Health & Fitness

You Docs: Study finds vegetarians live longer than meat eaters

What do NBA legend Bill Walton, tennis marvel Venus Williams, the Falcons’ Tony Gonzales and the Maple Leafs’ Michael Zigomanis have in common? These super-athletes are all vegetarians.

Turns out you can provide powerful fuel for the body without eating meat. For muscle-building protein, combine foods that deliver the building blocks (amino acids), like nuts or brown rice and beans. And carbo-fuel from whole grains and fiber is slow to absorb, keeping glucose levels more stable.

A six-year study of more than 70,000 men and women found vegetarians to be healthier than meat eaters; they live longer and lower their chance of disability and dying from heart disease by enough to make their RealAges more than two years younger. And that’s true for four types of vegetarians.

1) Vegans: They eat no eggs, dairy, fish or meat.

2) Lacto-ovo-vegetarians: They do eat eggs and dairy, but say no to fish and meat.

3) Pesco-vegetarians: They eat fish, but not meat.

4) Semi-vegetarians: They eat fish or meat once a week or less.

Why are these folks coming out on top? Well, they eat a lot more fiber (that lowers lousy cholesterol), far less saturated fat (ditto) and less added sugar. They also avoid L-carnitine, which comes from eating red meat. In your intestines it’s converted into a substance that messes up your arteries more than saturated fat does. So if you want to live longer and improve your health, there’s a simple trick: Pick a number between 1 and 4.

What bad smells tell you

“It doesn’t pass the smell test” is a phrase used to describe everything from rotten meat to legislation enacted by Congress. But what do bad odors tell you about your body?

Chronically bad breath: It can come from gum disease, H. pylori or GERD. If you have gum disease — a risk factor for heart troubles, diabetes and tooth loss — it’s time to see the dentist. Vanquishing an infection from the ulcer- and heartburn-triggering bacteria H. pylori (that calls for antibiotics) and intense acid reflux (a diet change and maybe meds) will make you feel younger and reduce your risk for esophageal and gastric cancer. Don’t chew gum to mask bad breath; find out the cause and remedy it.

Smelly pits: They’re usually from proliferation of bacteria around underarm hair follicles (obesity and diabetes increase the problem). Clean them up by eating chlorophyll-rich foods like kale, wheat grass or parsley, showering regularly and going for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days.

Flatulence: Probably means you should drink more water, eat more fiber (best at the start of every meal) and ditch fatty food. If that doesn’t help, you may have irritable bowel syndrome. Try taking 2billion to 4billion spores of the probiotic bacillus coagulans daily. Still a problem? See a gastroenterologist.

Believe the crash test dummies

Crash Test Dummies is a folk/alternative band from Winnipeg, Canada — and they’re worth following, if only because their plastic namesakes have done a lot to improve bike (and car) safety. That’s why, when the journal BMJ recently published a study that implied the use of bicycle helmets didn’t really matter and it got lots of press, we wondered who the real dummies were.

The study reports: Canada’s provinces that instituted bicycle helmet legislation saw a 54 percent reduction in hospital admissions for cycling-related head injuries, while provinces without legislation only saw a 33.2 percent reduction. But that difference in the number of injuries didn’t convince the Toronto researchers that helmets matter. They figured rates were headed down because of improved motorist awareness and better cycling lanes. We think there are more than a few Canadians who disagree with that assessment (such as the 21 percent fewer riders with head injuries), and we do too.

Safety-equipment laws have been proven to be effective. Every Canadian province and U.S. state with mandatory helmet laws has seen rates of serious head injuries drop significantly. Recent crash-test-dummy results in Australia confirm that bicycle helmets are protective and, says that report, “directly counter unsupported claims to the contrary by some anti-helmet cycling campaigners.”

Remember, there were anti-seat-belt campaigners too. So when it comes to bicycle helmets, stay in tune with the crash test dummies and avoid being an unintentional organ donor.

How much BPA is safe?

News about the risks of bisphenol A, a hormone-disrupting chemical found in cash-register receipts, among other things, is piling up. One new study found pre-pubescent girls with higher-than-average levels of BPA in their urine were twice as likely to be obese. And others suggest exposure — in utero and early in life — to BPA alters fetal stem cells, making males susceptible to infertility and prostate cancer. And be aware that BPA-free products may contain an even more risky relative called BPS.

But an extensive investigation of the potential dangers by the Food and Drug Administration concluded: “BPA is safe at the very low levels that occur in some foods.” That makes it tough to know what to think or do about limiting BPA exposure found in the lining of food cans and everything from sunglasses to paper receipts.

Our advice: If you’re pregnant or have young children, avoid foods packaged in plastics, and any container with the recycle code No. 7 on the bottom. Don’t microwave hard, clear plastics. Store meats and veggies in waxed paper or glass containers. Dodge receipts. If you touch one, wash your hands soon — and always before touching a child. If BPA from receipts goes from your hands to food, you get a dose 1,000 times greater than from BPA-lined cans. The rest of you? Be safe and follow the same steps.

Preventing early memory problems

Movies like “50 First Dates” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” make memory lapses in their 20- to 30-year-old characters seem slightly glamorous. But if it happens to you, it most definitely is not.

A surprising number of people in the 18-39 set (14 percent in one study) report they have memory problems. But 30 percent of people in this age group are obese, do not manage stress well, have elevated lousy LDL cholesterol and markers for body-wide inflammation. So it isn’t surprising that young memories are being damaged.

Studies show that you can slash your risk for memory problems by adopting four simple, healthy behaviors. If you pick up just one and make it a habit, your risk for memory problems drops 21 percent; two cuts it by 45 percent; pick up three and you’re 75 percent less likely to be forgetful. Adopt four healthy habits? Jackpot! Your memory will be unforgettably good. Here’s our set of beneficial behaviors; write ’em down:

1. Not smoking.

2. Exercising at least 30 minutes five or more days a week (walking counts) and mix in strength training two to three days a week for a metabolic boost.

3. Being able to say (every day), “I dodged junk food today.” That means you ate none of the Five Food Felons (trans fats, added sugars and sugar syrups, red meats and grain that isn’t 100 percent whole).

4. Eating at least five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

Bonus: Meditating daily is a super-effective way to prevent memory problems.