|by Konstantin Monastyrsky
I bet you don’t want to get fat or drop dead from diabetes or heart disease. At least until the next meal, that is… Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the “beast” — we are programmed by nature to eat, eat, and eat in order to hoard nutrients and energy all over the body.
And that’s what our ancestors did throughout history — they ate, ate, and ate while foods were plentiful, and fasted or semi-fasted while foods were scarce. So, here is today’s dilemma — foods never become scarce, and plentiful foods are killing us. What to do?
Go back to basics!
There are three possible hopes for attaining health and, by extension, longevity — wishful thinking, medical intervention, and basic nutrition.
1. The wishful thinking paradigm states that immortality is just around the corner — genome projects, stem cells, reprogramming of the telomeres, cryogenics, the works. Go baby, go! Eat yourself to death, but we‘ll take care of you real soon. Right? The tombstones of the hopefuls— rich and poor alike— who died from a “healthy diet” wouldn‘t fit into the Arlington Cemetery.
2. The medical intervention paradigm is best represented by the “lifestyle” drugs. High sugar from too much carbs? No problem, just take Avandia?. Hypertension from Avandia? No problem, just take Diovan?. Congestive heart failure from Diovan? No problem, just take thiazide (a diuretic). It works, kind of? Live in misery a bit longer — yes. Health and longevity — forget it!
3. The basic nutrition paradigm is the most difficult to grasp because it‘s cheap, simple, low-tech, and doesn‘t require anything special to do — except reading, thinking, and follow through. And, so far, it‘s the only one proven to work. I hope you‘ll adopt it, because it‘s the foundation of health and longevity.
Since there are no money-making opportunities and no glamour attached to anything “basic,” you are least likely to hear about basic nutrition from the promoters, whose livelihoods, tenures, and self-aggrandizement depends on the “next best thing.”
To make basic nutrition palatable — sorry, promotable — I too gave it a glamorous name: ‘Ageless Nutrition.’ If immortality is indeed around the corner, at the very least you‘ll get there in better shape. Imagine the indignity of facing eternal life while feeling and looking like a beat-up old bag?
To assure you that this isn‘t yet another exercise in wishful thinking, here is a detailed primer on basic nutrition, referred to throughout this essay either as the utilitarian longevity diet or the idealistic ageless nutrition approach.
Nutrition to thrive vs. nutrition to get by
We — the rich and pampered Westerners — eat primarily for fun. Our ancestors ate for survival. Until quite recently, fun with food wasn‘t yet an option for anyone but kings, queens, and their coterie. Everyone else thrived on basic nutrition — strictly foods from nature and without excess.
Once you pattern this kind of basic nutrition into your lifestyle, you are practically guaranteed longevity thanks to today‘s extra safety net from the state-of-the-art emergency and infectious diseases medicine. On top of that, the modernity and technology largely offset the newer risk factors, such as pollution, depleted soils, prior exposure to drugs, and so on.
With minor exceptions, the core ingredients of basic nutrition remain unchanged from the beginning of the Neolithic era about 8,000 to 10,000 years ago until the commencement of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century, when specialization, sophistication, and food processing radically altered urban lifestyles and diets.
Just before the Industrial Revolution, our ancestors could count their food choices on ten fingers. With a menu that limited, there was no need for nutritionists — all of the wholesome “goodies” literally fell into their lap by the evolutionary fiat in the form of basic nutrition.
The popular notion that before modern medicine and nutrition, people hadn‘t been healthy or lived long, is a smoke screen. Poor, destitute, and hard laborers indeed hadn‘t lived very long then, nor are they living any longer today. The upper strata, however, enjoyed good health and longevity. Here are the actuary stats for the American presidents born prior to the 20th century, and who passed away from natural causes:
|Chester A. Arthur
|Ulysses S. Grant
|Franklin D. Roosevelt
|William Henry Harrison
|Rutherford B. Hayes
|Dwight D. Eisenhower
|William H. Taft
|Martin Van Buren
|John Quincy Adams
|Harry S. Truman
|Average age at death
As you can see, the presidents born the earliest (in the 18th century) lived the longest because they didn‘t live like kings yet. The exceptions were Harry Truman and Herbert Hoover — the luckiest of the bunch — both born late enough to still enjoy basic nutrition, while managing to catch most of the modern comforts and conveniences.
Remarkable, isn‘t it? Our presidents born in the 18th and 19th centuries enjoyed a 71.8-year average life span, just 3 years shy of the life expectancy for American men living in the 21st century.
