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4 steps to living longer on the farm — and healthier

What’s Cooking in Illinois: It’s easy to slip into unhealthy eating habits, even on the farm. Here are four ways to turn the corner toward a healthier lifestyle.

Charlyn Fargo Ware

April 5, 2024

4 Min Read
Glass bowls filled with salad and various different vegetables
LAYERED: This twist on the usual seven-layer salad is a great way to launch healthier eating. Layer it in a trifle bowl to impress your family. Charlyn Fargo Ware

It’s never too late to make healthy dietary changes — and to reap rewards.

A British study documented eating habits of nearly half a million middle-aged people as part of a United Kingdom study. Participants were categorized into average eaters, unhealthy eaters or healthy eaters. Shifting from unhealthy to (sustained) healthy dietary patterns was associated with a 10-year increase in longevity.

And while this may not be surprising, the greatest gains were made by those whose diets changed to include more whole grains, nuts and fruits, and less processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages.

So, how do you go from an unhealthy dietary pattern to a healthy one? It starts with what you bring into your pantry from the store, and what you choose from a menu when you eat away from home.

Food. Many of us use the plate method to plan our meals, choosing a protein, vegetable, starch and fruit. To move toward healthier eating, rethink that plate. First, think about making half your plate fruits and vegetables. Start with veggies, and then add meat and whole grains (the starch). In practical terms, have a base of greens and veggies. Add your favorite protein such as meat, beans or eggs. Then mix in some grains such as quinoa or farro.

I think where we get tripped up is trying to do this too quickly. Start by planning a meal or two a week with this pattern; then gradually add more. Rather than ordering a burger and fries, try something new: a salad, grilled fish or meat, and a vegetable instead of a baked potato.

Activity. Add exercise into your health plan, even if it’s a 10-minute walk a couple of times a day. The step counter on my phone can motivate me to take another walk, especially as the days get warmer. Exercise does so much for our brains and our bodies. When we’re the busiest, it seems to help the most.

Sleep. Be sure to get enough sleep. Sleep loss and metabolism go hand in hand and are connected to how we view food. When we are tired, we tend to make poor food choices. Research finds lack of sleep stimulates appetite-promoting effects, which imbalance our gut bacteria, causing an unhealthy metabolism — which can eventually lead to obesity.

The study finds that even a healthy individual who is sleep-deprived will choose larger portions, increase food consumption based on impulse decisions and expend less energy throughout the day.

Self-control. Saying “later” to cravings helps us with willpower. A joint study at Erasmus University and the University of Houston invited 100 undergrad volunteers to watch film previews. Students were divided into three groups. Each group had a bowl of chocolate candies in front of them. Group 1 was told to wait to eat the candy; Group 2 was encouraged to snack in moderation; Group 3 was invited to eat all they wanted.

By waiting, Group 1 ate 70% less than Group 3 (eat all you want) and 58% less than Group 2 (snack in moderation). Researchers found the behavior of those in Group 1 (eating less chocolate) carried over in the following week. The lesson: Try delaying that chocolate chip cookie for a while.

Here’s a recipe to help you get started on your healthy eating plan. It’s a twist on the usual seven-layer salad. Layer it in a trifle bowl to impress your family.

Seven-Layer Vegetable and Quinoa Salad

1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 cups chicken broth, unsalted
1 cup red bell pepper, seeded, cut into thin strips
1 cup yellow bell pepper, seeded, cut into thin strips
1 cup thinly sliced carrots, divided
1 cup frozen shelled edamame, thawed
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 package (5 ounces) fresh salad blend

Ginger-Apple Dressing
½ cup orange juice
¼ cup apple juice
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon lime juice
Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook quinoa in vegetable stock according to package directions. (Be sure to rinse it before cooking to eliminate any bitterness.) Once cooked, remove from heat and set aside. Set aside 1 tablespoon of carrots to toss later with salad blend.

Using a 6- to 8-inch-tall trifle bowl or straight-sided glass bowl, begin layering ingredients, starting with quinoa. Continue by layering bell peppers, remaining carrots and edamame. Season each layer with salt and pepper, if desired.

Lightly toss salad blend with reserved 1 tablespoon of carrots and one-third of the dressing; neatly place on top. Serve the remaining dressing on the side. Serves four.

To make dressing, combine all ingredients in a small jar with a secure lid. Shake well; season to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper. Refrigerate any unused dressing. Makes about ¾ cup.

Per serving: 250 calories, 12 grams protein, 42 grams carbohydrates, 4.5 grams fat, 7 grams fiber

Note: Add cubed chicken or hard-boiled eggs to boost the protein.

About the Author(s)

Charlyn Fargo Ware

Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with Southern Illinois University Medical School in Springfield, Ill. Email recipe ideas to her at [email protected].

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