Eat For Health: Learn from Your Elders
This is an excerpt from Dr. Fuhrman’s book Eat For Health.
Our bodies are designed to live a long, healthy life, free from the common diseases of aging. If water runs over a waterfall and pounds into a rock at high speed, it wears down and eventually splits the rock in two. It was not aging that broke the rock. It was the water that took its toll on it after many thousands of years. Likewise, we develop hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, heart disease, dementia, and other debilitating conditions from our dietary follies that take their toll over many years of nutritional self-abuse. These common ailments are not the consequence of aging. They are earned.
However, researchers have found that people who exceed 100 years in age are remarkably disease free. Boston and Harvard Scientists recording the New England Centenarian Study (NECS) have been studying many long-lived individuals. Among other factors, they tracked genetics, physical and mental health, and lifestyle habits. They’ve found that long-lived people generally do not have the age-associated medical conditions that develop and curtail enjoyment of life at an early age. In other words, living healthfully goes hand in hand with living longer. These people, who are now past 100, did not have the advantage of the scientific information that we have today. For the majority of their lives, they did not have access to the healthiest foods. The question is how did they do it, and what skills can we learn from these super seniors?
Without exception, all of the centenarians were not large and certainly not overweight. To achieve your maximum health potential you must manage your weight. You can literally stretch your lifespan by shrinking your waistline. Developing a healthy diet and maintaining a stable, lower weight is the most powerful anti-aging weapon in your arsenal. However, we also must consider evidence that nutritional deficiencies have been shown to cause disease and disability. The goal is to maintain a high or adequate nutrient intake and assure that no deficiencies exist, while making sure we do not consume excess calories. Yet again, the secret is incorporating large amounts of high-nutrient, low-calorie foods into your diet.
When looking at long-lived, elderly people within a society like ours, in which people eat similarly and the average age of death is about 75, we are selecting individuals with favorable genetics. Scientific studies don’t tell us much because most of our population eats the standard (disease causing) diet, so when we look at outcomes it merely reflects genetic influences, not vast differences in the consumption of micronutrients. It would be more revealing if we could look at an entire population that has an average lifespan over the age of 90 and see what this population did to achieve that accomplishment. John Robbins’ book, Healthy At 100, reviewed the lifestyles of the longest-lived populations around the globe in recent world history. The top three societies were the Abkhasia in the Caucasus south of Russia, the Vilcabamba in the Andes of South America, and the Hunza in Central Asia. These isolated cultures not only experienced a population with very long average lives, but their elderly also experienced excellent health, free of common diseases seen in our modern world.
The diet in all of these ultra long-lived societies contained at least 90 percent of calories from unrefined foods: high-nutrient fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds. Animal products were a much smaller part of the equation, ranging between one and ten percent of calories. These societies all were a physically active people who grew most of their own food locally and ate mostly fresh vegetables and fruits. These healthy societies revealed that, in addition to being slim, there are other important factors that super-seniors share:
- They consumed the majority of calories from fresh produce.
- They had an optimistic outlook on life.
- They maintained a social circle of friends.
- They stayed physically active.
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