It‘s even more remarkable when considering that most of these gentlemen had lived and worked in or around malaria-infested Washington, shook a great deal of dirty hands, commuted in horse-drawn carriages, drank wines, smoked cigars, or chewed tobacco as was common during that era. John Adams began smoking a pipe at age 8, and lived to be 91. James Madison smoked until his death at 85 [link].
I am not, of course, condoning smoking, snuff, or drinking, but making a point about the protective properties of basic nutrition. With today‘s environment and pollution, you need every bit of extra protection you can get.
Was it better luck, stronger genes, smarter doctors, or safer drugs that enabled them to live that long. No, no, no, and no — it was all related to their basic nutrition. It goes without saying that none of them took drugs or supplements — at that time they simply didn’t have any.
Wishful thinking, false hopes, and a sustenance diet in the second half of the 20th century have left deadly imprints on the health of our recent presidents and vice presidents, who, plus or minus few years, are our contemporaries — and certainly enjoy a king‘s lifestyle.
- The former president Bill Clinton (born 1946) barely survived a massive heart attack at 58, despite his fling with the South Beach Diet and extensive exercising with a private trainer.
- Despite his gilded lifestyle before, during, and after the vice-presidency, Al Gore (born 1948) is affected by metabolic syndrome, which is apparent from his substantial truncal obesity.
- President George Bush (born 1946) had hemorrhoids in his youth, precancerous polyps in his colon in 1998 and 1999, cancerous lesions on his skin, a syncope episode most likely related to hypoglycemia, osteoarthritis in his knees, and attention deficit disorder/hyperactivity disorder, apparent from his dyslexia.
- Vice President Dick Cheney (born 1941) experienced his first heart attack at age 37, and his heart has been propped up with an implanted cardiac defibrillator since 2001. His list of chronic conditions is so long, the ambulance and cardiac resuscitation team follows him wherever he goes.
The basic nutrition of the 20th century hasn‘t been very generous health-wise — not just to presidents, but to the rest of Americans as well. By the late 1930s, or early 1940s, the scientists knew (more or less) what was missing from the contemporary diet, and attempted to fix it. The first Recommended Dietary Allowances were released in 1941. Since then the RDAs have been hotly debated, and updated 11 times.
Recognizing that the situation isn‘t getting any better, the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences abandoned RDAs in 1998, and has begun releasing Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) recommendations [link]. But the basic tenets of DRI remained the same as RDA, and the debate over the best sources for these nutrients is still far from settled.
On the DRI side, there are the advocates of the Food Guide Pyramid (MyPyramid.gov) who believe you should get all of your nutrients from fresh fruits, vegetables, and processed foods (fortified bread, cereals, juices, and fat-free or low-fat dairy) just as in this illustration (modified to fit this screen, click the picture to see the original):
On the basic nutrition side are those who realize that you can‘t get all of the required macro- and micro-nutrients from food unless you lead an al fresco lifestyle in an unspoiled natural environment identical to that of our ancestors or of people still living in well-known longevity zones, as I described in the Fiber-Related Malnutrition essay.
As you can imagine, I clearly represent the basic nutrition side. My position is based on comparing foods people eat in the known longevity zones (longevity diet) vis-?vis the Food Guide Pyramid (sustenance diet).
If you know what to look for, it doesn‘t take a Ph.D. in nutrition to spot the differences between these two diets, just common sense — a classic approach from the forensic nutrition‘s prospective.
Once you recognize the difference, there are two ways to attain health and longevity. The first one is to continue testing your luck with the Food Guide Pyramid just like our presidents and vice presidents were/are doing all along. The second way, which I propose, is to adapt your eating as close as possible to basic nutrition—proven to “deliver the goods” by the ordinary lives of still-living centenarians in known longevity regions.
The second choice becomes even more transparent when presented this way: If you were a newborn, and had a choice between mother‘s milk and infant formula, which one would you chose? Which one would be more nutritious and healthier for you?
Even a newborn is smart enough to answer these questions without giving it a second thought:
|If you can help it, stay away from the “formula!”
Here is the analysis of basic nutrition vis-?vis the Food Guide Pyramid. If this helps you in “getting off the formula,” then health and longevity are just around the corner.
The key ingredients of basic nutrition
Basic nutrition is far from ascetic — it‘s food from nature, not little food. And it isn‘t bland — it‘s food from nature, not tasteless food. And it isn‘t boring — it‘s food from nature, not just all the same food all of the time. And it isn‘t puritanical — spirits from nature are okay too. As you can see, the key operating words are “food from nature.”
