"I don’t believe in diets"

A diet, according to Verburgh, assumes that you will, against your will, for a certain period of time, eat less. “That’s wrong on three levels,” he says. “All health benefits matter only if you stick to a diet your whole life, and that doesn’t work for most diets.” Eating against your will? If healthy isn’t tasty, then there’s something wrong with the recipes, according to Verburgh. And why eat less? “If you eat healthy, you automatically lose weight.”

So there he was with his book, The Food Hourglass. It included recipes for such dishes as fennel salad with Roquefort, raisins and walnuts, and a ragout made with asparagus, mushrooms and quail eggs. Yet, despite the recipes, he still does not want to be called a diet guru. And rightfully so. His book is too far removed from the standard in the field of diets.

With his book, Verburgh—who is a doctor and researcher from Belgium—paints a picture of how we can slow the aging process. He points to scientific studies that show that ailments such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and dementia are closely linked to our eating patterns. And he points to an almost equal number of studies that, according to him, prove that eating healthy can dramatically reduce our chances of getting these diseases, as well as a whole host of other ailments. An added bonus of eating healthy: weight loss!

The Food Hourglass became a bestseller, with more than 300,000 copies sold in less than two years in the Netherlands and Belgium. An English translation went on sale in the UK in April, as did a Kindle version for American readers, and it’s being translated into five other languages. Readers are experiencing the book as a breath of fresh air. In the middle of the stream of contradictory advice we receive almost daily through the media—one day coffee can prevent heart attacks, the next it turns out coffee causes an irregular heartbeat—Verburgh offers a clear story with practical suggestions. (And you can rest assured: coffee is healthy, so long as you drink it in moderation.)

The hourglass in the title refers to the model Verburgh designed to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy foods. The top half shows which foods you should reduce or leave out altogether, and the bottom shows what you can replace them with. Not everything is earth-shattering news—green tea is better than cola, salmon is better than salami—but in some cases the advice goes against ingrained notions. For example, Verburgh suggests you avoid bread, potatoes, pasta and rice and replace them with legumes, mushrooms, vegetables and oatmeal. And whatever you do, steer clear of milk. A daily glass of milk increases your risk for Parkinson’s, ovarian cancer and prostate cancer. Milk doesn’t even give you strong bones—we’d ­­­­­be better off replacing the calcium from milk by eating leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale.

The hourglass provides an alternative to the food pyramid and food plate on which Verburgh and his generation were raised. Verburgh is not shy in his comments about these nutrition advisories; he calls them “completely outdated.” No distinction is made between white and red meat, or between healthy and unhealthy fats. He points to research done at Harvard that showed that people who followed the classic advice were not healthier than others. “The drawbacks undermined the advantages of that advice,” concludes Verburgh. “If you eliminate these drawbacks, then you lower your chances of dying from cardiovascular disease by 40 percent.”

Diet gurus—who are also often critical of traditional nutrition advice—make an equally tragic mistake, according to Verburgh: They think in terms of macronutrients like proteins, carbohydrates and fats, favoring one type of macronutrient over another—like the proteins that are advised in the Atkins Diet, or the carbohydrates in a low-fat diet. However, it should be about the types of proteins, carbohydrates and fats that are consumed. Protein can be either healthy or unhealthy—it’s healthy if it comes from poultry or tofu and unhealthy if it comes from dairy or processed red meat. Sugars: healthy if from fruit, oatmeal or starch-rich legumes such as chickpeas, but unhealthy if they come from potatoes or sodas. Fats: healthy if from omega-3-rich fatty fish and nuts, unhealthy in cakes and margarine. When we completely exclude certain macronutrients—as diets like the Atkins do, cutting out all sugars—we run the risk of ailments caused by a shortage. You might lose weight, but you wouldn’t be healthy, concludes Verburgh. “Most diets and nutrition guidelines just don’t cut it.”

And the importance of exercise in getting rid of those unwanted pounds? “If you want to lose weight, exercise shouldn’t be your first step,” Verburgh says emphatically. “Exercise is important for many things—it guards your brain against aging, gives you a strong heart and works to counter stress. Someone who takes up light jogging three times a week at age 50 lowers their chance of dementia by 62 percent. But if you eat two chocolate bars, you’ll have to spend the whole afternoon bicycling to get rid of those again. So perhaps leave out the chocolate bars?”

