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Processed foods, poor lifestyle choices put you at risk for chronic conditions

by Staci Gulbin | Contributor
Oct 6, 2021


In order to live a long, healthy life, you’re told to consume plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables and be active, for example. But what may not be clear are what foods and lifestyle choices may increase your risk for chronic conditions that could reduce your quality and quantity of life.

The ingredients in certain foods, the nutritional profile, the way you cook the food you eat, the beverages you drink and the way foods are processed could all have an impact on your overall health. It’s important to understand the foods, drinks and lifestyle behaviors that you should limit today toas g extend your life well into the future.

What factors can increase life?

To determine what factors can reduce life span, you should first look at what factors have proven to help extend life span. A well-known study, known as Blue Zones, shows that there are nine common factors among the people in the world who seem to live significantly longer than others. These Power 9 include:

  1. Move naturally: No boot camp workouts here. Those who live the longest follow lifestyles that have them moving naturally throughout each day by walking, gardening and housework.
  2. Purpose: Those who live the longest have found something to give them purpose whether its caring for others, volunteering, mentoring, teaching or something else.
  3. Down shift: Everyone has stress, but those who live the longest still have stress, but they find ways to manage it such as napping, praying, meditating or socializing.
  4. 80% rule: Listening to your hunger and fullness cues are key to living longer. Those who live the longest stop eating when they feel 80% full, which in other words is when their appetite feels satisfied and not over full. This way of eating can help prevent overeating and in turn unhealthy weight gain.
  5. Plant slant: People who live the longest receive much of their protein from plant-based sources like beans and lentils versus animal meats, which they typically only consume about once or twice a week.
  6. Wine @ 5: The people who live the longest enjoy a glass of wine with meals and with loved ones frequently throughout the week. If you don’t drink however, no need to start since research shows that drinking less than one standard drink of alcohol per day is associated with a longer life span.
  7. Belong: Most people who live longer than others belong to some sort of faith community.
  8. Loved ones first: It seems that those who live nearby or with their family, commit to a loved one and invest in their children live longer than others.
  9. Right tribe: Social circles that are made of people that encourage healthy behaviors help people live longer, higher quality lives.

In summary, those who live longer have a life full of loved ones that support them and support a healthy lifestyle. And when it comes to lifestyle habits, those who eat a lot of plant-based foods, reduce alcohol intake and eat sensible portions are most likely to extend their life in quantity and quality.

What lifestyle habits can reduce life span?

So, now that you know what habits you should adopt to extend life, let’s talk about what habits you can limit or avoid to do the same.

Limit intake of processed foods

Many foods go through processing in one way or another. The definition of a processed food is any raw commodity that goes through some type of process that changes it from its original form in some way. Therefore, even bagged spinach that has undergone washing and rinsing is considered minimally processed. These minimally processed food products are perfectly fine to consume. It is the ultra-processed foods that you will want to limit intake of.

Ultra processed foods (UPF) are those food products that have undergone many stages of processing and contain various additives and preservatives for flavor, color and stability. Examples of ultra-processed foods include:

  • Microwave meals
  • Frozen pizzas
  • Chips
  • Deli meat
  • Sausages and hot dogs
  • Fries
  • Pre-made cookies, pies and candies

Research shows that an increase in intake of such UPF increases risk of conditions like heart disease and depression. Another recent study shows that certain adverse health effects like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression and irritable bowel syndrome are linked with intake of UPF.

Reduce intake of sugary drinks and alcohol

Sugary drinks like cola, fruit juice and certain sports drinks typically contain at or above the recommended sugar intake for the day of most adults. Experts recommend no more than 24 to 36 grams of added sugar per day for most adults. Added sugar includes those sugar components not naturally present in foods. For example, milk and milk products contain lactose, or milk sugar, which is natural. However, some yogurt products contain artificial flavors and fruit syrups that contain added sugar.

In turn, excessive added sugar intake can lead to excessive calorie intake that can lead to unhealthy weight gain and research shows that intake of such drinks can increase risk of heart disease.

When it comes to alcohol, less is more. Not long ago, the recommendation was that most adults should consume less than one standard drink per day for women and less than two standard drinks per day for men for optimal health. One standard drink is equal to:

  • 12 ounces of beer (about 5% alcohol per volume)
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor (about 7% alcohol per volume)
  • 5 ounces of wine (about 12% alcohol per volume)
  • 1.5 ounces of hard liquor (about 40% alcohol per volume)

However, a 2021 study shows that there is no safe threshold below which drinking alcohol is not toxic to the organ systems in the body. Not to mention that a recent study shows that alcohol intake may be linked to increased risk of certain cancers.

If you drink alcohol for the taste or social aspect of it, opt for nonalcoholic beverage options of which there are many these days, including not just alcohol-free beer, but also alcohol-free wine and liquor alternatives. These alcohol-free options tend to be lower in calories to their alcohol-containing counterparts, thus being a great fit in your healthy lifestyle.

If you feel like you consume alcohol to boost your mood, perhaps you may benefit from speaking with a health counselor to help you find healthier ways to manage stress and your mood.

