The best plan for a longer, stronger disease-free life
Just once, I’d like us to ring in the New Year without being barraged by advertisements to go on some cockamamie weight-loss diet.
Don’t get me wrong—it’s always a good idea to maintain a healthy weight. But what I wish more people realized is that there’s a simpler, safer, and more effective way to accomplish this. One that doesn’t require subscribing to the latest, low-fat, high-carb “diet du jour,” which is basically a prescription for accelerated aging and increased risk of chronic diseases.
Instead of looking for ways to cut fat out of your diet, you should instead focus on adding more protein—whether you need to lose weight or not. And you should always avoid sugar and simple carbs, which are the deadliest foods on the planet.
There’s only one diet I know of that checks both of these boxes, effectively and deliciously. And you don’t have to join a sob-sister support group, guzzle down dastardly diet shakes, or buy a hyped-up book to learn how to follow this particular eating plan.
I’m talking about the Mediterranean diet. This sensible eating plan is one of the most powerful tools on the planet when it comes to preventing chronic diseases and maintaining a healthy weight.
But since it’s so simple, it often gets ignored—especially during the “New Year diet” hype period.
Today, I’m going to give you a refresher, along with a checklist of what you should and shouldn’t eat to help ensure optimum health—not only for this year, but years to come.
But first, let’s take a look at why a Mediterranean-style eating plan is so good for your overall health and longevity.
Fat and protein: Two keys to healthy aging
A Mediterranean diet includes plenty of vegetables, along with fruit, extra virgin olive oil, red wine, seeds, nuts, full-fat dairy, meat, and seafood.
While this diet is naturally low in carbs, it doesn’t stint on protein or fat. This part makes everyone from government bureaucrats to self-proclaimed diet “gurus” nervous, as it fails to adhere to the mainstream diet myths they’ve been spewing to the public for decades…
What they still refuse to understand is that high-protein, low-carb, balanced eating plans (not diets) featuring meat, full-fat dairy, and seafood not only help you lose weight sensibly, but also maintain muscle mass and improve your heart and metabolic health, especially as you age. All are key factors for healthy aging.
Inexplicably, the government and mainstream medicine (which really ought to know better) don’t seem to comprehend this basic science.
Plus, study after study shows that when you don’t eat enough protein, you drastically increase your risk of age-related muscle loss—which means you’ll be less likely to function physically, and more likely to experience restricted mobility and become more prone to falls.
And all of that clearly adds up to a decreased life expectancy.
In fact, many studies show that functional capacity (sitting, standing, walking) is the single strongest predictor of longevity. So a healthy “anti-aging” regimen may be as simple as starting by getting enough protein in your diet.
The vast benefits of a daily dose of protein
A new analysis from the famed Framingham Heart Study looked at how protein intakes affected physical functioning in adults as they age. Researchers examined diet records from study participants over a 12-year period and found that people who ate the most protein were more likely to complete common functional tasks, even as they got older.1
I’m talking about important tasks like going up and down stairs, stooping, kneeling, crouching, shoveling sidewalks, cleaning the house, walking, and lifting at least 10 pounds.
The current U.S. recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein intake is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. But studies indicate far greater amounts are needed to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and maintain muscle mass as we age.
For instance, the recent Health, Aging, and Body Composition Study—which tracked about 1,800 men and women in their 70s for five years—found that those who ate more protein had 40 percent better muscle mass retention. They also had less mortality risk than people who didn’t eat as much protein.2
International experts recommend 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for people ages 65 and older, and higher amounts for older adults who are more physically active.
So that means if you weigh 150 pounds, you should eat at least 3 ounces of protein a day—which equals a small steak or chicken breast, a can of tuna, three eggs, 3 tablespoons of peanut butter, or about five slices of swiss cheese.
In other words, a completely reasonable amount of protein for anyone.
My favorite ways to get the daily protein your body needs
Of course, you can get protein from plants like beans and peas. But your body needs “complete proteins,” which contain key amino acids, some of which simply aren’t found in all plant proteins. These complete proteins also help you function better physically as you age.
Let’s take a look at the types of proteins (with correlated fats) you need to add to your diet, as well as the slew of health benefits associated with each:
Full-fat, grass-fed dairy
I recently wrote about how a 22-year study of 3,000 adults age 65 and older showed that those who ate the most full-fat dairy had a whopping 42 percent lower risk of dying from stroke.3
Research is also showing how dairy consumption reduces your risk of diabetes. One of the most impressive is a nine-year study of nearly 64,000 men and women from 12 countries. Researchers found that those with high levels of the fatty acids found in full-fat dairy had a 35 percent lower risk of diabetes compared to those with the lowest levels.4
The study didn’t distinguish between which type of dairy, but the two staples in the Mediterranean diet are yogurt and cheese—both of which are easy to work into your daily diet.