**

People who drink a glass of fresh, home-squeezed juice three times a week have a 76 percent lower chance of getting Alzheimer’s. Eating a handful of walnuts every day cuts your risk of heart attack in half. Regularly eating broccoli lowers your chance of obtaining breast cancer by 40 percent … Kris Verburgh has a nearly endless storehouse of information, and he rattles off impressive facts throughout our interview. “A photographic memory,” he says, almost apologetically. But it’s more than that.

Verburgh has boundless curiosity. Always has. As a preschooler, he asked Santa for a model of a skeleton. In elementary school, he read books on cosmology, physics and biochemistry. The passion for science was there at birth. His father has a PhD in chemistry, and his mother is a lab worker. But he emphasizes that they never pushed him. When his school offered young Kris—“no, no brothers or sisters, but we did have a rabbit”—the option of skipping two grades, his parents decided against it, so as not to rob their son of his youth. He also did not grow up a stereotype: “It’s not like I spent all my time in some dingy attic room reading and writing.”

However, his first book came out when he was only seventeen. The subject matter of Schitterend! (Brilliant!) was nothing less than the universe. The Belgian newspaper De Standaard wrote that the young writer already rivaled the brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking through his clear and simple writing. Three years later, Fantastisch! (Fantastic!) came out, a thick tome dealing with evolution, consciousness and quantum physics. The enthusiasm found in the book titles—both were nominated for awards—is indicative of his own fascination with the world.

Now that Verburgh is 28 and a newly minted doctor, he looks critically at the government guidelines about nutrition. And criticisms of The Food Hourglass did come. As he expected, the first of those came from ViGeZ, the Flemish Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, which felt attacked by the book. One of the main criticisms lobbed at Verburgh is that he doesn’t include recommended doses. “As if people would drink a whole liter of olive oil!” Verburgh says with exasperation. “Organizations like that irritate me when they think, in their arrogance, that ordinary people aren’t smart enough to understand something like that. We are intelligent enough to understand—our bodies are, too—that we shouldn’t go and eat six pounds of walnuts when someone tells us that walnuts are healthy.” Verburgh points out that official guidelines are often outdated and oversimplified for the general public. “Professor Walter Willett, at Harvard, goes even further, saying that the government guidelines “provide misleading advice to the general public.” That’s why Harvard created its own food pyramid, which recommends drastically dialing back on refined grain products such as bread, pasta and rice, and puts potatoes and red meat in the “to avoid” top section of the pyramid, indicating that people should limit their consumption of these foods.

“We need to become more aware of the power of food,” he says. “Medicine heals very little. Most illnesses we can’t cure. The only ones we can cure are infections, by using antibiotics, and cancer, by way of chemotherapy. That’s pretty much it. For all the others we can at best treat symptoms.”

As an intern, he was shocked by the drug cocktails he saw patients taking, while nothing was done at all about their nutrition. “But if patients were to lose weight, they wouldn’t have back pain anymore, and wouldn’t need to take painkillers,” Verburgh points out. “Their blood pressure would come down, thereby reducing the need for blood pressure medications. Their blood sugar would stabilize, and they wouldn’t need insulin anymore. Et cetera, et cetera. We prescribe too many pills for things that could simply be taken care of with healthy nutrition.”

He’s equally critical of the seven years of medical training he recently completed. “As a doctor, you’re trained in acute medicine: what to do when someone has a heart attack, or if a tumor breaks through. We know very well what to do with the symptoms. But we got very little, if any, insight into the underlying causes or how we could have prevented that heart attack or tumor.” During all of his time in medical school, Verburgh counted only one, hour-long lecture about nutrition. And that was during an afternoon spent learning about alternative treatments such as acupuncture and homeopathy. Verburgh called that “sad.”

“Nutrition—that’s something for dietitians” is the prevailing attitude among medical faculty. But Verburgh is convinced that nutrition is so important that you can’t leave it to dieticians alone. Everything Verburgh knows about the health benefits of foods, he’s learned through studying the subject on his own. As a student, he always carried at least three or four scientific articles in his book bag to read in his free time. “Not everything can be solved through food,” he admits, “but as doctors we should be looking at a patient’s nutrition before prescribing medications.”