Here are the core ingredients of basic nutrition. This is people‘s nutrition in known longevity zones:
- Extended and exclusive breastfeeding. Until the widespread availability of reliable formulas in 1950-60’s, most children were breastfed exclusively until the development of deciduous (milk) teeth, and, depending on lactation strength, well past that point. Children were strong, sturdy, and disease-resistant.
- Unprocessed natural water with a high mineral salt content. Until the widespread availability of tap water, which is heavily processed (i.e. filtered, aerated, ionized, and treated with chemical disinfectants), people were drinking mainly well or spring water, which is naturally rich in mineral salts. This kind of water provided all essential minerals and trace elements throughout life, particularly calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and iodine. These minerals are essential for normal heart function, bone strength, collagen production, and blood oxygenation (iron) and thyroid health (iodine). Soft tap water lacks them all, and today‘s industrial food can‘t replenish them either.
- No overhydration. Because there was no refrigeration or proper storage, fresh water was consumed mainly at the source to prevent digestive infections. The rest of the water was obtained mainly from food, fermented dairy, and low-alcohol beverages. This prevented overhydration and loss of essential minerals with urine.
- Natural meat from small grazing animals. Fresh dairy, organ meats, and the minimally-processed meat of grazing animals provided many of the essential vitamins, minerals, and microelements. Today‘s meats from corn-fed livestock have negligible amounts of essential supplements, and high-temperature cooking reduces their availability even more.
- Consumption of organ meats and fermented dairy from free-range, grazing animals. Organ meat, particularly liver, offers the highest concentration of minerals, trace elements, and vitamins (particularly the B-group). Organ meats also provided plentiful vitamin B-12, which is essential for health, but not available from any plant sources. Today organ meat is rarely consumed.
- Naturally-fermented dairy provided abundant predigested proteins, high-quality fat, and easily-assimilated minerals. These kinds of products are no longer broadly consumed.
- Year-round exposure to UV-rays. Historically, most vitamin D was synthesized from cholesterol in the skin receptors under the influence of the sun‘s UV-rays.
- No exposure to antibiotics and antibacterial drugs. Intestinal flora is known to produce biotin (essential B-vitamin) and vitamin K. People in rural longevity zones had never used antibiotics and antibacterial drugs, such as mercury. They didn‘t depend on these vitamins to come from dietary sources.
- Consumption of fatty fish provides a continuous supply of essential fatty acids (EPA and DHA), as well as vitamins A & D. Most of the farm-raised fish, fillets, and warm-water fish lack similar quality fat and vitamins, even if regularly consumed.
- Cooking techniques. People in longevity zones consume most food as soon as they are harvested, raw, or use low-temperature cooking methods. These factors preserve most of the micronutrients in these foods.
- Natural ratio of macronutrients. Free-range meats are fairly lean, because grasses aren‘t as energy-dense as corn or wheat. The ratio of protein to fat in raw lamb‘s quarters, for example, is 4.25 to 1, and slightly less fat after broiling and draining it. Wild-caught fish and seafood, particularly from warm waters, are also lean. Carbohydrate consumption was low and sporadic, particularly as one moved away from the tropics. That‘s because until very recently, there were no means to store, mill, and process grains into year-round consumables, and fresh fruits and vegetables were available only seasonally.
- Negligible dietary fiber. Fiber in food was always avoided, and still is outside of English-speaking countries. Until recently there was no means of processing insoluble fiber into edible food. The minor amounts of soluble fiber consumed with natural fruits and vegetables don‘t impact health.
- Liberal consumption of low-alcohol wines and ales. Wines and ales were a primary source of water and carbohydrates. They were easy to make, energy-dense, and offered a reliable source of hydration without risk of contamination, particularly for people who didn‘t lived close to natural springs or dug wells. The natural acidity, low sugar content, and presence of ethanol preserved wines and neutralized pathogens. Also, these beverages contain minerals, microelements, and phytochemicals — plant substances known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Natural grape wines also offered “nutritionally significant levels of riboflavin, vitamin B6 and niacin [ link].”
This kind of basic nutrition, adapted to today‘s realities and environment, becomes the longevity diet, and provides a viable alternative to the sustenance diet, described next.
The sustenance diet — it gets you by until bye-bye?
