The surprising benefit of a healthy lifestyle

Judith Wills / 18 July 2014

A healthy diet and lifestyle may not guarantee a long life but research reveals it has another, more surprising, benefit, writes diet blogger Judith Wills.

Amidst the many thousands of words that have been written in the media in recent weeks about the centenary of World War 1, I found an article about Mrs CS Peel, whose contribution to the war effort was remarkable.

A relative of the old Prime Minister Robert Peel, she more or less became 'cook to the nation' during the war years, producing several cookery books covering such topics as how to cook using less meat, how to make cakes and puddings without any of the ingredients you'd normally use, and how to make vegetables enticing on a budget.

She also wrote free recipe leaflets which were handed out to millions of households.

Budgeting was very important because food prices increased greatly during the war and 'making do' was also important because, as with World War 2, many foodstuffs simply weren't available. So Constance Peel's advice to bulk up cakes using mashed potato, and to make salad dressing with condensed milk from a can instead of with oil, were the sort of tips the housewives of the early 1900s took to their hearts.

She was also ahead of her time – making use of polenta (corn meal) in her baking, giving recipes for gnocchi and ravioli, and using beetroot as a cake or jam ingredient just as many cooks do today.

While she obviously did enjoy baking, many of her recipes were healthy and vegetable-based so presumably she also helped the nation stay slim and ward off disease – not that there was much chance of obesity back in 1918 or thereabouts, war or no war.

So the one thing I found ironic about this lady is that she died, aged 66, suffering from both diabetes and heart disease – two of the biggest health problems we have today. A less publicised version of what happened to Dr Robert Atkins, the world-famous inventor of The Atkins Diet, the original high-protein slimming regime. He died, apparently hugely obese and with heart problems, at the age of 73.

So you can't always predict or prevent disease and early death by how you live – but it seems that in the case of dementia, maybe you can.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) wants GPs to encourage people in their 50s and 60s to eat well and exercise regularly, because a large study has just been presented which shows that these measures, couple with memory-boosting word puzzles, go a long way towards helping to prevent, and/or slow the progress of, all types of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. As someone whose grandmothers both succumbed to dementia, I feel genuinely delighted that I can do something to help myself avoid following in their paths.

Ate for lunch:

It's not that easy to find fresh sardines – at least, not here in the Marches – so I was pleased this morning to find some filleted fresh beauties at my fishmonger Martin's. I grabbed ten and we had them for lunch – plainly cooked on the grill, dressed with lemon juice and black pepper, and served with some multi-grain seeded bread, made this morning by Husband. Really tasty and packed with omega-3. Tonight we're having a massive salad to make up for the lack of veggies at lunchtime. Healthy eating - it's all about balance!

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