Verburgh doesn’t want to be placed in the “alternative” corner. He is well aware of that possibility, which is why his book, at 360 pages, has 19 devoted to scientific references and a detailed bibliography. Moreover, his ideas are not exactly in line with many of the strongly held opinions found in alternative circles. Verburgh, for instance, sees no added health benefit from eating organic (“highly exaggerated and not scientifically proven to be healthier”). Nor does he join in on the attack on aspartame, an artificial sweetener found in many low-calorie sodas, which has been claimed to cause cancer; that would really only cause cancer, he says, if you ate a whole box of it.

When it comes to the world of “anti-aging” therapies—a field he bumps up against when studying biogerontology, the science of aging—he has some strong reservations. Antioxidants and human growth hormone are all the rage there, but he considers them absurd. Antioxidants don’t slow down aging. They neutralize free-radicals, but we actually need those free radicals to keep our cellular defense mechanisms on alert. And growth hormone might keep your skin tight and your muscles strong, but it increases your risk of diabetes and cancer. Growth hormone, in fact, accelerates the aging process.

In a restaurant in Antwerp, we are having lunch consisting of a salad with smoked salmon and parsnip chips. It’s a very good salmon; this is the verdict at the table. “It proves that eating healthy can be tasty, too.” Verburgh has been explaining what he consumes on a typical day. Right after waking up, he has a glass of water (room temperature). Then he prepares a bowl of oatmeal (heated in the microwave, because he does not believe there is any harm from electromagnetic radiation) with strawberries, a banana and a few walnuts, followed by a handful of red grapes. Then he squeezes two oranges and adds two scoops of pulp. At around 11 a.m. he has an apple. Lunch can be a salmon salad with mushrooms and broccoli, followed by soy yogurt with blueberries for dessert. Halfway through the afternoon, nuts and a piece of dark chocolate. And for dinner, a light dinner salad with mackerel and white beans. Spread throughout the day: another cup of green tea and lots of water.

He does fall off the wagon occasionally; pralines are a favorite. “It won’t do any harm,” Verburgh says, though he’s quick to add that his stomach does have trouble with another rare indulgence: french fries. He doesn’t see his food hourglass as a strict command, but more as a guideline to finding healthy alternatives. And he’s convinced that following those guidelines quickly leads to results. He explains that our taste buds can change quickly. Cutting out sugar for only ten days allows you to fully appreciate the sweetness of grapes and strawberries.

Without a doubt, nutrition is going to start playing a more important role, says Verburgh. It has to—health care is getting too expensive. A solution is needed, and fast, because, he says, “you can’t solve everything with pills.” According to him, that means prevention should get much more attention. “When we talk about prevention, doctors immediately think of mammograms, Pap smears or some other type of screening,” says Verburgh, “but that is not prevention. That’s just detecting a problem sooner rather than later.”

He talks about the toll we pay for our increased prosperity. Our aging process was a “mistake of nature,” says Verburgh. Otherwise, the deterioration that starts to happen after 30, from our brain to our pancreas, wouldn’t happen. Nature gave humans a lifespan that’s appropriate to a time when we’d stay fit till our 30s and then die. Let’s face it: Our ancient ancestors rarely lived beyond thirty. They would have been killed by a rival tribe, fallen to their death or been eaten by a hungry predator.

With the first development of civilization came the first signs of aging. We grew smarter and lived longer, and 40,000 years ago this led to a new phenomenon: grandparents. According to Verburgh, there has to be a reason why people suddenly started living to 50 or 60. Maybe the answer lies in the cultural evolution that took off around that time, he posits. Cave paintings and jewelry became more complex, “perhaps because knowledge started to get passed down from elders.”

Then, for the first time he falls silent; he admits he could go on forever discussing his passions. “I’ve seen many patients die from age-related ailments,” he says. “And I can tell you, it’s not pretty.” True prevention of these degenerative, age-related diseases is found in eating healthy. “Food is the best medicine,” he says, paraphrasing Hippocrates, the founder of modern Western medicine, “and I believe it is also the best prevention. If our food is healthy, we will still be afflicted by aging-related diseases, but much later in life. The goal is to increase our healthy life span, to reduce the decades of suffering before you die.”

