For a Long Life… Move like an Iberian

If you live in the US – emigrate!

Sometimes the angst is too much….

Aiming to be a true centennial and live to 100? Consider moving to Spain. By 2040 Spaniards are set to become the world’s longest living people in the world. So, what are the Spanish doing right?

C’mon guys the answer’s simple – it’s Socialized Medicine… eek!                                                            

Well, let’s just say it’s 60% of the reason.

According to the recent study by the Institute of Health Metrics at the University of Washington, Seattle, Spain will overtake Japan as the nation with the longest life expectancy by 2040. Currently the country has an average life expectancy of 82.9 years. Spain topped the 2040 list ahead of Japan and Singapore, while the US fell to 64th in the rankings, down from 43rd for life expectancy today

This robust outlook for Spanish citizens is confirmed by other studies, including one published last February by Bloomberg, ranking Spain as the world’s healthiest country, based not only on life expectancy and diet but including environmental factors, like access to clean water and sanitation.

Spain’s good health doesn’t only reflect its natural advantages, which includes a mild climate, which has already attracted thousands of Northern Europeans to retire there. It also boasts all the natural foods that make up the healthy Mediterranean diet.

But, and here’s the kicker, its record longevity is also political, a testimony to strong welfare policies and social cohesion, which ensures older people not only benefit from a public health care system but also from family and community support. US may have had this once, I don’t know, but today… it has a way to go.

In contrast to the US, where the issue of universal public health care remains hotly disputed, Spain has long guaranteed universal health care. And that… includes Franco’s Spain. So  it’s not really a Fascist or a Commie thing at all, is it? It’s just plain old mixed economy common sense. 

Their system offers any resident of Spain access to emergency and primary health care without any payment from the patient and… yes,  that includes emigrants.  The system is similar to that of many other European countries, with the distinction that it is more localised,  each region of Spain administering its own health care system, under the power distribution arrangements agreed to during Spain’s return to democracy after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

But… beyond 2040, there are reasons to be concerned about the sustainability of the Spanish model.

A dwindling workforce may raise financing issues as the portion of residents subject to income tax falls. Spain has one of the world’s lowest fertility rates. That  means Spain will will need more immigration to sustain its workforce.

“Today our life expectancy has got much longer, but our obesity is also rising, which shows that we are no longer following the diet of our grandparents, who clearly ate much more frugally and fruitfully” said Usune Etxeberria, a Basque nutritionist and researcher.

Overall Spanish authorities have been encouraging citizens to better monitor their health and test early for possible diseases, as part of a shift toward preventative health care since the 1990s.  Through 2018, many regions launched free screening programs for cervical cancer, adding to existing programs for breast or colon cancer.

Yet Spain spends comparatively less money on health care than many other European countries. And so far hasn ‘t taken the same measures as other countries to complement the revenues that older people should get, if their living standards are not to fall.

You never know, if Trump is impeached or kicked out of office a year from now the US itself may socialise its medical system, so maybe best wait a year before heading off for la vida España.

Fad Superfoods a Scam… or just overpriced?

It’s tough marketing food. People only eat so much, and in industrialized countries food is plentiful so they don’t easily eat a lot more. Unlike sales of the latest hi-tech gadgets, spending on food tends to be pretty stable and really only increases as the population increases.

One way the food  industry responds to this inconvenient truth is to roll out “new and improved” product in an endless quest to carve off bigger pieces from a slow-growing pie. Junk food manufacturers are of course  masters at the game. But the natural-food industry does it, too – with superfoods such as açaí berries, goji berries, quinoa, and chia seeds. These pricey, often exotic ingredients cycle quickly in and out of the foodie spotlight. Açaí berries were barely known outside Brazil a dozen or so years back, but by 2015 açaí-laced products grossed nearly $250 million in the US alone And while açaí sales have dropped recently, as the novelty has worn thin, coconut oil – touted as a wonder fat –  picked up the slack with $80 million sales in 2017, but it too – has now peaked as tastes move on.

Are these foods really worth the faddish premium they command? Almost certainly not, although some of the claims may be true: Açaí berries, native to the Amazon rainforest, and goji berries, produced mostly in northern China, are indeed loaded with phytochemicals, plant compounds that appear to protect us from heart disease, brain deterioration, and cancer. And quinoa, the seed of a spinachlike plant grown in the Andes, really does offer a complete, high-quality vegetarian protein. Other claims are more questionable: Açaí and goji berries are not miracle cures for everything, from obesity to sexual dysfunction. The FDA has had cause to rap various Goji  product manufacturers over the knuckles for unsubstantiated health claims..

Nor do all superfoods come from ecologically pristine parts of the world that the packaging may imply. US goji supplier, Navitas, calls its berries a “Himalayan superfruit,” but their website tells us they’re grown in China in Ningxia Province, nowhere near Tibet—and, it turns out, most of the world’s goji berries also hail from the industrial fields of Ningxia.

More serious than  spurious superfood origin myths are their malign effects on the people in their own native region. At the height of the açaí berry craze, for exmple, Bloomberg News reported that the fruit’s wholesale price had jumped 60-fold, pricing out Amazonian villagers, who rely on buying it in the local market. In the Andes, where quinoa has been cultivated since the  Incas, price spikes have turned a one-time staple into a luxury, and quinoa monocrops are crowding out more sustainable and traditional cultivation.

If that doesn’t faze you, perhaps this will: Quinoa may deliver a complete protein – all of the amino acids you require – in a compact package, but rice and beans together actually do it too, even better. And, like goji berries, blueberries and strawberries are packed with phytochemicals. The only problem is that lacking an exotic back story, food marketers can’t wring as huge a markup from these staples: To give you an idea of the dollars to be made, the domestic blueberry, which is not exactly cheap, is justifiably marketed as a superfood, and in 2012, products featuring blueberries as a primary ingredient, saw their sales nearly quadruple. But they only raked in $3.5 million – less than 2 percent of açaí-based product sales.

Yes indeed, food industry’s hawkers have a tough job – and with a modicum of common sense you can make it even tougher for them.

The real superfoods are lurking exactly where they don’t want you to look: in produce sections, bulk food aisles, Sunday markets and backyard gardens. Not quite as exotic as the Himalayas. But then, neither are those industrial plots in China where goji berries actually come from.                                          


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