It’s Not Rocket Science: 30 tips to an evidence-based life well lived

Confused by conflicting health advice?  Not sure if you should cook your kale in coconut oil or sweep it all in the rubbish bin. Coconut oil is nice and slippery like that.

The shocking truth is it’s actually not that hard or confusing.  There is more agreement and good science than confusion and shades of grey.

I realise this is not what some social media platforms or celebrities selling you snake oil to put up your hoo-ha at the full moon would have you believe.  See any recommendation by Gwenyth Paltrow or Pete Evens … ever.

So here are some science-based tips that could just change your life.

Eat

  • Eat loads of fresh fruit and veg
  • Eat red meat in moderation, or better not at all
  • Minimize mercury in fish
  • Enjoy dairy if you are not lactose intolerant.  Although the environment might not thank you, your body will.
  • Eat whole foods. Go for variety, lots of colours and types.  Sure enjoy ‘superfoods’ if they turn you on, but don’t obsess over them or eliminate perfectly good alternatives.  Can’t afford chia seeds? Eat a banana and a strawberry and smile at yourself and your savings. What about carbs some will say? There is some emerging science that for some people and situations low carb is helpful.  However good carbs are not the devil and don’t go down this route without good support or reason and certainly don’t swap your carbs for bacon!
  • Prioritize good quality oils.  While the saturated fat debate rages, I’d focus on vegetable oils.
  • Avoid the foods you have issues with BUT be careful avoiding stuff for shits, giggles or food fashion.
  • Chew well and enjoy.
  • Enjoy tea and coffee if you like it.
  • Minimize crap.
  • Have less than 10 teaspoons of sugar a day. This is more difficult than you might think, given how much is hidden in foods.  No need to get all obsessed and high-and-mighty about your #AMAZing-sugar-free-life.  Unless it makes you happy, in which case, fill your sugar-free-boots.
  • Enjoy alcohol in moderation, if your personal and genetic risk profile allows it.  Don’t kid yourself about what moderation actually means.  Check the guidelines.

Move

  • Get fit, stay fit.  This could be one of the best decisions you make
  • Avoid prolonged sitting or standing
  • Stretch

Love

  • Be connected to others and do stuff for them
  • Meditate or pray or whatever turns you on
  • Do stuff you love
  • Get some nature time, forest bathing is a thing that might even have science on its side.
  • Understand your personal values and live a life aligned to them

Protect, Check & Avoid

  • Protect yourself from the sun (slip, slop, slap)
  • Practice good dental hygiene
  • Get your regular (gender and age-appropriate) screening tests
  • Get the vaccinations you need
  • Don’t touch cigarettes or illegal drugs
  • Try and avoid smog and unnecessary chemical exposure at home and work
  • Manage your stress
  • Use your brain or lose your brain
  • Don’t believe what you read on the internet and never read the comments!

Live … a little

  • Just sometimes ….. eat doughnuts, drink champagne and stay up late …. just to know you have free will and your life is your own.

Footnote

My blogging career started with a health-based hobby blog, while writing a PhD, and also very ill.  I consumed a lot of science on health.  Something I had been warming up to for several decades prior.  Along the way, I feel I got a solid sense of some basic science-based principles re health and lifestyle stuff.  During the same time, I was horrified to see many ‘food and lifestyle fashions’ moving in the wrong or opposite direction to the science.

This list is a bit of a compilation of that time updated to account for new research.  I thought hard about backfilling references on each one – and it was time to get a life.  Maybe that can be my retirement project in a few more decades.  

For now, as at 2020, I am confident this list, if followed, will serve you well.  Updating it has reminded me of some large gaps that need attention in my life.

Yours as Ever,
Dr Rachel
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Red meat and death: Were our ancestor so smart?

A fascinating study published recently is definitely worth a read in this day of low carb high-fat diet trends.  The study followed over half a million Americans aged 58 to 71 years, for 16 years.  That is a huge sample size so worth taking very seriously.  Many of the participants were dead by the end of the study; bad for them but helpful for research on death and stuff.

Here is what the research showed:

Red meat linked to death and other horrible stuff.

Yes – red meat consumption is linked to death and stuff, lots of different types of death and stuff.  Or put in science speak: those that ate more red meat had higher death rates by almost all causes than those who ate less red meat.

Going free-range/grass-fed isn’t going to save you.

The findings were similar for red meat and processed meat.  Ouch.  However, maybe because processed meat has been so demonized in recent decades the consumption of it might have dropped which could blur these findings.

What sort of death and stuff exactly is linked to red meat?

Heart disease, cancer, stroke, liver disease, respiratory disease (quite the resume).  Interestingly liver disease was the highest.  This surprised the researchers too.  After all, red meat usually gets its bad press in relation to cancer and heart disease.

Is there any death and stuff you might be saved from if I eat red meat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?

Yes, meat lovers appear less likely to die of Alzheimers.  However, this might be a red herring as Alzheimers has a tendency itself to change diet.  Hard to keep to your usual diet if you don’t know what you normally eat or what time of the day it is or if you become institutionalized.

Is it really the red meat or something else?

Well maybe.  This kind of study is what is cause correlational.  That is – it shows these things are linked, but this kind of statistical approach cannot prove one thing ’causes’ another.  It may be that it does (let’s face it – it probably is) but this particular study can’t support that assumption.

The researchers did also explore other factors and found that serious meat eaters did not tend to be pissheads and actually ate a lot of vegetables.  Get this too for interesting: the lower meat eaters were the higher smokers.

This all means that it is unlikely that the link is spurious – as in caused by other factors not taken into consideration.  Like when you notice height and maths ability are related in children, you know height does not improve maths ability because a third factor – age is more likely to be behind this.

Is white meat our saviour?

Maybe, the white meat eaters had less death and stuff.  But whether that is the active consumption of white meat or an associated lower consumption of red meat is unknown.  Even processed white meat may be OK, but there isn’t really the data to confirm.

What about Pigs?

Sorry to say for pig lovers – pork is classified as red meat.

If red meat is the devil – why might this be so?

The researchers propose a number of potential ways that red meat and death and other horrible stuff could be linked.  Two likely suspects are oxidative stress (which is potentially part of the aging process and red meat promotes oxidative damage and inflammation) and known mutagens (ouch they sound terrifying) in red meat.

How do we know people didn’t lie or forget?

As the questions asked about typical consumption yes forgetting or fudging answers is a legitimate concern.  To address this concern, the researchers validated certain sub-samples getting them to write down what they ate daily, then they adjusted for errors across the larger sample.  The approach they took was conservative. As in, if anything, red meat is linked to more death and stuff than they reported.

Links / Resources

Too busy to read about it – bored by my summary?  It was discussed by the fabulous Dr Norman Swan on the health report on Australia’s RN Radio.  Here is a link to the show:

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/healthreport/red-meat-and-your-health/8601668

The research is here:  http://www.bmj.com/content/357/bmj.j1957.full