How do you encourage healthy eating? Educating the public better is a start, obviously, but Verburgh is uneasy about trusting that people will find their way among all the choices available to them. “I don’t think people are all that free to choose,” he starts. “You can’t go out and not spot at least one hamburger chain. In every supermarket, the shelves are loaded with brightly colored foods that scream ‘Eat me!’ We’re inundated by advertisements for unhealthy snacks. Even at work, we often can’t choose what’s served at the cafeteria. Parents can’t always control what their kids eat at school.”

Therefore, he sees the government playing a role. Not so much by instituting a fat tax, dictating the school lunch menu or declaring a ban on junk food, as some would like to see. Verburgh is of the opinion that agriculture should be reformed. Only then, he thinks, can we get back to the source. In agriculture, he says, subsidies are handed to the wrong crops. “By subsidizing corn and other grains, it becomes extremely cheap to make sugars. This leads to poor-quality candy, but also poor-quality meat. Meat and dairy from cattle raised on grain is far less healthy than cattle raised on grass.”

He quickly plucks some other numbers seemingly out of thin air. “Since the 1980s, sodas have gone down in price about 25 percent, whereas vegetables and fruit have gone up by about 35 percent. People want to eat healthier, but a tin of walnuts or a pint of blueberries costs quite a bit these days. Which is why agricultural subsidies should change—so that vegetables and fruits become significantly less expensive.”

Unfortunately, agricultural policy won’t change easily, Verburgh admits, and we don’t have much influence over it. In the meantime, there is plenty we can do to live healthier and longer lives. “Every atom in our bodies was once in our food,” he says. “We are literally built from the food we eat. Through eating healthy, men can add about 8.5 years to their life expectancy, women around 15 years. Without too much effort, we could all remain healthy well into our eighties. Who wouldn’t want that?”

Previous

Solution News Source

"I don’t believe in diets"

A diet, according to Verburgh, assumes that you will, against your will, for a certain period of time, eat less. “That’s wrong on three levels,” he says. “All health benefits matter only if you stick to a diet your whole life, and that doesn’t work for most diets.” Eating against your will? If healthy isn’t tasty, then there’s something wrong with the recipes, according to Verburgh. And why eat less? “If you eat healthy, you automatically lose weight.”

So there he was with his book, The Food Hourglass. It included recipes for such dishes as fennel salad with Roquefort, raisins and walnuts, and a ragout made with asparagus, mushrooms and quail eggs. Yet, despite the recipes, he still does not want to be called a diet guru. And rightfully so. His book is too far removed from the standard in the field of diets.

With his book, Verburgh—who is a doctor and researcher from Belgium—paints a picture of how we can slow the aging process. He points to scientific studies that show that ailments such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and dementia are closely linked to our eating patterns. And he points to an almost equal number of studies that, according to him, prove that eating healthy can dramatically reduce our chances of getting these diseases, as well as a whole host of other ailments. An added bonus of eating healthy: weight loss!

The Food Hourglass became a bestseller, with more than 300,000 copies sold in less than two years in the Netherlands and Belgium. An English translation went on sale in the UK in April, as did a Kindle version for American readers, and it’s being translated into five other languages. Readers are experiencing the book as a breath of fresh air. In the middle of the stream of contradictory advice we receive almost daily through the media—one day coffee can prevent heart attacks, the next it turns out coffee causes an irregular heartbeat—Verburgh offers a clear story with practical suggestions. (And you can rest assured: coffee is healthy, so long as you drink it in moderation.)

The hourglass in the title refers to the model Verburgh designed to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy foods. The top half shows which foods you should reduce or leave out altogether, and the bottom shows what you can replace them with. Not everything is earth-shattering news—green tea is better than cola, salmon is better than salami—but in some cases the advice goes against ingrained notions. For example, Verburgh suggests you avoid bread, potatoes, pasta and rice and replace them with legumes, mushrooms, vegetables and oatmeal. And whatever you do, steer clear of milk. A daily glass of milk increases your risk for Parkinson’s, ovarian cancer and prostate cancer. Milk doesn’t even give you strong bones—we’d ­­­­­be better off replacing the calcium from milk by eating leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale.

