My recent trip to my parents in South Africa was slightly different to the several other times I visited. Armed with the knowledge bestowed on me by my nutrition course, I admittedly visited with a bit of an agenda. There were many things that I had in mind to tackle, that would potentially lead to my parents becoming healthier and hopefully living longer. However, if your parents are anything like mine, very traditional, conservative and set in their ways, then you can probably relate to the difficulty of my task at hand.
Venturing home for one of mom’s culinary delights was typically top of my list of things to look forward to, but now I can’t help but wonder, what is it that I am actually eating? My childhood favourites consisted of my mom’s traditional tomato stew and spaghetti. Both not particularly unhealthy but something could be done to enhance the nutrient levels without taking too much away from the flavour. I made small modifications to these classics, which were well received by the parents.
....something could be done to enhance the nutrient levels without taking too much away from the flavour.
I need to make a conscientious effort in everyday life to not be a complete buzz kill by lecturing the smoker in the street or unsolicited lecturing of the birthday cake eater in the office, but when it comes to my family, I just can’t stay quiet. When I see my mom boiling her beans beyond recognition, covering all her meals in salt so its starts resembling the Alps or my dad going a full day without drinking any water, I start ranting. Nine times out of 10 these rants are totally unwelcome and generally ignored but life sometimes delivers little gems.
I came home one evening just as my mom was cooking dinner, she asked me how long she should cook the beans for. This came as a great shock, after decades of cremating the beans and responding to my recent rants with “we’ve eaten the same way for 50 years, we’re not going to change now” or “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” (her words not mine), this was a massive win in my eyes. I thought it’s probably best just to accept this small victory gracefully and respond casually with “3 minutes mom” and an out-of-sight air punch.
Dinners with mom and dad would often involve discussions around the benefits of: chewing, lightly steaming vegetables, fats and reducing refined carbs and sugar in the diet. It would usually end with dad saying to mom, “At this rate we’ll live until we’re 100”. But the thing is, in addition to prolonging life, these changes can potentially improve the quality of life.
Typically, my mom and I would repeatedly cover two topics, genes and biochemical individuality. My mom is under the impression that you can’t really influence how you end up as it’s in your genes. The thing about genes is that you can have high and/or low penetrance genes. High penetrance genes guarantee that you are going to contract whatever that genetic code exposes you to and low penetrance genes only code for 2-10% of how we end up. 2-10% is the predisposition to a certain disease and the other 90% depends on lifestyle and environment. In the case of low penetrance genes, genetics is the gun, lifestyle and environment are the triggers.
....genetics is the gun, lifestyle and environment are the triggers.
My mom would give me examples of regular smokers and takeaway eaters that she knows that are almost 80 and still extremely active. How do you explain that? The response is always the same, everybody is different. This is where biochemical individuality comes in, the variation in chemical composition between humans is so big, and so often uncorrelated, that it is impossible to define a “normal” or “healthy” person. Each person’s genetic and/or chemical make-up will dictate how they respond to their lifestyle and environmental factors.
....everybody is different.
By the end of my visit, I was satisfied that some small changes were evident. New reading material graced the nightstand (Gut by Guilia Enders) and my mom was consuming kefir and a daily turmeric with pepper shot, well aware of the benefits to her microbiome and inflammation levels. Although I can’t take credit for all of these changes, I will grasp with both hands, adding pepper to turmeric to increase its absorption and stealthily leaving my books in their room.
At our last meal I noticed that my dad hadn’t heeded the instructions to chew his food adequately and was still shovelling the food onto his fork but I thought to myself, you can’t win them all. That’s something I may tackle on my next visit, that’s if I’m invited back ;)