Try not to fry your food too much

Research shows that the more fried foods you consume, the greater the risk of developing diseases such as heart disease that can increase risk of mortality. Fried foods can include fried potatoes, battered and fried shrimp, chicken and other proteins, and potato chips, for example.

A woman chopping vegetables in her kitchen

Put down the salt and eat fresh

A higher sodium eating routine can increase risk of conditions like high blood pressure and related heart disease. Higher sodium intake can occur when you add a lot of salt to dishes during and after cooking. However, some food products are high in sodium upon purchase such as canned soups, pre-made meals, deli meats, processed meats like sausage and hot dogs, microwave meals and certain fast foods.

Read the ingredient label to limit additive intake

When food shopping, you should learn to look at the label carefully. Not only can it help you figure out how much sugar and salt are in a certain food or drink item, but it can also help you see what additives are in a product. Such additives may alter gut bacteria and make a person more prone to digestive illness. Not to mention that certain food additives may impact the metabolic system.

Not all food additives are harmful since some can provide natural flavors and colors to foods and may help preserve foods so they can stay fresh longer. Those additives that may negatively impact health the most include:

  • Sodium nitrites: These additives are found mostly in processed meats like deli meats, hot dogs or sausage and help stabilize meat and provide flavor and color. They also help to prevent harmful bacterial growth in the meat product. However, sodium nitrites may increase risk of certain cancers when consumed regularly.
  • Sulfites: Found in dried fruits, certain juices and in alcoholic beverages and certain meat products may increase risk of adverse events like allergic disease and gut bacteria issues.
  • Trans fats: Trans fats are a type of fat found in certain margarines and fried food products. Research shows that intake of trans fats can increase risk of chronic conditions like heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG): Certain soups, processed foods and Asian foods may contain MSG which due to its sodium content may elevate blood pressure and in turn increase risk of heart disease.

How to eat healthier for longevity each day

Now that you know what to look out for when choosing foods for longevity, read below for tips on how to incorporate such tips into your daily routine.

Purchase frozen or fresh produce versus canned

Canned produce can contain high amounts of sodium due to added preservatives that help keep such produce shelf stable. You can always drain the salty liquid from the vegetables and rinse them off before eating, but it’s easier to just focus on fresh or frozen produce. The other benefit in buying frozen vegetables is that if you don’t eat a lot every day, you don’t have to worry about them going bad. Frozen vegetables can last from eight to 12 months if stored properly.

Opt for fresh meat versus canned or processed meat

Like canned vegetables, canned meats contain a salty brine to help keep them shelf stable, so they contain more sodium than fresh meats. Therefore, it’s better to purchase fresh meats and freeze what you don’t use. Fresh meats stored in the freezer can last from three months or more, depending on the type of meat.

Stick to healthier cooking methods

Instead of battering and frying foods, opt for healthier cooking methods to reduce saturated fat intake, which can help reduce heart disease risk in the long term. Healthier cooking methods include:

  • Grilling
  • Baking
  • Roasting
  • Air-frying
  • Steaming
  • Boiling

In addition to healthier cooking methods, once the food is prepared, you can season the proteins or produce with low sodium options like herbs and spices instead of a lot of salt.

Replace sugary drinks with lower sugar options

To reduce overall sugar intake, opt for lower sugar options for your primary fluids during the day. This means drinking enough water and low to no-sugar options like water, unsweetened tea or coffee. Other low-sugar beverage options include:

  • Fruit-infused water: Place a few sliced strawberries, wedges of lemon, orange or lime wedges, or watermelon cubes to infuse water with a subtle fruity taste without any added sugar.
  • Seltzer or soda water: This carbonated water alternative comes in many different flavors and typically contains no sugar.
  • Water mixed with sugar-free packets: Many different brands, even store brands, offer sugar-free flavorings you can add to water to create a delicious and hydrating drink.
  • Choose iced coffee versus sugary coffee drinks: Instead of blended coffee drinks blended with sugar and topped with sugary syrups and whipped cream, choose instead sugar-free syrups and flavorings in your iced coffee. If you’re looking for the caffeine boost of coffee, just choose plain coffee with a bit of cream and a teaspoon or two of sugar. You can also receive a caffeine boost from certain teas which you can enjoy unsweetened or just with a teaspoon or two of sugar for extra flavor.

By just reducing sugar in your fluid intake can make a huge difference in your overall intake for the day.

Bottom line on healthy eating for longer life

When it comes to healthy eating, it can be confusing to know which advice to follow. The key is to stick to the basics and follow what other long-living individuals are doing. Making changes to your lifestyle can be difficult at first, so don’t hesitate to ask for help from a registered dietitian to help you get started.

Call your insurance provider to see what healthy living benefits you may be able to use to help you improve your current eating and exercise habits. Just one small change at a time can lead to great improvements to your health inside and out.

Alliance America can help

Alliance America is an insurance and financial services company dedicated to the art of personal financial planning. Our financial professionals can assist you in maximizing your retirement resources and achieving your future goals. We have access to an array of products and services, all focused on helping you enjoy the retirement lifestyle you want and deserve. You can request a no-cost, no-obligation consultation by calling (833) 219-6884 today.

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