By Dr. Mao Shing Ni
Niagara Gazette — When asked, centenarians will tell you that the greatest secret to a long, fulfilling life is that you hold the key to your own longevity.
You simply need to listen to your body and treat yourself with the respect and kindness you deserve!
Your body was designed to last 100 years or more and as a result, you already possess the innate ability to heal yourself at every level—all you have to do is get out of your own way.
Eating a healing diet of living, natural foods is your strongest ally in getting out of your own way and activating your own self-healing mechanisms. A balanced diet truly is the cornerstone to your longevity and healthy food is the greatest healer of all. Food is not the enemy. Food can be your greatest healer, and when its power is harnessed with knowledge, you can become your own greatest doctor. It is my hope that this cookbook will plant a small seed in changing the way you look at food, which in turn will inspire you to feed your body so you can thrive as centenarians have done for generations.
We often rush through each meal as if it were a chore, thinking of food merely as fast fuel, rarely enjoying the taste because we are always on the go. Furthermore, we are living at a time where it is easy to overeat, yet still be undernourished. All of these factors are slowing down our metabolism and worsening our national health as rates of heart disease, cancer and diabetes are all on the rise. The trusted so-called solutions — fad diets, prescriptions, expensive medical interventions that could be avoided — further add to the systemic problem, all while depleting our personal health, energy, and well-being. Taking all of this into account, it is easy to see that as a nation, we are gaining weight and taking years off our lives. This is a serious problem that we need to address now.
It is never too late to do an about-face and regain control of one’s health! We have the ability to get back to eating real food that will help our health flourish. By committing to gradual and lasting change, we can slowly but surely heal ourselves and regain our instinctive nature to listen to our bodies, eat well and enjoy life more. In many other parts of the world, eating is the focus of living, a time for gathering with loved ones and enjoying a meal together. Food plays a key role in living la dolce vita—the sweet life. Isn’t that the life we all dream of?
The longevity recipes below come from a world of the past — a world before our modern agricultural system took control of farming techniques and food production methods, before corporate marketing executives and advertisers promoted addictive flavors and the glitzy, persuasive packaging of foods. But we cannot completely blame the modern world for our woeful state of health. The choice of what you feed yourself is yours alone. You get to decide whether to subsist on dead, lifeless foods or whether to choose living, breathing, healing foods.
Initially, you may cringe at the idea of giving up “convenience” foods, but I want you to consider this: is it really convenient to eat poor quality now, only to have to spend extra time and money at the doctor’s office a few years later—not to mention the complete diminishment of your quality of life in the interim? It is an empowering enterprise to take back control over what you eat and how you feed your body. A healthy diet is the most powerful tool you have to feel energized, youthful, and on the path to true longevity.
We can initiate self-healing within ourselves, enjoy life more in the present, and achieve longevity in the future. From 1985 to 2005, I extensively interviewed over 100 centenarians in China, with a special interest in observing what foods they ate and recipes they shared with their families. Many of these recipes are in my book “Dr. Mao’s Secrets of Longevity Cookbook.” Here are a few of those recipes:
Vegetable Almond Pie
This dish is totally satisfying, high in fiber, and provides all your recommended daily portions of vegetables in one complete meal. It is a great way to get children who don’t like vegetables to eat them. In fact, this is a recipe my mother used to make for my brother and me, and we loved it so much, we used to fight over it! When we were growing up, she used to juice vegetables a lot, and after juicing, she would have a pile of leftover pulp. Instead of tossing it, she would bake it in a pie, which is how this recipe came about. You can do the same, and feel free to vary the vegetables to your taste.
• 1 cup brown rice flour, plus more for rolling
• 2 tablespoons avocado oil
• ¼ cup sesame seeds
• 2 tablespoons sesame tahini
• 2 turnips, chopped
• 2 carrots, chopped
• 1 onion, minced
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 head purple cabbage, chopped
• 1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
• 3 tablespoons sesame oil
• ¼ cup peanut butter
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 tablespoon vinegar
• Sea salt
• 3 tablespoons arrowroot powder
• 1½ cups water
• ½ cup sliced almonds
Preheat the oven to 375°F. To make the crust, put the flour, oil, sesame seeds, and tahini into a mixing bowl and mix by hand until a soft dough forms. Lightly flour a work surface and press or roll the crust into a rough 14-inch circle. Transfer the dough to a deep 10-inch pie plate and press the dough evenly into it. Fold the edges around the rim of the plate under to create a lip. Bake for 15 minutes.
To make the filling, put about ¼ cup water into a large saucepan and heat it over medium-high heat. When the water is bubbling, add the turnips, carrots, onion, garlic, cabbage, and ginger. Stir the vegetables, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Make sure there is enough water in the pan to avoid burning the vegetables. Add the sesame oil, peanut butter, honey, vinegar, and salt to taste. Reduce the heat to low.
Dissolve the arrowroot powder in 1½ cups water and slowly stir into vegetables; cook until thickened. Pour the vegetable mixture into the pie crust, top with the almonds, and bake until the crust is golden brown and the filling is thick and bubbly, about 45 minutes.
Cool the pie on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving.
