Over the holidays, while the terrifying fires raged in Australia, people asked themselves, “How do we stop climate change?” At the same time, the usual holiday food temptations abounded, and, on a micro level, discussions focused on whether it was okay to indulge in red meat—or are healthier options such as chicken or fish better for us.

Environmental writer Emma Marris puts things in perspective in her aptly titled New York Times essay, “How to Stop Freaking Out and Tackle Climate Change.” The key point she makes is that none of us as individuals is going to save the planet because of our food or other choices! So, let’s do our best to eat in a healthy way and take achievable steps to combat climate change—without feeling personally ashamed or totally depressed. Like environmental activist Greta Thunberg, we need to shame our politicians and leaders into action. They are the ones with the power to make impactful changes to halt climate change.

Mindful eating

Nonetheless, reducing our consumption of meat, dairy, and sugar is a healthy approach, while simultaneously helpful in reducing carbon emissions. Livestock production accounts for 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions. Cookbook author Melissa Clark identifies healthy and delicious options for meat-free meals, including meatless meatballs! Plant-based “meat” products are growing in popularity, from the Beyond Meat burger sold at Carl’s Jr., to the Impossible Foods burger, launched in 2016, and the company’s sausage, which is used in Little Caesars’ pizza.

A plant-based diet for the future is outlined by Guido Barillo in The Economist.  Barillo is hoping this “diet to save mankind,” inspired by the simple, healthy meals he ate growing up in Parma, Italy, will be endorsed and implemented by governments and local agencies.

Blue Zones food

Blue Zones are regions in the world where people live to a healthy 100 years of age. I have written about these Blue Zones, as described by author Dan Buettner, which include Ikaria (a Greek island and the original blue zone identified by Buettner); Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and Loma Linda, California. Buettner’s new book, “The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100,” features recipes for a long and healthy life, and offers details about the lifestyles of the people who live in these zones. Among Buettner’s broad tips and suggestions: 

  • Use fewer ingredients
  • Include broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower
  • Include beans and make them tasty
  • Really retreat from meat 
  • Reduce dairy and eggs 
  • Slash sugar (a key point) 
  • Eat sourdough bread 
  • Drink water, coffee, teas, and red wine (in moderation) daily 

All the new book’s recipes are plant based. But an earlier book that focused on just one of the Blue Zones, “Ikaria: Lessons on Food, Life, and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die,” features recipes that include chicken, fish, and even some meat dishes.

Some “age- forward” communities in the U.S. are now attempting to replicate secrets from Blue Zones, according to a report in Parade magazine. They include California Beach cities; Breckenridge, Colorado; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Naples, Florida. 

Learning from nature about health

There are examples of long life in nature. For example, the bristlecone pines in the White Mountains of California live to approximately 5,000 years old. A recent study investigated the Ginkgo Biloba tree, which lives to more than 1,000 years. It reveals some interesting secrets about aging. The trees show remarkably few signs of aging and maintain high resistance to external stresses. In a word, they remain resilient and can continue to fight off bark beetles, infections, and even intense drought. The trees continue to produce the necessary antioxidants and anti-microbials as needed for self-defense. 

Just how and why this occurs is unclear. But endeavoring to be resilient is certainly a message that resonates with myeloma patients attempting to achieve and sustain remissions for their myeloma.

Carnivores in the garden

Could a modest amount of meat be healthful in a predominantly plant-based Mediterranean-type diet? Amazingly enough, some plants themselves are carnivorous. As described in Peter D’Amato’s book, “The Savage Garden,” carnivorous plants eat a variety of organisms, from insects to small shrimps. The Venus flytrap is perhaps the best-known example. There are more than a dozen types of plants that eat animals. Eating animals is apparently not abhorrent to Mother Nature! 

Starting line for 2020

As we embark on a new year, take a deep breath and muster all the Zen you can to focus on being resilient and achieving your best health. Make your diet healthier in the ways that work for you. Consider walking or exercising more, if feasible, and make sure you have clear plans in place to manage your myeloma, with backup plans if necessary. Get that extra consultation if you think it can  help.

And try to support activities that can help with climate change. This week, BlackRock Investments, the world’s largest assets manager (with a portfolio of over seven trillion dollars to invest), announced an investment strategy to support efforts to reduce greenhouse gasses. 

According to a report on NPR, BlackRock will remove companies that generate more than 25% of their revenues from coal production from its actively managed portfolios. Climate change is the top concern that investors raise with BlackRock, said Chairman and CEO Larry Fink in his annual letter to CEOs published on Tuesday.

So, in the year ahead, don’t freak out, be prepared for changes, but let others do the heavy lifting! 

Update: 

By a strange coincidence, I learned while finishing this blog that there are very ancient trees in Australia impacted by the fires. The fantastic news is that the firefighters were able to protect and preserve these amazing trees. 


Image of Dr. Brian G.M. DurieDr. Brian G.M. Durie founded and now serves as Chairman of the International Myeloma Foundation and serves on its Scientific Advisory Board. Additionally, he is Chairman of the IMF's International Myeloma Working Group, a consortium of nearly 200 myeloma experts from around the world. Dr. Durie also leads the IMF’s Black Swan Research Initiative®.

 

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