It‘s quite ironic that our emblem of healthy nutrition is called the Pyramid Food Guide, considering that the pyramids were the tombstones for dead pharaohs — and that fraudulent schemes based on the complicity of many participants are called “pyramids” too.
This “healthy nutrition” is carbohydrate-heavy because grains, fruits, vegetables, and processed dairy are cheap and plentiful, while meats and fish are expensive. The original RDAs were formulated for people in prisons, orphanages, and on public assistance, hence the reliance on cheap food.
The problems with today‘s pyramid (as both — a tombstone and a deception) are obvious, once you begin comparing “what was before” with “what is now.” Here are all the same ingredients of the sustenance diet, but this time “what is now:”
- Breastfeeding is limited or absent. Few children receive exclusive breastfeeding past 6 months of age. Up to 75% are fed formula [link]. Very few children receive extended breastfeeding. Asthma, anemia, bone disease, cavities, depression, diabetes, obesity, deformed jaws, chronic colds, and digestive disorders are widespread among children. For most, antibiotics replaced innate immunity.
- Devitalized tap water. Raw unprocessed water isn‘t available to most, unless you have your own dug or artesian well, and don‘t filter and soften ground water. Surface water (i.e. from rainfall, rivers, lakes) doesn‘t offer the same mineral content as raw water. Tap water is behind arthritis, osteoporosis, tooth loss, cardiovascular disorders (calcium and magnesium deficiency), thyroid dysfunctions (iodine), gray hair, wrinkles, and atherosclerosis (copper), diabetes (chromium), and many other conditions.
- Overhydration. Excessive consumption of water causes rapid depletion of minerals stored in bones. The more demineralized water you drink, the more minerals are required to maintain blood homeostasis. Some of these minerals leave the body with urine and stools, but don‘t get promptly replaced, because tap water doesn‘t contain any. Consequently, most Americans experience bone disease and tooth loss long before reaching the midlife point. Healthy people in known longevity zones rarely experience tooth decay or tooth loss, and don‘t suffer from osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. The perils of overhydration extend well past bone disease, as described in detail in the second chapter of Fiber Menace — called Water Damage.
- Devitalized food. The majority of foods produced by agro-industrial complexes use every conceivable technology to “optimize yield” — synthetic fertilizers, toxic herbicides and pesticides, genetically-modified planting material, and so on. Practically all plants are grown on overused soil, devoid of essential minerals and trace elements. Fruits and vegetables are collected before maturity to preserve appearance, and stored in conditions that cause oxidation and loss of vitamins. The quality of meat, fowl, and fish is low because of industrial growing techniques, while their contamination with antibiotics and growth hormones is high. Practically all dairy, even some organic, is made from dry milk mixed with tap water. Fat is removed to be sold at a substantial premium as heavy cream, sour cream, and butter.
- No daylight exposure. Minimal daylight exposure and the widespread use of sunblocks causes profound vitamin D deficiency in most of the population. Rickets, scoliosis, and osteomalacia (all bone-softening diseases) has become equally widespread and common.
- Compromised or absent intestinal flora. Endogenous (in situ) biosynthesis of biotin and vitamin K by bacteria has been compromised in the population from the widespread use of antibiotics and antibacterial drugs, as well as by common pollutants, heavy metals, pesticides, and herbicides. This has lead to a broad number of neurological, skin, and mucosal disorders, hard-to-stop bleeding, and many other ailments.
- Chronic deficiency of essential fatty acids. Wild-caught raw fatty fish is an expensive rarity for most of the population. High-temperature cooking destroys perishable essential fatty acids. On top of that, fat is scorned, and most fish is consumed as fillets stripped of fat. This leads to developmental problems, depression, bone disease, blood disorders, heart disease, and many other problems.
- Intensive food processing. Gas and electric stoves, ovens, and microwaves allow for extended high-temperature cooking, substantial denaturation of proteins, rendering of fats, and destruction of delicate essential fatty acids. Even when foods are consumed that have seemingly adequate amounts of necessary nutrients, intensive cooking may cause malnutrition.
- Overconsumption of certain nutrients. Vegetables fats and carbohydrates are routinely overconsumed in contemporary diets. This imbalance is behind the widespread occurrence of metabolic syndrome (prediabetes), obesity, and degenerative diseases.
- Excessive consumption and dependence of dietary fiber. The consequences of fiber overconsumption are the focus of this site and Fiber Menace. Digestive disorders caused by fiber render an already meager diet even more deficient.
