No doubt you've spent the first few weeks of 2017 bombarded by different diets. We always find the sheer variety of weight-loss tips on offer at this time of year astonishing.
Scientifically speaking, though, there's only one weight-loss tip you really need to learn to get a healthy figure and a radiant youthfulness. And that's to ditch diets altogether.
You can trust us when we say this; one of us is a Nobel prize-winning molecular biologist and the other a health psychologist, and we've devoted years to discovering how to slow life's clock and the ageing process - inside and out.
Our scrupulous research, which has generated a whole new field of scientific understanding, has helped us pinpoint how you can glow with health and youth when your contemporaries are succumbing to wrinkles, grey hair, exhaustion and illness. It adds up to a revolution of sorts.
So what is it? The answer lies at the end of your chromosomes - the string-like structures that house your DNA. Chromosomes can be found in every single cell in your body, from the tips of your fingers to deep inside your lungs.
At the end of each DNA string lie little-known things called telomeres. Think of them as the plastic bits that cover the end of your shoelaces. The longer they are, the more they protect your DNA from 'fraying' and succumbing to disease, and the more youthful and happy you will be.
It's simply never too late to reverse old age. It doesn't have to be a one-way slippery slope towards infirmity and decay. For even if your telomeres are short, you can help them stabilise or grow - no matter how old you are.
All you need to do is follow our simple suggestions for turning back the clock.
Let's examine how the food we eat not only affects the size of our waistlines, but can also make us age badly by shortening our telomeres. All this week, we'll give you mouthwatering, telomere-friendly meal ideas to inspire you to make vital nutritional changes.
Telomeres offer a priceless insight into the foods that are best for us.
They show how our body responds to what we eat at a micro-biological level. So it's crucial that we consider our telomeres when we're deciding what to eat. Encouraging your telomeres to grow and flourish will protect you against all manner of diseases and the early onset of old age - and your tummy will certainly become trimmer, too.
You'll be delighted to hear that starvation or strict rules that cut out whole food groups are not part of the plan.
All fruits and vegetables - but especially those containing high levels of antioxidants, flavonoids and/or carotenoid are telomere lengthening foods. Photo / 123RF
But there are still a few no-nos. One is refined sugar. Not only is it packed with empty calories, but it wreaks havoc on your body, ageing you inside and out. We even found that enjoying soft drinks every day had the same ageing effect on the telomeres as smoking.
Another no-no is processed foods - especially meats such as ham, sausages and corned beef, which have strong links to cancer.
But the good news is that coffee's still on the menu, as is a small evening tipple. And - as we'll explain, much to the relief of those who dread getting on the scales - it's more your shape that's really important, not your weight.
Why your body shape matters
Many of us devote a huge amount of time and emotional energy to eating less, convinced that being super-slim will make us feel younger and healthier.
Yet being overweight (but not obese) is - surprisingly - not strongly linked to ageing and having shorter telomeres. (In fact, depression is three times more likely than your weight to adversely affect your telomeres.)
Nor is being overweight (again, not obese) strongly linked to increased mortality. What matters far more than your weight is what body shape you have.
In short, forget your body mass index (BMI), because we've found highly convincing evidence that those with hourglass and pear shapes - who have slim waists and big bottoms and thighs - are more likely to age well than apple shapes, who carry weight around their middles.
This is because the fat stored just under the skin or in the limbs may be protective, while fat stored deep inside us - in the belly, liver or muscles - is a real threat to the health of our telomeres, and therefore a threat to how well we will age. So if your waistline is bigger than your hips, beware.
One study predicts that those with a greater waist-to-hip ratio, such as the classic apple shape, have a 40 per cent greater risk of developing shorter telomeres, and thus ageing faster. But the main risk that comes from having fat around your tummy is diabetes.
Too much belly fat can cause your body to become insulin-resistant and unable to process the glucose in your bloodstream.
As well as this, we've found that people with more tummy fat also go on to develop shorter telomeres, which are likely to worsen the problem of insulin resistance.
Add to this the fact that tummy fat is more inflammatory than thigh fat - and thus highly damaging to the cells of your immune system - and you can see how having a large middle poses a triple-threat to any chance of you achieving a healthy, youthful vitality.
Much better, then, to have a large bottom.
Best and worst foods
TELOMERE SHORTENING FOODS
• Red meat, processed meat • White bread • Sweetened drinks • Foods high in saturated fat • Vegetable oils, such as rapeseed and sunflower, unhealthy snacks including most crisps and biscuits (anything high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats) • Alcohol (drink no more than four units per day)
TELOMERE LENGTHENING FOODS
• Wholegrain produce such as brown rice, brown pasta, brown bread • All fruits and vegetables - but especially those containing high levels of antioxidants, flavonoids and/or carotenoids (such as red, purple and blue berries, red and purple grapes, apples, kale, broccoli, yellow onions, tomatoes, spring onions, plums, carrots, green leafy vegetables and, in smaller portions, potatoes with skins on) • Nuts and legumes, such as beans, peas and lentils • Seaweed • Foods with omega-3 oils - salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, eggs, broccoli, kale, • Brussels sprouts, cauliflower • Low-fat, high-quality sources of protein, such as organic free-range chicken • Seeds • Green tea • Coffee
Two cans of sugary drinks a day are as bad as smoking.
Yes, it's a something of a cliche to say that sugar is the new smoking. But this may actually be the case with liquid sugar.
The most potent form of sugar in our diets is from soft drinks. They deliver a sweet hit quickly, with no fibre or any other nutritional benefits to speak of. There are around nine teaspoons of sugar in a single can of cola, when the recommended adult intake is just seven teaspoons a day.
When we examined people who drink around two cans (approximately 600ml) of sugary soft drinks every day, we found that their telomeres were around 4.6 years older than those in people who avoid soft drinks. That, astonishingly, is about the same amount of telomere shortening as we'd expect to find in smokers.