It was what will be forever known as the month of bliss.
After four weeks on the super restrictive Okinawa Diet, the next on my list of centenarian tried-and-tested eating plans was that of the Seventh Day Adventist poster girl Marge Jetton, who lived to 106 on a wholefood vegetarian diet. The rules to follow were (kind of) simple: don’t eat things that are bad for you, and don’t eat animals.
“My body is a temple” is the mantra Marge Jetton lived by, and it’s what I kept in mind while eating throughout this four-week experiment. For most people, a diet with no soft drink, no alcohol, no caffeine, no junk food, nothing processed, nothing from a packet, and no meat might sound awful — but I could have cried tears of joy tucking into my bowl of oats, with a sprinkling of coconut and slivered almonds….mmmmm.
This didn’t feel like a diet at all, and I was so full all of the time. This was probably due to the sheer amount of carbs I was consuming, mostly topped with cheese of some kind. I had to make a conscious effort to stop myself filling up on bread and pasta and rice — even if it was all wholegrain — so I could still eat the required amount of fruit and vegetables to keep the diet nutritious. I was seriously enjoying all of the cooking I was able to do, and I could even eat out with little problems.
Interestingly, although my RealAge went up (not enough Omega 3’s — I should have added some flaxseed oil to my diet), my BMI continued to drop. Somehow I was still losing weight. I must have been carrying a LOT of soft drink kilos.
But with my BMI falling, my energy levels also dropped. Whist the Okinawan diet left me hungry, I felt like being active. I felt lighter. This month, however, I felt heavy and sluggish and downright lethargic. All I wanted to do was sit on the couch and play Dragon Age: Inquisition. So I did. Whilst eating giant bowls of pasta. I was so very, very, very happy.
What do the experts say?
I consulted clinical and sports dietitian/nutritionist Gabrielle Maston of Changing Shape, who analysed my diet and reached the following conclusion:
“Plant based diets are some of the healthiest diets for longevity and good health. It’s high in fibre and antioxidants which helps with inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. The only issue like with any diet you can do it well and then you can also do it badly.
“When going vegetarian you need to keep in mind that you may need to focus on a few particular nutrients a bit more because they may be lacking if you do vego ‘badly’. What I mean by ‘badly’ is it can just become a diet high in carbohydrates and nothing more. As a vegetarian you need to concentrate on eating from a wide variety of foods to get a good balance of nutrients for example legumes, nuts and seeds and fermented foods.
“Certain nutrients that have potential to have a lowered intake is Vitamin B12, iron, and protein. This can be avoided with a more focused view on these nutrients and looking for plant based alternatives like legumes, and spinach. Couple the high vegetarian iron sources with a food item high in vitamin C for better absorption. Including vego foods high in B12 such as tofu, soybean, spirulina and tempheh might improve diet quality a little bit more.”
Did I cheat?
I didn’t need to! This diet felt like a luxury after the Okinawan nightmare of never-ending seaweed. My basic meal plan consisted of oats for breakfast, a wholegrain sandwich and vegetable soup for lunch and some kind of pasta or risotto for dinner. It was probably a tad carb heavy, in retrospect, but I think I could happily eat this diet every day for the rest of my life.
Pros: Improved BMI, inexpensive produce, wide variety and availablitiy.
Cons: Lack of energy, potential deficiencies without supplementation.
BMI: From 23.1 to 22.1
RealAge: From 2.5 years older to 3.1 years older
The next diet will be a doozy. The Indigenous Hunza people in the hills of Pakistan don’t eat until lunchtime, exist on a mostly raw diet of fruit, nuts and seeds with a little yoghurt thrown in. There is one cooked meal per day — dhal with wholemeal chapattis. Every single night. They have some of the oldest recorded people on the planet living in their community, so they must be doing something right. I aim to be the master of Dhal by the time this month is over.
Hopefully I won’t be a miserable one.