A member of Akea's Science Advisory Board, Sally is a nutritional therapist who has traveled and lived around the world studying exceptionally healthy, long-lived populations. She is an expert in the areas of nutrition, health and wellness.
Dear Sally, why don’t you start by telling our readers a little bit about yourself and your background.
Hi Moez. I used to make documentaries and I was working on a series for National Geographic TV about anti-aging methods. Around that time I was also getting really interested in nutrition because it had helped my own health so much. Whilst researching the TV series I found that good nutrition seemed to be by far the most effective anti-aging method – that and some lifestyle factors. I ended up writing a book about it called 50 Secrets of the World’s Longest-Living People. I work now as a nutritional therapist and I also work for the website akealife.com.
What got you interested in studying nutrition in the first place?
So many of my friends were asking me for advice I realised that I really should get a proper qualification so I could ask for money in return! I also wanted to be qualified in order to do a better job of writing my book.
There has been a lot of advancements in science in general and in nutrition in particular. But we also see obesity not slowing down any soon. What’s the problem? Why are people getting so fat?
People are eating in a way that causes problems with insulin use in the body – it is more prone to lay calories down as fat. It’s the high-carb, high-sugar diet which causes this. People also eat too much in general and they eat too much saturated fat. They also don’t get enough of the nutrients which enable the thyroid to keep the metabolism working efficiently. They’re pretty much doing the opposite of what they should be doing, in many cases. That goes for the US and the middle classes of Pakistan too.
What are the 5 foods or things that you would instantly eliminate from anyone’s diet? The ones that are absolutely non-essential for a healthy diet?
Sugar, cheap cooking oils, white rice, white bread, processed meat!
You have written two best-selling books that also rank very high on Amazon – “50 secrets of world’s longest living people” and also “the live longer diet”. The first one is one of Yoko Ono’s favourite books. What made you want to look deeper and closer to these communities and what was the most striking thing you found common within these long living societies?
Thanks Moez! They aren’t best-selling technically although I have hopes for 50 Secrets! I found the Longevity Hot Spots, as I call them , through my research for National Geographic. I thought it was fascinating that these populations age so slowly and have such low rates of disease. They already have what it is that Big Pharma is so desperate to find. And the food they eat tastes so much better than fast food if you ask me. They all eat a natural diet of whole foods with a high veg, sufficient protein, low carb balance. It’s based on stuff you can grow or catch yourself, mainly – those are the foods we evolved eating. We have hunter-gatherer bodies and these people eat some cultivated foods but there’s quite a big hunter-gatherer element to it as well.
Which one of your books would you recommend to our readers first? ’50 secrets of world’s longest living people’ or ‘the live longer diet’?
50 Secrets is a similar book but I think the format is better, so that one.
Apart from diet is there anything else that you think contributes to their long lives?
Yes, the happy close-knit families, the strong spiritual faith, and the sense of purpose in life – even if it’s only getting in the mangoes and feeding the goats – these are all important.
To what extent do you think fast food contributes to the obesity epidemic?
It must surely be one of the main causes. People are kind of at the mercy of fast food and the modern lifestyle unless they make an effort to avoid it. So much socialising in America is based on fast food joints. I hope Pakistan doesn’t go the same way but people find it irresistible don’t they.
Out of all the communities you studied, which one do you like the most? And why?
Hmm…probably the Costa Ricans (not in my book, but we recently made a video soon to be shown on akealife) – they are very cool people! Of the ones in my book I’d say the people of Symi in Greece. They know how to enjoy themselves. But ALL the communities are really special places, and Hunza is probably the most beautiful scenery-wise. The main point is, though, that we can replicate a lot of the things they do in our own lives wherever we live.
People often set themselves up for failure by setting the wrong goal in the first placed. For instance, they make a plan ‘to lose weight’. Please clarify why that’s a problem and what should be the focus instead. And what is a better measure of progress in the kitchen and the gym (scale? Inches? Clothe fitting better? Feeling better? Happiness?)
Gosh, yes, feeling better, clothes fitting better, happiness – those are all by-products of eating and doing certain things. I think that putting pressure on ourselves to lose weight is a big mistake and it never works – if you think you aren’t allowed something you want it more don’t you? The focus should be on living each day in a way that will make you feel good. And that does mean doing things like eating the foods our bodies were designed to eat and doing the things we need to do for mental and spiritual contentment. And if you fall off the wagon from time to time that’s fine too and don’t beat yourself up about it.
