Eating Myself Alive

Jim Atkinson cures what ails us.

I’M A BIG BELIEVER in New Year’s resolutions. Nine years ago I decided to quit smoking, and while it took me a few months, in March of 1998 I stamped out my last butt. At the same time, I resolved not to gain any weight after giving up nicotine—a more difficult challenge—and began exercising at least an hour a day. Nearly a decade later, I weigh the same thing. This year? I’m attacking my diet. And I’m not just referring to cutting out the fries. Healthy eating is proactive: It means consuming more of those foods whose properties prevent such life shorteners as heart disease and cancer. With the help of Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical dietetics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, I’ve settled on ten things I’m going to gorge on in 2007. Try my plan yourself—and see how many years you can add to your life by eating more.

1. Go upstream: salmon.
By now you know that fish—and especially salmon—is good for you. What you probably don’t know is how good. According to Walter Willett, of Harvard’s School of Public Health, eating four to six ounces of salmon twice a week can reduce the risk of a heart attack or a stroke by one third (other fatty fish, like tuna, work too). Such fish are chock-full of omega-3 fatty acids, which appear to lower the risk of heart disease. My plan: Salmon or another fatty fish twice a week. (Grill it for dinner one night, then turn the leftovers into salad another day. Voilà.)

2. A tomato a day keeps the Big C away.
Congress should direct special subsidies to farmers who grow tomatoes, because gram for gram, they are one of the most underrated health foods out there. The main magic is something called lycopene, one of the more powerful carotenoids—substances that seem to protect against various cancers. Some studies show that eating tomatoes daily significantly reduces the likelihood of bladder, stomach, prostate, and colon cancers. My plan: Tomatoes as a daily ritual. They taste great cold on a salad, of course, but, says Sandon, try heating them too, as that enhances the effects of the lycopene. (Think sauces or the canned variety.)

3. Synergy, baby: garlic.
It’s not clear whether garlic lowers your bad cholesterol, but according to some studies, it does benefit your heart by keeping your blood thin and your blood vessel walls flexible. (Its pungency also makes it a good stand-in for salt, a bonus for the blood pressure.) Eat it in combination with other foods and you really pack a punch, says Sandon, thanks to what she calls “dietary synergy”: Throw in some garlic while you’re cooking your tomato sauce, say, and its unique compounds of sulfur interact with the lycopene to even greater disease-fighting effect. You can continue synergizing, in fact, by adding onions (which contain quercetin, a powerful flavonoid that protects against carcinogenesis) or fresh herbs such as rosemary, sage, and oregano (whose phytochemicals do the same thing). My plan: Garlic, garlic, garlic. Substitute it for salt wherever possible; use it to spike pasta sauces.

4. Brown power, part I: whole-grain pasta.
One of the most provocative medical books of the past decade is Kilmer and Martha McCully’s The Heart Revolution. In it, Kilmer proposes that it is not cholesterol from eggs and animal fat that causes arteriosclerosis, it’s homocysteine, an enzyme that, if too abundant in the bloodstream, can destroy the elasticity of artery walls and thicken them, causing heart disease and strokes. A major culprit of such deadly overabundance? Processed white flour. Processing may allow flour to last longer, but it robs it of up to 90 percent of its nutrients, including folic acid and B6, which keep homocysteine levels in check. In other words, to help your heart health, ditch the white stuff. My plan: That garlic-tomato sauce? Pour it over whole-grain spaghetti at least once a week.

5. Brown power, part II: whole-grain bread.
If the devil himself wanted to concoct the worst thing

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