- Overuse of distilled spirits. Distillation and aging of fermented fruits and grains into distilled high-proof spirits wasn‘t generally available until the 15-16th century, and widespread consumption didn‘t begin until a more evolved market economy. High-proof distilled drinks have zero nutritional value (relative to young wines), cause rapid dehydration, loss of minerals with excessive urination, liver disease, and dependence. Inadequate distillation leaves behind alcohols other than ethanol that are extremely toxic.
Widespread malnutrition isn‘t big news to the United States government, which ends up funding Medicaid and Medicare insurance programs from our tax dollars. For this reason the government demands mandatory fortification of wheat flour and rice with folic acid, niacin, and iron; dairy with vitamin A, and recommends fortification of juices with vitamins C, D, and calcium, and dairy with vitamin D.
Alas, it‘s too little, and too late. We get to live as we eat? According to the USDA, Americans spent $899.8 billion for food in 2006 [link]. Since we are spending twice as much on healthcare as Japan (which mainly has retained traditional ways of eating), an extra trillion dollars is spent to take care of nutritional disorders. In essence, the United States government could have provided every single citizen with free food for less money than we are spending to support a sustenance diet.
So it‘s a no-brainer — basic nutrition is better than a sustenance diet. You don‘t get sick for nothing, and you get to live a longer life. But how do you switch to one without moving to Sardinia or Okinawa?
The longevity diet
Now I‘ll take all the same bullets as in the prior two sections, and will reinterpret basic nutrition according to today‘s realities. I recognize that complex diets don‘t work. What‘s great about the longevity diet is that it isn‘t so much about what to eat, but about what not to eat. Here are the key ingredients of the longevity diet and the reasons why it should be selected:
- Extended and exclusive breastfeeding. If you are contemplating having babies, prepare yourself for breastfeeding far in advance. Lactation requires minerals, trace elements, and vitamins to produce quality milk for your baby, but without depleting your body stores. Otherwise your bones will become soft, your skin saggy, your mood depressed, your gums receded, and your baby — unhappy and malnourished from poor quality milk. None of these conditions affect people in the longevity zones, who breastfeed numerous children without any apparent damage.
- High-mineral content water. Unless you can drill an artesian well in your backyard and consume well water without softening and filtering, your chances of consuming quality cooking and drinking water are nil. At the very least, drink quality mineral water, and take high-grade supplements to compensate for calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, iodine, and other trace elements missing from your local water tap.
- Avoid overhydration. Your total daily requirements for water in normal conditions is under 2 liters — including all water from food and drinks, and water produced in the body by metabolic oxidation (about 350 ml). If you maintain basic nutrition, you may need at best two to four glasses of water extra throughout the day. Avoid all canned drinks, because they contain diuretic additives (caffeine, sugar, acids) that deprive you from water already consumed. I recognize that this is a controversial subject, and don‘t wish to oversimplify it. Consider reading Fiber Menace for more details. You‘ll be amazed how much better you‘ll feel once you stop overhydration — better sleep, more energy, stable blood pressure, no constant thirst (yes, excess drinking dehydrates you), and no running to the bathroom almost every hour. This is particularly liberating while commuting, attending games, movies, plays, etc.
- Frequency of nutrition. In Fiber Menace I recommend eating Japanese-style — several light dishes in the morning and afternoon, and one major meal at the end of the day. Please note that children and young adults may eat more often and more in general, because their digestion is directed toward growth, and is several times more efficient than that of a healthy adult at ages 40-50.
- Natural meat from small grazing animals. This is, actually, easy to accomplish. Australian, New Zealand, and Icelandic lamb is plentiful in supermarkets and specialty stores. All of it is free-range, tasty, and affordable.
- Consumption of organ meats from free-range grazing animals. This is a tough one — most people no longer like to cook or eat organ meat, such as liver, because of the sharp taste. Because the demand is low, most of it goes into pet food manufacturing, and it‘s often hard to procure, particularly organic. If you aren‘t into eating liver often, take high-grade supplements to obtain your daily requirements for vitamin A, vitamin B-12, folate, niacin, choline, riboflavin, iron, copper, selenium, and zinc — these are the vitamins and supplements that are abundant in liver.
- Fowl. All kind of organic fowl — chicken, duck, geese, turkey — are good sources of protein. Organic fowl is reasonably priced as well. Keep in mind that “white meat” unlike “red meat” isn‘t a good source of dietary iron and vitamin B-12, so you need to augment a fowl diet with supplements.