Simply eat yogurt for breakfast, topped with some fresh fruit. For lunch or dinner, sprinkle grated cheese on any kind of dish, add cheese cubes to salads, or finish your meal with a cheese platter instead of a sweet dessert. And it doesn’t even matter what type of cheese (as I wrote in a recent Daily Dispatch, “What color is your cheese?”Simply search the title via www.DrMicozzi.com to read it). Just make sure neither of these options are low-fat, reduced-fat, or processed.
In fact, a key part of the Mediterranean Diet is eating cheese at each and every meal, a fact that gets omitted by the experts, since it doesn’t fit with their faulty narrative.
I recommend three servings a day (about 4 ounces) of full-fat cheese or other full-fat dairy from grass-fed animals. And in just a moment, I’ll explain why buying grass-fed products is so important.
Considering how easily available fresh, wild-caught fish is in all parts of the country, it always surprises me that many Americans fail to eat the minimum requirement of two 3-ounce servings a week.
I don’t have to tell you how important omega-3 fatty acids (most notably, EPA and DHA) in fish are for your heart and other organs. And now, a new study shows that EPA in particular is linked to healthy aging.
The study included approximately 2,600 participants with an average age of 74, who were enrolled in the U.S. Cardiovascular Health study. During the 23-year study period, blood samples collected from participants were analyzed for omega-3 content.5
People who had the highest EPA levels had a 24 percent lower risk of what the researchers called “unhealthy aging.” This includes developing a chronic condition like cardiovascular disease, cancer, lung or kidney disease after age 65, or experiencing physical or cognitive dysfunction.
The bottom line is that just two servings of wild-caught fish a week can play a key role in keeping you healthy after retirement age. If you’re not already eating that much, consider making it a new year’s resolution.
While you’re at it, I also suggest supplementing with a high-quality, omega-3 fish oil supplement. In case you missed it, I upped my recommended dosage in 2018 based on the latest science. I encourage you to revisit my June 2018 issue (“Why I’m upping my recommendations for this ‘controversial supplement’”) to see how much fish oil you should take based on your weekly fish consumption.
Grass-fed red meat
In the traditional Mediterranean diet, lamb is a lot more plentiful than beef, and it turns out that lamb has the healthiest profile of fatty acids of any meat. But beef is a close second, which is why I also recommend it.
An interesting new study shows that Mongolian women, who regularly eat lamb and goat (plus full-fat dairy), have breast cancer rates that are one-eighth of Europe’s and an impressive one-tenth of America’s.6
I believe these low cancer rates aren’t only due to Mongolian women’s meat consumption, but also the type of meat.
My wife, Carole O’Leary, and her colleagues have done a lot of fieldwork with Central Asian populations like Mongolia. She tells me their meat is grass-fed, free-range, and organic, because Mongolians are nomadic pastoralists—roaming with their livestock across natural, completely uncultivated grasslands. They don’t use antibiotics or hormones on their livestock, nor do they board them in unnatural, unhealthy environments.
Chances are, you’re not going to find any Mongolian meat in your local supermarket. However, you can find grass-fed, organic lamb and beef. Which leads me to a new study that found a key compound in grass-fed meat can help lower risk of breast cancer.7
The beneficial compound is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and research shows that when animals consume foods with CLA, it actually becomes incorporated into the breast’s fatty tissue and serves a protective role.
This cutting-edge study found that mice who ate a CLA-rich diet had a 50 percent decreased risk of breast cancer. And other animal studies have found that adding CLA to the diet for just four months helped protect against prostate, colon, liver, and skin cancer.
There’s also a growing amount of research linking grass-fed meat consumption with lower risk of cardiovascular disease. I recently wrote about the PURE study, which showed that people who included as much as 1.4 servings of red meat (a little over 4 ounces) per day in their diets had a significantly lower risk of heart attack and stroke, and a 25 percent reduction in overall mortality.8
In my view, eggs are Nature’s perfect food. Not only are they good sources of heart-healthy vitamins A, B, and D, but they also contain key carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which give the yolk its bright yellow color. Carotenoids act as antioxidants with strong cancer-fighting properties.
Four eggs will provide you with about 1 ounce of protein. But you only need one egg a day to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by 18 percent, according to a recent nine-year study of half a million adults.9
The lutein in eggs also makes them “brain food,” especially as we get older. Research shows that lutein penetrates the blood-brain barrier (which regulates which compounds reach the brain) and accumulates in the regions responsible for preserving healthy cognitive function during aging.
In one long-term study of nearly 2,500 Finnish men, researchers discovered that those who regularly ate eggs performed better on tests evaluating the frontal lobe of the brain as well as executive brain functioning (which includes imperative skills like decision-making and verbal fluency).10
In fact, my mentor, former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop (1915 – 2013) knew this long before the study was conducted. I used to work with him on national health education programs in the 1980s and 1990s, and personally witnessed him eat two or three eggs every morning. He remained as mentally keen and sharp as anyone I’ve ever known throughout his career working in health and medicine, and until his death at age 97.
