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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Table of contents
Sewers and better health care
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
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
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.
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.
Have a nice meal
Here is an example of a simple meal I prepare regularly.
- 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.