increase in life expectancy, the public is more and more neurotic about its health. However, medicines will surely not save us from the food menace.

The quality of food – Rules of thumb

To turn our food menace into a savior, we use several rules of thumb:

  • Follow dietary guidelines. Fortunately, most dietary guidelines are similar if it comes to health goals. All highlight a largely plant-based diet over a meat-based diet;
  • Do not eat meat more than once or twice a week and only in very small portions. The same goes for fish. Avoid the consumption of red meat and processed meat or fish;
  • Buy fresh fruits and vegetables, of course organic;
  • Eat carrots, and tubers, and turnips over salads;
  • Eat fruits, and vegetables from the season, and preferably from where you live;
  • Alternate raw foods with cooked or steamed versions;
  • Use little amounts of water and oil for cooking. We don’t overcook our food. And we always chew our food with some perseverance.

Related: How to Buy Organic Food on a Budget the Smart Way – 9 Tips

Grow your own food

Grow your own food

For us, it was a big help that we collected more information about food. We experienced that the best way to do this is to grow our own food. We expanded our food supply with a kitchen garden.

A kitchen garden is also good exercise. The plants have to be watered, the garden has to be weeded. The bigger the garden, the more work of course, but your harvest might also be more promising.

If you have no garden, or just a very small one, ask a farmer whether you’re allowed to work on his or her field and whether you are allowed to grow your own food there. You might even start a community garden together with your neighbors. This will not only supply you with the proper food and the food you like, but it will also improve social relations.

Avoid the seductive powers of pre-fabricated food

Food is a savior because it keeps us healthy, strong, and fit. To grow your own food is very rewarding. As is the preparation of food. Avoid the seductive, and at the same time menacing, powers of pre-fabricated foods.

Pre-fabricated foods are bad for our health because they usually contain too much saturated fat, salt, and sugar. They are also a threat to the environment because there are always plastics involved.

When you renounce pre-fabricated food and buy fresh food, you will have to prepare your own meals. I think there is a lot of fun in this. Moreover, you can make many people happy with a well-prepared and nutritious meal.

Related: Grow your own Fruits and Vegetables Sustainably and Tasty

Have a nice meal

Here is an example of a simple meal I prepare regularly.

Preparing food
  • Fry freshly cut (green) garlic in a little bit of olive oil;
  • Add reasonably large pieces of pre-cut carrots, paprika, zucchini, and eggplant;
  • For flavor you can use some lemon zest and juice, freshly grated ginger, and dried marjoram leaves;
  • Let it all caramelize for at least an hour.

That’s it. If you prepare this for two days, the next day the caramelized vegetables taste even better. No side dishes are needed. However, mashed sweet potatoes, mixed with ground nuts, and tarragon, taste wonderfully with the caramelized vegetables.

Enjoy your meal and stay healthy!

How do you experience the relation between the quality of food and life expectancy? Write your answer in the comment box.

7 thoughts on “The Quality of Food Determines Life Expectancy”

  1. Spectacular article. The fuel we put into our bodies means EVERYTHING when it comes to how that body functions ans so many people take shortcuts every day, and sometimes for a lifetime, that always catch up to them. Very well written.

  2. I always wanted to change my eating habit and try more healthy foods. I was interested in gardening, so I thought of growing my veggies at home. It was a life-changing experience. Now I get more time outside taking care of my kitchen garden. I enjoy better tasting and more healthy food. I’m also saving more money since now I have reduced my grocery budget. Great article thank you for all the information.

    • Hi Aliya,

      Thank you for your comment and compliments. Good for you that you have your own kitchen garden. You produce your own food and can guard the quality of your food yourself. It’s also very relaxing. Although time consuming.

      One of the major challenges, growing your own food, is to get the proper and organic seeds. Where we live there are several groups of people who produce their own organic seeds. We’re a member of one of the groups. Sometimes we exchange seeds.

      In general, the importance of seeds is not very well understood by most people. Especially in organic kitchen gardening it’s not always easy to get the proper seeds. So we’re very lucky.

      For now, stay safe, stay healthy.


  3. The article is on point! I like the part where you said, “Eat fruits and vegetables from the season, and preferably from where you live;”.

    When It’s summer, we eat winter foods and vice versa. That can’t be good. Food can’t be grown naturally, and I think that’s the biggest problem. That’s one of the reasons why food isn’t so healthy anymore.

    It’s maybe fine if that’s the food from your area, but not when you eat bananas in the middle of December. We’re very greedy always to have all types of fruits and vegetables in the markets.

    • Hi Petar,

      Thank you for your comment.

      Many bananas in Spain come from the Spanish Canary Islands. There are hardly any canaries on these islands, however, lots of bananas. To ripen, the bananas are stored in cooling warehouses. But the quality of the Canary Island bananas is not that good as the bananas which come from, for instance, South America.

      Fortunately, in the past few years, the number of organic bananas grew substantially. Hannie and I are both organic banana fans. The problem with bananas is of course that they always come from far away. Unless you live in a banana country (such as China or India, the biggest producers).

      In the case of bananas, you don’t have to worry when you eat them in December, April, or August. Bananas grow all year round. Besides, when you eat organic bananas you support small local farmers, biodiversity, and the environment.

      The only problem with bananas, and lots of other fruits and vegetables that grow all year round, is that they have to be transported. However, ships never sail empty. Because that’s too expensive. Besides, transporting oranges from Florida (USA) to Rotterdam by ship is far more sustainable, than transporting them by truck from Spain to Rotterdam.

      The food and agriculture business has become very complicated. To improve food’s footprint, or in other words, to make food production – agriculture – more sustainable, we only need more people like your aunt. People who produce organic food. Next, we need more sustainable transportation systems.

      For now, stay safe, stay healthy.


  4. Hi Tom, Thank you very much for your interesting article.
    I love healthy organic food and the idea of growing my own vegetables. Actually, I tried it several years ago, but we had too many snails eating our lettuce and some other leafy vegetables. Also, they stayed small because I think I forgot to put more healthy compost on the plants. So I gave up, a pity. But now, reading your article, you have reawakened the passion in me. 🙂

    Your recipe makes me feel hungry; I am going to try it out; sounds really tasty. I read an article about an air fryer, and I would like to purchase it to try out on organic vegetables. Maybe it is an alternative healthy way of frying vegetables and potatoes. We need to have more healthy food in our supermarkets or buy produce at the organic market. The taste is so fantastic. I would love more people to eat healthily! Great article!:)

    • Hi Sylvia,

      Interesting that you want to buy an air fryer. I have no idea what you can do with this machine. What I regularly do, of late, is that I dry roast vegetables in the oven. Or with a little bit of olive oil and fresh herbs. Tastes wonderful.

      For the past 2 months, we’ve been able to eat at least six dinners with broad beans from our kitchen garden. Today we prepared the remainder for the freezer. That is marvelous. This morning we ate the first strawberry of the new season. They don’t stop growing either.

      I also prepared a new seedbed. Hannie put the seeds in, and I’ve no idea which ones. I’ll ask her and let you know.

      Unfortunately, in the area where we live, the orange, grape, and mandarin orchards are all sprayed with pesticides. They also use pesticides to destroy weeds inside and along their orchards.

      I hope you enjoy my recipe.

      For now, stay safe, stay healthy.



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