But you don’t have to eat as many eggs as Dr. Koop to get the health effects. I recommend one egg a day from free-range chickens, which have a healthier, more diverse diet (and more humane upbringing) than chickens confined to coops and fed synthetic pellets.
The importance of organic food
Another reason the Mediterranean diet is so healthy is because most of the food is local and minimally processed. That being said, I encourage you to buy organic produce, meat, and dairy whenever you can. This helps ensure your food doesn’t contain pesticides or antibiotics, and isn’t genetically modified.
I also know that buying organic can be expensive, so if you have to pick and choose, opt for organic versions of the produce that the nonprofit Environmental Working Group has identified as the most contaminated with pesticides and other harmful chemicals. This list is called the “Dirty Dozen” and is released each year.
Below are the conventionally grown foods you should avoid buying, ranked in terms of just how badly they’re infiltrated with toxins. They include:
- Sweet bell and hot peppers
And a good rule of thumb is that grass-fed meat and dairy, wild-caught fish, and free-range chickens (and eggs) are usually raised with minimal toxic chemicals as well, even if they’re not specifically registered as organic.
So this year—and every year—strive to make sustainable, commonsense dietary choices. The more your diet parallels natural, traditional ways of eating—as in getting your food from both land and animal sources—the more your body, environment, and local agriculture will benefit. And that’s something we can all feel good about.
The only eating plan you’ll ever need
Here’s a handy checklist of what I recommend you eat each day to help protect against chronic disease, boost your longevity, and maintain a healthy weight. The time has come to toss out those useless “diet” books (recycle the paper). Instead, simply stick this page on your refrigerator, and carry an extra copy in your purse while you grocery shop.
- Vegetables – Five to eight servings, preferably organic. Aim to eat a “rainbow” of colors to get the most nutrients. A serving is a half-cup, or equivalent.
- Fruit – At least two servings of any kind of fruit, preferably organic.
- Dairy – 4 ounces of full-fat, grass-fed cheese, yogurt, or other dairy.
- Fish – At least two 3-ounce servings of wild-caught seafood per week.
- Meat – 4 ounces of grass-fed beef, lamb, or other red meat.
- Eggs – At least one free-range egg.
- Nuts and seeds – Half a cup of any type of nut or seed, preferably organic.
- Organic extra virgin olive oil – Use as a salad dressing and for cooking.
And here’s what I recommend you avoid:
- Sugar – If you must have a sweetener, honey or agave are healthier options.
- Simple carbs – White bread, pasta, or baked goods can be just as bad for your metabolic system as pure sugar. If you eat carbohydrates, opt for whole-grain products.
- Non-fat or low-fat foods – Not only do these artificial frankenfoods lack protein, but they can also be full of added sugar.
- Canned foods – While frozen fruits and vegetables may contain as many nutrients as fresh varieties, canned produce usually has added sugar, preservatives, or other unhealthy ingredients.
- Fortified foods – They sound like a good idea, but research shows they still don’t contain enough nutrients. High-quality dietary supplements are much more effective for filling in missing nutrients in your diet.
- Processed foods – These are essentially sugar and chemicals wrapped in plastic. Doesn’t sound very appetizing, does it? Just say no… your body will thank you.
1“Protein Intake and Functional Integrity in Aging: The Framingham Heart Study Offspring.” J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2018 Sep 24.
2“Body Composition Remodeling and Mortality: The Health Aging and Body Composition Study.” J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2017 Apr 1;72(4):513-519.
3“Serial measures of circulating biomarkers of dairy fat and total and cause-specific mortality in older adults: the Cardiovascular Health Study.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2018 Jul 11.
4“Fatty acid biomarkers of dairy fat consumption and incidence of type 2 diabetes: A pooled analysis of prospective cohort studies.” PLOS, October 10, 2018.
5“Serial circulating omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and healthy ageing among older adults in the Cardiovascular Health Study: prospective cohort study.” BMJ 2018; 363.
6“Breast cancer incidence in Mongolia,” Cancer Causes Control 2012, Jul 23 (7), 1047-1053
7“Mammary Cancer Prevention by Conjugated Dienoic Derivative of Linoleic Acid,” Cancer Res 1991;51:6118-6124.
8“Diet and Nutrition after the PURE study,” European Heart Journal, May 2018; 39(17): 1503–1504.
9“Associations of egg consumption with cardiovascular disease in a cohort study of 0.5 million Chinese adults,” Heart. 2018 Nov;104(21):1803.
10“Association of dietary cholesterol and egg intakes with the risk of incident dementia or Alzheimer disease: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Feb;105(2):476-484.