The crust in this recipe is made with sesame goodness, thanks to its ¼ cup of seeds and tahini.
Rich in antioxidant properties, sesame seeds add a delicious nutty flavor and crunch to your meals, while providing your body with crucial nutrients. One large handful (about ¼ cup) of sesame seeds gives you approximately 74 percent of the daily value for copper, 31 percent of magnesium, 35 percent of calcium, and about 30 percent of iron. In addition, sesame seeds are rich in zinc, which improves bone mineral density. Zinc is also a powerful immune booster and may potentially shorten the duration of colds.
Chicken Leek Soup with Dried Plums and Quinoa
This delicious dish combines the natural sweetness of dried plums with the pungent leek for a wonderful fusion of unique flavors and healthy benefits. A French-Canadian patient of mine from Montreal shared this recipe, which had been passed down in her family, a dish they often ate for Canadian Thanksgiving instead of turkey. My patient claimed it was her grandmother’s favorite, who lived to be 102. Combining the dried plums with the chicken helps break down the proteins, making this dish easier to digest. The plum itself has numerous benefits, including that it is high in vitamins, good for digestion, and helps keep the chicken moist. Quinoa is very high in protein and fiber, plus it cooks fast, tastes delicious and is a very nice complement to the chicken.
• 1 (4-pound) whole chicken
• 10 cups low-sodium chicken stock
• 1 pound leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced
• 3 stalks lemongrass, smashed
• 2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
• 1 large carrot, sliced
• ½ cup quinoa
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1 pound pitted California dried plums (prunes), sliced
• 1 scallion, chopped, for garnish
Rinse the chicken and put it in a large stockpot along with the stock, leeks, lemongrass, celery and carrot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Skim off any fat that rises to the surface.
Carefully remove the chicken and transfer it to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones (discard carcass and skin).
Rinse the quinoa in a strainer under cold running water; drain and add it to the stockpot. Bring the soup to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer until the quinoa is soft and fluffy, about 15 minutes, skimming off any fat that rises to the surface. Remove and discard the lemongrass. Stir in the salt and pepper.
Cut the chicken breast into thin strips and add it to the stockpot, along with the dried plums (reserve remaining chicken for another use). Simmer the soup for 5 more minutes.
To serve, ladle the hot soup into bowls and garnish with scallions.
Packed with vitamin C and essential minerals like potassium and magnesium, dried plums —better known as prunes to some—contain a perfectly balanced proportion of soluble and insoluble fibers, ensuring bowel regularity, protecting against high cholesterol and heart disease, and preventing insulin resistance, making them an effective aid for weight management and diabetes care. Dried plums are very helpful for anemic people who may be experiencing the constipation that comes from taking iron supplements. A few dried plums a day help prevent constipation, a trait for which the dried plum has always been famous!
Hunza Brain Tonic
This blended drink is based on a recipe by a centenarian I met from the Hunza Valley, an area in modern-day Pakistan that is famed for its long-living citizens. Many apricot trees grow in this region, which explains apricot’s prominence in this recipe. Apricots are rich in antioxidant carotenoids, which impart the fruit with its orangey color and help protect against heart disease and cancer. The egg yolk has lecithin, which has been found to help brain function and protect against some cancers. Kelp powder can be found in most health-food stores or specialty herb and supplement stores.
• ½ cup chopped fresh apricots, or chopped dried apricots soaked in hot water and drained
• 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
• ½ teaspoon kelp powder
• 1 large organic egg yolk
• 1 cup cold soy or goat milk
Put the apricots, lemon juice, kelp powder, egg yolk, and milk into a blender and puree until smooth. Transfer to a glass and drink immediately.
Rich in vitamin A, C, and dietary fiber, apricots are one of the staple foods of the famously long-lived centenarians in the Hunza Valley. Apricots are also incredibly high in carotenoids, antioxidants that give them their characteristic orangey-yellow coloring and help prevent heart disease, reduce “bad cholesterol” levels, and protect against cancer. Meanwhile, vitamin A promotes good vision, and due to their high fiber-to-volume ratio, dried apricots are sometimes used to relieve constipation.
Eggless Tofu Scramble
This vegan breakfast is an excellent way to begin the day. With the tofu, you get a high-protein, low-fat meal packed with vital estrogen. These benefits make this a great choice for women, particularly those going through the change and beyond, as well as men with prostate issues. The celery lowers blood pressure and the antioxidant lycopene in the tomatoes helps defend against inflammation, cancer, and prostate issues. In addition, all these ingredients work together to help lower cholesterol and protect you from heart disease. Not bad for one meal!
• 2 tablespoons water
• 3 stalks celery, chopped
• 12 button mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
• 1½ pounds firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes and drained for 30 minutes in a colander
• 2 medium tomatoes, diced
• 1 tablespoon avocado oil
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 2 scallions, sliced, for garnish
Heat a large skillet with a lid over medium heat. When hot, add the water, celery, and mushrooms and cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften and begin to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tofu and tomatoes, stir well, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the lid, drizzle the oil evenly over the tofu, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring gently, until very hot, about 1 minute more. Remove from the heat, transfer to a serving plate, and sprinkle the scallions evenly over the top. Serve immediately.