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Notes from a healthy lifestyle conference

I recently attended a ‘lifestyle medicine’ conference where presentations were based around three themes: health technology, gut health and brain health. Here are a few interesting snippets from it.

First, from an international panel of dietitians…

Australia’s best-known dietitian, Rosemary Stanton, is now in her 70s. She recalled visiting a margarine factory in the early part of her career, and as a result has never eaten margarine.

Also from her: “there’s no one healthy way to eat — there are many paths, but they all include vegetables. There’s also more than one way to eat badly. There’s no single culprit.

“It’s meaningless to talk about high-carb, low-carb, high-fat or low-fat diets. Carbs can mean lentils, vegetables and rolled oats or jellybeans and cheezels. Both carbs and fat can be healthy or unhealthy. 

“The real problem for Australians is junk food. We eat too many discretionary foods. 

And her view of the main problem with our dietary guidelines: “Few people have actually read them and very few people follow them.”

Professor Susanne Bügel from Denmark has carried out research to compare the nutrient levels in organic vs conventionally produced food. She found more difference between different varieties of a food than between organic and conventional. But she didn’t measure the health effects of chemical spraying. And she says she eats organic as much as she can.

Professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu is a dietary researcher from the University of Auckland: “the food industry is about profit; they’re not the guardians of our health. Yet they have enormous say on issues such as food labelling and our dietary guidelines. Governments need to show more leadership here.”

Still with the dietitians... Professor Catherine Itsiopoulos is a Melbourne-based researcher and the author of The Mediterranean Diet and The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook. She’s emphatic about using extra virgin olive oil and not ‘pure olive oil’. Extra virgin is higher in polyphenols, i.e. plant-based chemicals which act as antioxidants and help reduce inflammation.


Other random tidbits...

It takes very little time on a poor-quality diet to affect our gut and brain. Prolonged exposure to processed food seems likely to reduce the size of our hippocampus (a part of the brain involved with learning and memory.) Scary, isn’t it?

As evidence that stress contributes to heart disease, natural disasters such as the Christchurch earthquake and Hurricane Katrina bring about a spike in heart attacks. 

There’s work being done to try to prevent and improve Alzheimer’s using a broad-spectrum approach, i.e. a mixture of diet, exercise, nutraceuticals (supplements used in research), brain training, meditation and stress management. We’re likely to hear more of this in coming years.

While we know that exercise is important for brain health, partner dancing is being hailed as great for our brains. It combines the benefits of exercise with learning steps and connecting with others.

As much as we’ve heard in recent years about the benefits of high intensity exercise, New Zealand’s Dr Wendy Sweet reminds us that it’s not for women who are struggling with lack of sleep. (The same goes for women under any kind of stress.) Intense exercise under those circumstances is just another stress. Better to focus on walking, stretching and other low-intensity exercises. 

Photo Source: Bigstock

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Monday, August 27, 2018 | Rhonda Anderson