We often hear people say I can’t resist that food or this food. Do you think that’s a smart approach to food or people should rather ‘accept the fact’ that certain things are not good for them and better have an ‘acceptance attitude’ rather than a ‘resisting attitude’ cause no matter what ‘resisting’ implies that the object is going to come back to mind stronger every time you think of it.
People are addicted to sugar and certain foods and it has to be recognised as an addiction. Nobody in the Longevity Hot Spots has a problem resisting cheeseburgers or coca cola, since those things aren’t available, but they would if they started eating them as those foods are addictive. A good way to give up cigarettes is to say to yourself ‘I can have a cigarette if I want one, but this time I choose not to.’ The same goes for foods you are addicted to. Also, if you mainly do the things which are conducive to good health you should start to want the other stuff less. A lot of it is all in the mind. The end result shouldn’t necessarily be to live longer, but just to have a healthy attitude towards our diets and lifestyle and not get caught in that vicious circle of addiction-guilt-binge-remorse.
What would be your number one tip for people who want to lose fat.
Er…read my book and follow the tips therein? Don’t diet – concentrate on what you CAN eat rather than what you can’t. You CAN have lots of veg. You CAN have whole grains. You CAN have fish, eggs and lean meat. You CAN have olive oil. You CAN have dhal and lobia. Those are all good to eat aren’t they?
People often come to me and want to see their six pack. My response to them is ‘you get the six pack in the kitchen not in the gym’. You are a better person to ask. Can you help me clear this point for our readers?
I don’t have a six pack I’m afraid so the gym may be the place…but it goes hand-in-hand with the right food!
Do you think calorie counting is necessary for a healthy life?
No! I wouldn’t dream of counting those stupid things! Forget about calories – there are better things to think about in life. I wonder how many hours have been collectively wasted thinking about calories…and meanwhile the people thinking about them keep getting fatter.
You have also lived in Pakistan and are familiar with the pakistani diet. What do you think is consumed excessively in the Pakistani diet and what would be a better ratio of fat:protein:carb in your opinion?
I’m sorry to have to say this but the Pakistani diet is just about the worst imaginable diet. You can see the results all around – EVERYONE seems to have health issues in Pakistan and they don’t seem to realise that it really shouldn’t be like that. The young people seem to have skin problems and frequent coughs and colds and the older people all seem to have extra weight or diabetes or cancer or aches and pains or headaches or heart disease or hair falling out…everything. The fats are all wrong – all those cooking oils heated to a high temperature are incredibly bad for health and cause cancer and heart disease (versus the olive oil used in the Mediterranean and the apricot kernel oil used in Hunza). The carbs are all wrong – way too much sugar and white rice which is terrible for insulin and also causes heart disease and cancer. And the proteins are all wrong too – much too much fatty diseased meat from dubious sources. The fruit and veg are grown on poor soil and are lacking in flavour and nutrients I’m afraid. I would suggest that people grow their own as they do grow well in Islamabad in people’s gardens. And get some chickens so you can have decent eggs with a yellow yoke instead of those sad battery eggs which have no colour or taste and must be full of all kinds of pollutants.
Most of our clients have kids from 3 to 17-year old. They are always concerned and confused about what a good breakfast is. People generally have milk, cereals, toasts, coffee, tea, jam, and some fruit juice in the morning. Can you please explain the role of insulin in the body and what a healthy breakfast would look like?
90 per cent of Asians can’t digest milk properly so that’s a total no-no. Contrary to common belief it doesn’t improve bone density – in fact milk drinkers have HIGHER rates of osteoporosis, according to studies. Cereals are very high on the glycaemic index so they raise blood sugar levels which raises insulin levels which increases the risk factor for heart disease and cancer as well as obesity and cereal is likely to make children bad-tempered and have energy swings. Ditto coffee, tea, jam, and fruit juice. Whole fruit is good, fruit juice is bad as it is high in fructose which is as bad as sugar. A healthy breakfast would be porridge oats with nuts and yoghurt, or a boiled egg with some whole wheat toast, or some fruit, nuts and yoghurt. Breakfast needs to contain some protein and it shouldn’t be sugary. Try it and see – you should feel much better mid-morning. That mid-morning slump when you feel ratty and want some chocolate is caused by eating a sugary breakfast.