The hourglass provides an alternative to the food pyramid and food plate on which Verburgh and his generation were raised. Verburgh is not shy in his comments about these nutrition advisories; he calls them “completely outdated.” No distinction is made between white and red meat, or between healthy and unhealthy fats. He points to research done at Harvard that showed that people who followed the classic advice were not healthier than others. “The drawbacks undermined the advantages of that advice,” concludes Verburgh. “If you eliminate these drawbacks, then you lower your chances of dying from cardiovascular disease by 40 percent.”

Diet gurus—who are also often critical of traditional nutrition advice—make an equally tragic mistake, according to Verburgh: They think in terms of macronutrients like proteins, carbohydrates and fats, favoring one type of macronutrient over another—like the proteins that are advised in the Atkins Diet, or the carbohydrates in a low-fat diet. However, it should be about the types of proteins, carbohydrates and fats that are consumed. Protein can be either healthy or unhealthy—it’s healthy if it comes from poultry or tofu and unhealthy if it comes from dairy or processed red meat. Sugars: healthy if from fruit, oatmeal or starch-rich legumes such as chickpeas, but unhealthy if they come from potatoes or sodas. Fats: healthy if from omega-3-rich fatty fish and nuts, unhealthy in cakes and margarine. When we completely exclude certain macronutrients—as diets like the Atkins do, cutting out all sugars—we run the risk of ailments caused by a shortage. You might lose weight, but you wouldn’t be healthy, concludes Verburgh. “Most diets and nutrition guidelines just don’t cut it.”

And the importance of exercise in getting rid of those unwanted pounds? “If you want to lose weight, exercise shouldn’t be your first step,” Verburgh says emphatically. “Exercise is important for many things—it guards your brain against aging, gives you a strong heart and works to counter stress. Someone who takes up light jogging three times a week at age 50 lowers their chance of dementia by 62 percent. But if you eat two chocolate bars, you’ll have to spend the whole afternoon bicycling to get rid of those again. So perhaps leave out the chocolate bars?”

**

People who drink a glass of fresh, home-squeezed juice three times a week have a 76 percent lower chance of getting Alzheimer’s. Eating a handful of walnuts every day cuts your risk of heart attack in half. Regularly eating broccoli lowers your chance of obtaining breast cancer by 40 percent … Kris Verburgh has a nearly endless storehouse of information, and he rattles off impressive facts throughout our interview. “A photographic memory,” he says, almost apologetically. But it’s more than that.

Verburgh has boundless curiosity. Always has. As a preschooler, he asked Santa for a model of a skeleton. In elementary school, he read books on cosmology, physics and biochemistry. The passion for science was there at birth. His father has a PhD in chemistry, and his mother is a lab worker. But he emphasizes that they never pushed him. When his school offered young Kris—“no, no brothers or sisters, but we did have a rabbit”—the option of skipping two grades, his parents decided against it, so as not to rob their son of his youth. He also did not grow up a stereotype: “It’s not like I spent all my time in some dingy attic room reading and writing.”

However, his first book came out when he was only seventeen. The subject matter of Schitterend! (Brilliant!) was nothing less than the universe. The Belgian newspaper De Standaard wrote that the young writer already rivaled the brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking through his clear and simple writing. Three years later, Fantastisch! (Fantastic!) came out, a thick tome dealing with evolution, consciousness and quantum physics. The enthusiasm found in the book titles—both were nominated for awards—is indicative of his own fascination with the world.

Now that Verburgh is 28 and a newly minted doctor, he looks critically at the government guidelines about nutrition. And criticisms of The Food Hourglass did come. As he expected, the first of those came from ViGeZ, the Flemish Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, which felt attacked by the book. One of the main criticisms lobbed at Verburgh is that he doesn’t include recommended doses. “As if people would drink a whole liter of olive oil!” Verburgh says with exasperation. “Organizations like that irritate me when they think, in their arrogance, that ordinary people aren’t smart enough to understand something like that. We are intelligent enough to understand—our bodies are, too—that we shouldn’t go and eat six pounds of walnuts when someone tells us that walnuts are healthy.” Verburgh points out that official guidelines are often outdated and oversimplified for the general public. “Professor Walter Willett, at Harvard, goes even further, saying that the government guidelines “provide misleading advice to the general public.” That’s why Harvard created its own food pyramid, which recommends drastically dialing back on refined grain products such as bread, pasta and rice, and puts potatoes and red meat in the “to avoid” top section of the pyramid, indicating that people should limit their consumption of these foods.

