By Elizabeth Goodman Artis
I grew up in Center City Philadelphia in the 1970s, an enclave of clog-wearing moms and bearded dads. I went to a school run by peace-loving Quakers, and even my own mother, more preppie than hippie, went through a phase of growing alfalfa sprouts on our kitchen counter. Of course I rolled my eyes at all of it, but looking back, many of the food and lifestyle choices these aging hippies espoused were spot on. Here are five ways the “me” generation got healthy living right:
1. They dug tofu: The first time I ever had a tofu “burger” was at a backyard barbecue thrown by a friend’s vegetarian parents. It was literally a slab of tofu an inch thick, thrown on the grill and then stuffed between a hamburger bun. While this was not the most creative way to make a burger substitute, you can’t argue with its healthfulness, especially when compared to red meat.
Studies show that tofu, which is produced from soy beans and is the only plant-based food that is a complete protein source, can lower risk of heart disease and improve bone health. Unfortunately, most Americans are still a little wary of the stuff: compared to the Japanese, who consume about 8 grams of soy protein daily, we only eat a gram.
**NOTE** When buying tofu or any food product made from tofu, make sure it’s from GMO – FREE soybeans.
2. They were big on brown: As a kid, everywhere I looked I saw the color brown: brown corduroys, brown shoes, and yes, brown food. The first time I ate brown rice I was bewildered by its chewiness-why was this so different from the boil-in-the bag stuff I had at my grandmother’s house? The difference is that brown rice hasn’t had its endosperm-the healthy outer coating-stripped away. This is where all the nutrients are, including the fiber and antioxidants that keep your heart healthy and reduce risk for diseases like cancer and diabetes.
3. They were vegetarians: That tofu burger wasn’t the only non-meat meal I encountered growing up; odd, sesame-coated macrobiotic noodles, seaweed salad, and an oatmeal-colored dip someone told me was called “hummus,” which would later become best friend to baby carrots and afternoon snackers everywhere.
In addition to the ethics and environmental benefits of eating a vegetarian diet, studies show vegetarians weigh less and have lower risk of all major diseases, including heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. And more and more Americans are following a vegetarian or modified vegetarian diet-currently about seven million people in the US consider themselves vegetarian.
4. They meditated: When I was 11 years old, I joined a friend’s family on a car trip from Philadelphia to Chicago . Every morning before we could get back on the road, we had to wait 20 minutes while the mom meditated. At the time we mocked it relentlessly, but looking back, it likely gave her enough patience to endure a long car ride with restless, bickering kids.
Meditation’s value as a stress reliever and all around mood booster is impressive; extensive research has proven that it can lower risk of depression, beat anxiety, and improve mental health. And it doesn’t take much. Studies show that people who practice mindful meditation-sitting quietly with your eyes closed and repeating a word or “mantra” over and over-for just 20 minutes a day reap significant benefits.
5. They let it mellow: Anything yellow that is. This was such a common occurrence in my youth that I started to think Philadelphia had a serious plumbing problem. But resisting to the urge to flush saves three gallons of water each time. If a family of four flushes six times a day (the average amount an individual needs to pee in a day) that’s 24 gallons of water wasted. While I must admit it’s not a practice I particularly love, if you drink enough water so your pee is clear-which is a sign of proper hydration anyway-then nothing “yellow” need mellow.
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