Embarrassing Bodies presenter Dr Dawn Harper has helped people tackle all sorts of problems over the years, and now she's aiming to give people a happy, healthy and very long life. Here, in the first part of our exclusive extracts from her new book ...and more »
Embarrassing Bodies presenter Dr Dawn Harper has helped people tackle all sorts of problems over the years, and now she’s aiming to give people a happy, healthy and very long life.
Here, in the first part of our exclusive extracts from her new book, Live Well to 101, she reveals the essential lifestyle changes to make right now...
We are living longer. But living long doesn’t necessarily mean living well.
I really believe it doesn’t have to be that way. In over 20 years of general practice, I have gained hundreds of simple tips for living longer, and living better, all of which can make a significant difference if you incorporate them into your life.
I can’t guarantee that by following this advice you will live until you’re 101, but I know that by making some changes today you should be able to live a happier, more fulfilled life tomorrow and beyond.
Embarrassing Bodies presenter Dr Dawn HarperEat your way to a longer life
These should comprise about a third of our total daily food intake.
They are an excellent source of energy and include bread, potatoes, cereals, rice, couscous and pasta. They are also a good source of fibre, essential for bowel health.
Bread can be a good source of fibre, essential for bowel health (Image: Getty Images)Starchy foods have, I think incorrectly, been demonised in recent years. If they are eaten in moderation, they won’t make you gain weight. In fact, gram for gram, starchy foods contain less than half the calories of fat.
We need some fat in our diet as a store of energy and also to protect our vital organs from injury, but sadly most of us in the Western world eat too much fat. This results in weight gain and high cholesterol, which predisposes us to heart disease.
If we want to live a long and healthy life, we need to get serious about our fat intake.
Fat contains 9 calories per gram, compared to just 4 per gram for carbohydrates, sugar and protein, so it is easy to see how a high-fat diet can lead to weight gain. Fat should form no more than 35% of your total daily intake.
Remember there are different types of fat, some of which are more harmful than others. Saturated fats and trans fats are the worst.
As a rough guide, more than 20g per 100g of fat is high in fat, and less than 3g per 100g is low.
The new book releaseSugar
Most of us are eating too much sugar. The Government’s most recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey found that, overall, Brits are failing to eat enough fruit and veg, while our consumption of red meat and saturated fat is too high.
The problem is, there is a lot of hidden sugar in our foods. It’s not the stuff we add to tea or coffee that is causing the real problem here (although it is best not to add sugar to drinks if you can), it’s the sugar in packaged foods that really stacks up.
Fruit and vegetables
We should be eating at least five portions of fruit and veg a day, but this doesn’t necessarily have to be fresh fruit and veg. Frozen, canned and dried fruit and veg all count. Several studies have shown a high intake of fruit and vegetables reduces our risk of developing heart disease and some cancers.
We should be eating two portions of fish every week. This can be fresh, frozen, canned or smoked (but beware of the salt content in some canned or smoked fish).
A portion is about 140g and at least one should be oily fish as these are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These protect against heart disease and reduce triglyceride levels.
We should be eating two portions of fish every week (Image: Getty Images)Triglycerides are another form of fat in our bloodstream. Just like cholesterol, high levels increase the risk of heart disease.
Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties too, and it is thought that they may help to prevent arthritis.
This is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals including iron, selenium, zinc and B vitamins. Meat is one of the main sources of vitamin B12, which is only found naturally in animal-sourced foods such as meat and milk. Current recommendations are that eaters of red meat limit their intake to 70g a day. That’s an average – actually, it should be 88g per day for men and 52g per day for women.
That’s probably less than you think – an 8oz steak equals 226g! A cooked breakfast might include a couple of sausages and two rashers of bacon, which is likely to be almost twice the daily limit at 130g.
Milk and dairy
These products, such as cheese and yogurt, are important sources of calcium and vitamin B, and should form part of a healthy, balanced diet. Calcium is vital for healthy bones.
It is particularly important for women to eat enough calcium.
Calcium is vital for healthy bones (Image: Moment RF)Our bones are smaller and lighter than men’s bones, so we have less to lose in the first place, and after the menopause, our oestrogen levels drop, so we lose the protective effect that it had on our skeleton, making us more prone to osteoporosis.
An excellent source of protein.
They also contain essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, B2, B12 and D, folate and iodine. I am often asked about the cholesterol content of eggs.
The NHS has no recommended limit on the number of eggs you can eat each day (Image: Getty Images)While they do contain cholesterol, the NHS has no recommended limit on the number of eggs you can eat each day.
Too much salt will raise your blood pressure and put a strain on your kidneys.
Adults should aim to keep their salt intake to under 6g per day. That is the equivalent to 2.4g of sodium. Many people are surprised to hear that most of the salt we consume comes from bought food products, rather than from the salt we add to cooking or that we put on our plate when eating.
As a guide, when you are looking at food labels, more than 1.5g of salt per 100g is high in salt, less than 0.3g per 100g is low, and anything in between has a medium level of salt.
Processed food, snacks and the correct portion sizes
Processed and pre-packaged foods
The next time you go shopping and reach for your favourite prepared meal, look at the food label. Even if you don’t want to bother with all the numbers, just look at the colours.
It’s all too easy to reach for high-calorie (and often high-fat and high-sugar) snacks. Swapping crisps for nuts, or biscuits for dried fruit will undoubtedly be more nutritious.
They may still be quite high in calories, though, so try to get into the habit of measuring a portion out.
The one good thing I would say about ready meals is that their portion sizes tend to be appropriate.
This is very important. It’s easy to eat a “meal for two” all on your own.
Being active makes you live longer. OK, maybe I should qualify that statement slightly: people who take regular exercise tend to live longer than those who don’t. The evidence is overwhelming, and the health benefits apply to physical exercise or sport of almost every kind.
Regular physical exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, obesity, colon cancer, breast cancer, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, erectile dysfunction, chronic pain and even constipation.
According to the NHS, this adds up to an overall 30% reduction in the risk of an early death.
It will come as no shock to you that any information advising you how to live a long and healthy life will, at some point, be tackling cigarette smoking.
To achieve our goal of living well to 101, smoking has got to be a no-no (Image: Getty Images)Smoking is still responsible for 96,000 deaths in the UK every year. On average, a lifelong smoker will lose at least 10 years from their life, and is more likely to have a poor quality of life in their later years.
To achieve our goal of living well to 101, smoking has got to be a no-no. The fact is, about half of all lifelong smokers will die because of their habit.
I do appreciate that giving up smoking is hard. Nicotine is highly addictive and most of the people I have met over the years who have managed to finally quit the habit make several attempts before succeeding.
Quitting with support has been shown time and time again to improve success rates. You are four times more likely to quit for good with help.
It is estimated that nine million people in the UK are regularly drinking over the recommended limits – and that’s likely to be a significant underestimate.
Your liver can’t tell you if you are drinking too much, but you can (Image: Ikon Images)It’s a serious problem because each year, approximately 9,000 people in the UK die from an alcohol-related death.
Liver disease is the only major cause of death increasing in the UK – twice as many people die from it in the UK today than they did 25 years ago.
Don’t wait for warning signs. They may not come. Your liver can’t tell you if you are drinking too much, but you can.
Be honest with yourself about your consumption and, if you are drinking too much, start by putting a couple of dry days in your diary.
Live Well to 101 is published by Headline Home on March 22, priced £18.99