“We need to become more aware of the power of food,” he says. “Medicine heals very little. Most illnesses we can’t cure. The only ones we can cure are infections, by using antibiotics, and cancer, by way of chemotherapy. That’s pretty much it. For all the others we can at best treat symptoms.”

As an intern, he was shocked by the drug cocktails he saw patients taking, while nothing was done at all about their nutrition. “But if patients were to lose weight, they wouldn’t have back pain anymore, and wouldn’t need to take painkillers,” Verburgh points out. “Their blood pressure would come down, thereby reducing the need for blood pressure medications. Their blood sugar would stabilize, and they wouldn’t need insulin anymore. Et cetera, et cetera. We prescribe too many pills for things that could simply be taken care of with healthy nutrition.”

He’s equally critical of the seven years of medical training he recently completed. “As a doctor, you’re trained in acute medicine: what to do when someone has a heart attack, or if a tumor breaks through. We know very well what to do with the symptoms. But we got very little, if any, insight into the underlying causes or how we could have prevented that heart attack or tumor.” During all of his time in medical school, Verburgh counted only one, hour-long lecture about nutrition. And that was during an afternoon spent learning about alternative treatments such as acupuncture and homeopathy. Verburgh called that “sad.”

“Nutrition—that’s something for dietitians” is the prevailing attitude among medical faculty. But Verburgh is convinced that nutrition is so important that you can’t leave it to dieticians alone. Everything Verburgh knows about the health benefits of foods, he’s learned through studying the subject on his own. As a student, he always carried at least three or four scientific articles in his book bag to read in his free time. “Not everything can be solved through food,” he admits, “but as doctors we should be looking at a patient’s nutrition before prescribing medications.”

Verburgh doesn’t want to be placed in the “alternative” corner. He is well aware of that possibility, which is why his book, at 360 pages, has 19 devoted to scientific references and a detailed bibliography. Moreover, his ideas are not exactly in line with many of the strongly held opinions found in alternative circles. Verburgh, for instance, sees no added health benefit from eating organic (“highly exaggerated and not scientifically proven to be healthier”). Nor does he join in on the attack on aspartame, an artificial sweetener found in many low-calorie sodas, which has been claimed to cause cancer; that would really only cause cancer, he says, if you ate a whole box of it.

When it comes to the world of “anti-aging” therapies—a field he bumps up against when studying biogerontology, the science of aging—he has some strong reservations. Antioxidants and human growth hormone are all the rage there, but he considers them absurd. Antioxidants don’t slow down aging. They neutralize free-radicals, but we actually need those free radicals to keep our cellular defense mechanisms on alert. And growth hormone might keep your skin tight and your muscles strong, but it increases your risk of diabetes and cancer. Growth hormone, in fact, accelerates the aging process.

In a restaurant in Antwerp, we are having lunch consisting of a salad with smoked salmon and parsnip chips. It’s a very good salmon; this is the verdict at the table. “It proves that eating healthy can be tasty, too.” Verburgh has been explaining what he consumes on a typical day. Right after waking up, he has a glass of water (room temperature). Then he prepares a bowl of oatmeal (heated in the microwave, because he does not believe there is any harm from electromagnetic radiation) with strawberries, a banana and a few walnuts, followed by a handful of red grapes. Then he squeezes two oranges and adds two scoops of pulp. At around 11 a.m. he has an apple. Lunch can be a salmon salad with mushrooms and broccoli, followed by soy yogurt with blueberries for dessert. Halfway through the afternoon, nuts and a piece of dark chocolate. And for dinner, a light dinner salad with mackerel and white beans. Spread throughout the day: another cup of green tea and lots of water.

