Note: This is a revised chapter from my recent book “10 Simple Principles of a Healthy Diet: How to Lose Weight, Look Young and Live Longer”

I am extremely optimistic about our ability to improve health by simply changing how and what we eat. Make the wrong food choices, and you’ll increase your risk for a long list of problems, some deadly: cancer, high blood pressure, liver disease, and so on. Make the right ones, and the inverse takes place. 

However, many of us aren’t making the right ones. Life expectancy in the U.S. has actually been on the decline in recent years, currently being around 78 years. Also, the vast majority of Americans rely on prescription drugs. Some numbers look awful. Only one in three American children engage in daily physical activity. By 2030, half of Americans are expected to be obese.

In his recent book Food Fix, Mark Hyman, MD shares depressing data: “Obesity rates in children have tripled since the 1970s and one in three is overweight or obese. In fact, one in four teenagers now have type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes—something I never saw in my medical school training 30 years ago. If a child is overweight his life expectancy maybe 10-20 years less.”

2019 Moody’s Analytics report also showed that millennials, now the largest percentage of the population, are “undoubtedly less healthy than the previous generation,” as regards both physical and behavioral health (which are closely linked). “Without intervention, millennials could feasibly see mortality rates climb up by more than 40 percent compared to Gen-Xers at the same age,” the report states. Translation: we have plenty of room for improvement—and that improvement is an urgent undertaking. But as I’ve been saying, we also have the recipe for it. It’s just a matter of paying attention to what’s already working for people, then putting that into practice on an everyday basis.

Researchers have conducted many twin studies to separate nature from nurture and have concluded that genetics is only the root of 20 to 30 percent of health. The rest is lifestyle—and your lifestyle can be changed. It’s obvious whose lifestyle you should imitate. The world is full of these types of idols. A centenarian, for one, is someone who lives past 100. And between 1980 and 2010, the number of centenarians rose by 66 percent. One centenarian named Mary Todisco told the New York Daily News her secret. It honed in on the lifestyle choice we’re talking about here: diet. "I watch my weight—no sugar, honey," she said. Indeed, one-quarter of centenarians surveyed said adhering to a healthy diet helped them live to be 100.

Japan has one of the highest centenarian ratios in the world. There, 63 out of every 100,000 people live to 100, compared to 30 out of every 100,000 in the U.S. Of course, it’s easier if you’re surrounded by people engaging in the same healthy lifestyle. Often, concentrations of centenarians are in places where nature creates an environment that’s auto-set to healthy choices. Sometimes, they’re literally islands. We need to extend healthy lifestyles from isolated areas to the whole planet, and that entails creating healthy communities within our families and workplaces. Google is a great example of a company that’s ensuring the environment is geared for good health; its campuses contain everything from fitness centers and bikes to doctors and healthy food options.

We already eat every day. We might as well do it right. So, what does “right” look like? Discover more in my book “10 Simple Principles of a Healthy Diet”.