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food and health

Feet, forks and fingers: three “F’s” to improve lifestyles

Our food, and more generally our lifestyle, can be an important tool to improve the health of people and the planet without sacrificing the pleasure inherent to eating. We discussed this idea with David Katz, one of the world’s leading experts on the link between food and prevention.

The seventh BCFN Forum hosted a speaker par excellence, one of the world’s leading experts on the link between nutrition, lifestyle and prevention: David Katz. Founder and director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center/Griffin Hospital, founder of the True Health Initiative, president of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine and so much more, he’s completely dedicated his career to deepening the connection between lifestyle and health. His slogan? Make the most of the “three F’s” (feet, forks and fingers), essential tools to maintaining a fit way of life.

Let’s start from the beginning. How and how much do the choices we make regarding lifestyle influence our health?
One statistic in particular can help us understand exactly how important the choices we make are: through lifestyle alone, we can reduce the risk for non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, stroke, dementia and many other illnesses which are the leading causes of premature death in today’s society, by 80%. No drug in the world can produce such results, yet lifestyle can. This very thing was demonstrated by a study in 2009 which evaluated four fundamental lifestyle aspects: smoking, proper nutrition (which “only” consisted of eating enough fruit and vegetables), physical activity and weight. Lifestyle can influence, and often prevent, non-communicable diseases, a message which is founded on strong scientific evidence.

However, health is also a question of DNA, something we inherit, not something we can decide for ourselves.
We often tend to think of DNA as “destiny”, something unchangeable, but it’s not so. The effects created by lifestyle can be felt at the level of DNA, and even genetic expression can be modified by our daily choices. This has been shown by different studies which have evaluated the change in our genes’ activities following certain non-pharmacological interventions such as proper nutrition, getting a good night’s rest and physical activity. Lifestyle is powerful medicine, even on a genetic level, and it can go as far as to change the structure of our chromosomes.

Can we then say that we are the architects of our destiny?
Essentially, our destiny is in our hands - or better yet, in our feet (with which we move), in our forks (with which we eat) and in our fingers (which we shouldn’t use to hold cigarettes). Feet, forks and fingers are the three key words for a proper lifestyle. However, we must remember that knowledge on its own isn’t always power. It isn’t enough to know what the important elements are for personal health and that of the environment; we must also take action.

Every day we’re bombarded with messages from experts who tell us what’s the best way to eat for health. Can we establish, today, which one is the best diet?
You can compare the dozens of diets available, from DASH, developed thanks to funding from the US National Institutes of Health, to the Mediterranean diet, but in the end what really matters is what all healthy diets have in common. It’s just a few simple rules, which can be summed up as: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. And the great thing is that we don’t have to choose between healthy food and good food. Healthy food can be tasty; all you need is a few ingredients for delicious dishes full of nutrients. Last but certainly not least, is the fact that we have the chance to decide what to eat and what influence we’ll have on the health of the planet through our choices, saving water, preserving biodiversity, changing agricultural practices and slowing climate change.
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