He does fall off the wagon occasionally; pralines are a favorite. “It won’t do any harm,” Verburgh says, though he’s quick to add that his stomach does have trouble with another rare indulgence: french fries. He doesn’t see his food hourglass as a strict command, but more as a guideline to finding healthy alternatives. And he’s convinced that following those guidelines quickly leads to results. He explains that our taste buds can change quickly. Cutting out sugar for only ten days allows you to fully appreciate the sweetness of grapes and strawberries.

Without a doubt, nutrition is going to start playing a more important role, says Verburgh. It has to—health care is getting too expensive. A solution is needed, and fast, because, he says, “you can’t solve everything with pills.” According to him, that means prevention should get much more attention. “When we talk about prevention, doctors immediately think of mammograms, Pap smears or some other type of screening,” says Verburgh, “but that is not prevention. That’s just detecting a problem sooner rather than later.”

He talks about the toll we pay for our increased prosperity. Our aging process was a “mistake of nature,” says Verburgh. Otherwise, the deterioration that starts to happen after 30, from our brain to our pancreas, wouldn’t happen. Nature gave humans a lifespan that’s appropriate to a time when we’d stay fit till our 30s and then die. Let’s face it: Our ancient ancestors rarely lived beyond thirty. They would have been killed by a rival tribe, fallen to their death or been eaten by a hungry predator.

With the first development of civilization came the first signs of aging. We grew smarter and lived longer, and 40,000 years ago this led to a new phenomenon: grandparents. According to Verburgh, there has to be a reason why people suddenly started living to 50 or 60. Maybe the answer lies in the cultural evolution that took off around that time, he posits. Cave paintings and jewelry became more complex, “perhaps because knowledge started to get passed down from elders.”

Then, for the first time he falls silent; he admits he could go on forever discussing his passions. “I’ve seen many patients die from age-related ailments,” he says. “And I can tell you, it’s not pretty.” True prevention of these degenerative, age-related diseases is found in eating healthy. “Food is the best medicine,” he says, paraphrasing Hippocrates, the founder of modern Western medicine, “and I believe it is also the best prevention. If our food is healthy, we will still be afflicted by aging-related diseases, but much later in life. The goal is to increase our healthy life span, to reduce the decades of suffering before you die.”

How do you encourage healthy eating? Educating the public better is a start, obviously, but Verburgh is uneasy about trusting that people will find their way among all the choices available to them. “I don’t think people are all that free to choose,” he starts. “You can’t go out and not spot at least one hamburger chain. In every supermarket, the shelves are loaded with brightly colored foods that scream ‘Eat me!’ We’re inundated by advertisements for unhealthy snacks. Even at work, we often can’t choose what’s served at the cafeteria. Parents can’t always control what their kids eat at school.”

Therefore, he sees the government playing a role. Not so much by instituting a fat tax, dictating the school lunch menu or declaring a ban on junk food, as some would like to see. Verburgh is of the opinion that agriculture should be reformed. Only then, he thinks, can we get back to the source. In agriculture, he says, subsidies are handed to the wrong crops. “By subsidizing corn and other grains, it becomes extremely cheap to make sugars. This leads to poor-quality candy, but also poor-quality meat. Meat and dairy from cattle raised on grain is far less healthy than cattle raised on grass.”

He quickly plucks some other numbers seemingly out of thin air. “Since the 1980s, sodas have gone down in price about 25 percent, whereas vegetables and fruit have gone up by about 35 percent. People want to eat healthier, but a tin of walnuts or a pint of blueberries costs quite a bit these days. Which is why agricultural subsidies should change—so that vegetables and fruits become significantly less expensive.”

Unfortunately, agricultural policy won’t change easily, Verburgh admits, and we don’t have much influence over it. In the meantime, there is plenty we can do to live healthier and longer lives. “Every atom in our bodies was once in our food,” he says. “We are literally built from the food we eat. Through eating healthy, men can add about 8.5 years to their life expectancy, women around 15 years. Without too much effort, we could all remain healthy well into our eighties. Who wouldn’t want that?”

Previous

Solution News Source

SIGN UP

TO GET A Free DAILY DOSE OF OPTIMISM

Optimist Subscriber
Delivery Frequency *
reCAPTCHA

We respect your privacy and take protecting it seriously. Privacy Policy