Teenagers need extra protein so they need to have an egg or some nuts and/or yoghurt for breakfast. Protein foods are flesh foods (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, yoghurt) or anything in a pod – nuts, seeds, lentils, and beans.
Every major disease could be prevented or almost cured by nutrition. Hippocrates said “let food be your medicine and medicine be your food”. What did he mean in your opinion?
Just that. Most illness is caused by the wrong food, and most can be helped with the right food. The Longevity Hot Spots are proof of that. It’s backed by science too.
What are Omega 3 fatty acids and do you think children and pregnant women should consume them more or just the normal dosage?
They need the normal dosage – but most people don’t get the normal dosage. You can get omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids in the right balance by having flax oil (they sell it at the GNC store in F6). These are essential for the brain development of the foetus and child, and we need them for cell membrane health, immunity, and hormone balance amongst other things. Pregnant women need extra as the developing foetus or breastfeeding baby will take all it can get from the mother’s supplies. We evolved consuming large amounts of essential fatty acids and our bodies can’t run properly without them. Which is one reason why most people’s bodies don’t run properly. It’s a real problem in Pakistan.
This one is going to ruin my business but I will just say it. You can lose fat even by not exercising. You don’t need to work out to lose fat as long as your nutrition is in place. But how active do you think people should be. What were your findings of the healthiest people on earth?
They all get a lot of exercise out in the open air running after their goats and digging their gardens. Too much strenuous exercise is bad for health however – this has been proven by studies. Really strenuous workouts create too many free radicals which lower immunity which is why athletes have extra health problems. It needs to be moderate exercise and movement throughout the day. Most of the Longevity Hot Spot people live on mountains, as in Hunza, and they tend to be walking up and down a lot of the time which is very good for heart health as you get out of breath. They don’t overdo it all in one burst though like some of us who are in front of a computer all day then hit the gym. It’s better to spread it throughout the day if possible.
What’s your favourite dish?
Hmmmmm…..I think I’d have to say scallops with vegetables. And I like good quality wine. I once had Kobe beef in Islamabad – it had been flown in by a Japanophile – it was amazing. It’s beef from cattle which are fed beer and massaged every day. Probably not a health food really. In Costa Rica I had raw tuna which I had caught myself half an hour earlier – that was really incredible –nothing like the tinned stuff. And freshly-caught lobster is one of my favourites too. I’ve caught lobster before and eaten them an hour later – there’s nothing like it.
People are always looking for a magic food. Is there one?
Not one but many – you can find magic food growing in the garden or on trees. All home-grown fruit and veg. In Pakistan I would say the mangoes are a good thing. Cinnamon is the highest there is in antioxidants – you only need a tiny sprinkle a day. And the spinach, so long as it isn’t drenched in pesticides – that’s easy to grow in the garden. Apricot kernel oil from Hunza. Have a look at the superfoods section on Akealife.com.
What do you normally take for breakfast?
I usually have porridge made with quinoa, oats, millet, soy yoghurt and ground flax with a bit of maple syrup. Or pancakes made with buckwheat flour and free range organic eggs. That sounds very worthy, but the reason I have it is that I make it for the kids so I end up having some myself. Then I go to the café and swimming pool and ruin it all by having a cappucino (with soya milk) and a flapjack :)
Do you enjoy cooking?
No! Three meals daily for the children…the novelty wears off. I only enjoy it sometimes.
Is there anything else you want to share with our readers?
Yes, in Pakistan because there is a culture of eating with the family and having a cook, and because a lot of stuff isn’t easily available, I think it’s really hard to eat healthily. So start by making small changes – concentrate on the things Pakistan does have to offer. Dhal is good, all those beans and lentils are good, and it’s easy to grow fruit and veg in the garden. Another tip is that miso soup prevents radiation sickness as it binds to radioactive heavy metals in the body – so it might be a good thing for an enterprising Pakistani businessperson to start farming organic soy beans to ferment into miso in case one of the nuclear power plants blows up? Insha’allah that will never happen.
Thank you for your time and sharing your valuable knowledge with our audience. Where can people find more about you and your work?
Thank you once again for your time.
Thanks Moez, it has been nice corresponding with you and I hope the info I have given will be of help to some people. There are so many health problems in Pakistan and I hate seeing people worrying about their loved ones, but trust me there is so much you can do to reverse them by eating the right things.
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