Life expectancy vs. healthy life expectancy. Can you close the gap?

Healthy Life Expectancy Last week along with three other Australian nutrition professionals and delegates from a number of Asian countries, I was lucky enough to be invited by Yakult Australia to go to Japan and visit their manufacturing plant, research institute and listen to the latest research on the role of probiotics in our diet and our health. Along with the intellectual food for thought, the culture and food we experienced was outstanding. I know that I must have a ton of goodness oozing from my pores with all the delicious sashimi, sushi, teppanyaki, fermented foods and probiotics that I consumed over the week! It’s hard to miss Yakult in the refrigerated section of the supermarket these days with its distinctive bottle design and red foil top.  This fermented milk drink contains a unique strain of beneficial bacteria called Lactobacillus Casei Shirota, named after the scientist who discovered it, Dr Minoru Shirota.  Dr Shirota then developed the beverage known as Yakult in 1935, meaning that 2015 marks the 80th anniversary of this Japanese institution. It is obvious when in Japan that people are very passionate about their health and well-being, particularly nutrition and exercise. Despite the focus on health and longevity, high blood pressure and smoking numbers continue to be high in Japan, although they are decreasing.  Their food is often praised (including by me) throughout the world, as traditional Japanese food is low in fat and often contains valuable seaweed based products, prebiotics and probiotics but on the downside it is also high in sodium (salt) and is low in nutrients from fruit, nuts and whole grains. It is true that Japan can boast the highest life expectancy in the world at 84 years.  Australia and five other countries come in second at 83 years respectively, with statistics consistently showing over many years that women have a higher life expectancy than men across the world. Based on this, it was interesting to hear that the scientists and researchers that I listened to while in Japan, most certainly did not gloat about this gold medal in life expectancy. These scientists and researchers are concerned about the gap between life expectancy and healthy life expectancy.  Life expectancy minus the number of years spent afflicted by disease or disability is called healthy life expectancy. Japanese women enjoy healthy lives for 73.6 years and men for just 70.4 years, which means that most elderly Japanese are living with some kind of disease. Compare that to Australia and the figures are a little more blown out. In Australia, male babies born right now are expected to live 62.4 years without disability and female babies 64.5 years without disability. Considering that our average life expectancy sits at 83 years, the gap between the two markers is significant. Naturally, life and healthy life expectancy change slightly every year based on medical advances, technology and how we live our lives, so theoretically this gap should be closing. The factors that affect that gap are many but do include what we eat, how much we exercise, the amount of sleep we lock in and the burden of stress plus whatever our genes have brought with them. Sometimes it seems incredibly difficult to do the all the right things every single day to maximise your health and well-being, but of course, the cost of not looking after your body far outweighs the cost of putting in the effort now. What are you doing to close the gap and get more years in your healthy life?    

The Groats and the Oats

As the steam gently wafts away from my warm bowl of porridge, I get a little feeling of happiness because I LOVE starting a cold winters day with some oaty goodness.  Because they are so delicious, I can’t help but look for them even when eating breakfast out and I love that they make regular appearances on cafe menu’s.  I often get asked about the different types of oats and the benefits of one over another especially traditional vs. quick oats, so todays post might help you clear a little confusion.

Oats are great all-rounders and are a fabulous source of whole grains, fibre, beta-glucans, a range of essential nutrients and over 26 bioactive substances.  It’s this whole package working together that are thought to help protect against chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Another interesting thing about oats is their effect on the health of your gut.  Recently on the BBC2 programme ‘Trust me I’m a Doctor,’ Dr Christoffer Van Tulleken described his six week long experiment of eating 100 grams of oats each day and the probiotic effect it had on his intestinal tract.  The findings were very interesting.

The Menu of Oats

Oat Groats

The whole oat as it is harvested from the grain but ‘de-hulled’ so that the inedible husk has been removed and the oat has been cleaned, making it safe to eat. These oats can take up an hour to cook.

Steel Cut Oats/Oat Kibble/Irish Oatmeal

Oat groats cut into 2-3 pieces with a steel blade (before being rolled). Cutting the oat exposes more surface area which can be penetrated by water during cooking, making it quicker to prepare than an oat groat (around 30 minutes).

Scottish Oats

The Scots traditionally stone ground their groats and then rolled them rather than rolling out steel cut oats. The result is rolled oats that naturally vary in size and can help deliver creamy textured oatmeal.

Muesli Oats

Muesli oats are rolled to a greater thickness than other rolled porridge-type oats. As with other rolled oats, the oats are often kilned to give them a nutty taste and help prevent rancidity and then steamed and rolled to the desired thickness.

Traditional /Rolled Oats/Oatmeal

As with muesli oats, these are steel cut oats, which are then kilned, steamed and rolled to a specific thickness. They generally take around 2-5 minutes to prepare.

Quick Oats

Quick oats are the same as other rolled oats, taking the steel cut oat groats and then kilning, steaming and rolling the oat. They are simply rolled thinner to allow the oat to cook more quickly, around 90 seconds to prepare in the microwave.

This little oat dictionary is kindly supplied by Uncle Toby’s.

“Once we sowed wild oats, now we cook them in the microwave” Anon

Sushi, baseball and baby milks

Neon lights. Raw fish. 12 million people. Tokyo. I am sitting in the district of Shiodome,Tokyo where I am the guest of Yakult, the international company that produces what my kids call ‘baby milks.’  Hailing from the city of Perth where the population is only 1.5 million, walking around a city that houses 12 million people is true appreciation of the mass of humanity. I have experienced my first game of baseball watching the Yakult Swallows who sadly got beaten 6 to 5 by the Softbank Hawks, sponsored by the largest bank in Japan.  It was like watching IPL cricket with the multitude of musical instruments, chanting and  t-shirts flying out of bazooka’s. Not a meat pie in sight, hot dogs without buns, salmon rice rolls and hot noodles.  Australians would love the kegs on legs, all beer companies are represented by staff walking around all night pouring beer from the kegs on their backs. My intestinal tract is very happy and I am making my way though the array of probiotic products available here and produced by Yakult, little bottles of liquid (or baby milks), yoghurt and drinking yoghurt.  Research is showing a very positive effect of probiotic’s on our immune systems and our resistance to infection. Some people seem very concerned about the potential sugar content of Yakult but as 1 bottle contains only 52 calories, it really is insignificant. There is a ‘light’ version which has exactly the same quantity of beneficial bacteria but with 30% less sugar but once again, if you are only looking at 52 calories….. Off to Japanese Elementary School tomorrow to experience ‘Shokuiku’ their food and nutrition education and school lunch program.