- Eggs. After the Food Guide Pyramid put eggs back on the list of recommended products, organic eggs have been in short supply nationwide. The yolk is the most valuable part of an egg. Hard-boiled yolk (fried in omelets) is nutritionally useless. So make sure to eat yours intact. Organic eggs are best to avoid the risk of salmonella contamination.
- Beef and pork. Beef isn‘t a big part of basic nutrition, but it‘s acceptable as long as it‘s free-range. Natural beef cuts and ground beef are okay too, because the meat is lean and nutrient-dense. Pork is the main staple of the Okinawan longevity diet. If you can procure organic pork and like the taste, it‘s fine too.
- Fermented dairy from free-range animals. Whole milk isn‘t suitable for adults because of lactose and casein allergies, and hard-to-digest minerals. Once the milk is naturally fermented, lactose is gone, casein is predigested into basic amino acids, and mineral bonds are broken down. Also, dairy is chock full of calcium, magnesium, and potassium. If you can‘t procure quality free-range milk, preferably raw, and can‘t make your own fermented dairy, take supplements instead.
- Year-round exposure to UV-rays. Unless you live in the Southern regions and have plenty of time on your hands to catch the afternoon sun without wearing sunblock, and don‘t mind looking a little weathered eventually, then obtaining enough vitamin D from the “blue sky” isn‘t an option. In this case, take high-grade supplements or liquid cod liver oil. Natural dairy isn‘t particularly high in vitamin D.
- No exposure to antibiotics and antibacterial drugs. If you ever took antibiotics or some other antibacterial drugs, or were exposed to heavy metals such as silver, mercury, aluminum, lead, and others, your intestinal flora is no longer producing adequate amounts of vitamin K and biotin. You should by all means restore intestinal flora as described here, although it isn‘t clear to what extent it will be able to replicate the “real thing. To assure adequate intake of biotin and vitamin K, take high-grade supplements.
- Consumption of fatty fish. If you like fish, fatty fish from the northern waters is best — preferably raw (sashimi) or lightly cooked, because intense cooking destroys essential fatty acids. Keep in mind that fillets are the least fatty cuts — most of the fat is always located under the skin. So buy, cook, order, and eat your fish whole. If you don‘t like fish, can‘t afford it often, or it isn‘t available, take a teaspoon or two of liquid cod liver oil daily.
- Cooking techniques. This subject is beyond the scope of this essay. It goes without saying that raw is always more nutritious than rare, rare more than medium, medium more than well-done, and well-done, for the most part, is nutritionally useless. That said, foods, particularly from the supermarket, should be cooked well and to the indicated temperature — the immediate risk of food poisoning may exceed the risk of longer-term nutrient deficiency. This is where supplements become useful again — cook safely, eat risk-free, and compensate for missing nutrients with supplements to prevent malnutrition.
- Lower requirement for nutrients. If you consume quality food, as suggested above, you already need less nutrients, because quality foods are more nutrient-dense. All other suggestions, such as sleeping more and working less, may sound great. But they aren‘t really constructive or helpful, particularly for adults well set in their ways. If you “work and play” harder, just take high-grade supplements to compensate for your inevitable losses and existing damage.
- Negligible dietary fiber. It goes without saying that the longevity diet is low in fiber, and contains no fiber from processed foods. If you can‘t overcome constipation on a low-fiber diet because of a prior history of colorectal disorders, just follow all of the related guides on the parent page.
- Moderate consumption of salt. Salt was always prized as one of the most valuable foods. The Roman centurions were paid salārium, or salt money (either in salt or money to buy salt). The table salt in the American diet is the sole source of iodine, a trace element essential for thyroid health. Salt is also the sole source of chloride in the diet. It‘s essential to produce hydrochloric acid to digest protein. Low-salt diets cause indigestion, delayed digestion, heartburn, GERD, peptic ulcers, and intestinal inflammatory disorders down the digestive tract from the rotting of undigested proteins. The longevity diet is naturally low in salt because it excludes all processed food.
Make sure to consume at least 5 to 6 grams of salt daily (“Food and Nutrition Board committee recently recommended that daily intake of sodium chloride be limited to 6 g. (2.4 g of sodium) or less.” Water and Electrolytes, page 253, Recommended Daily Allowances, 10th edition, National Research Council.) These 1989 recommendations were halved recently using fraudulent justification. I‘ll devote a separate essay to this subject soon.
If this “revelation” still bothers you, consider this — practically all ER patients are hooked up to an intravenous pump/drip as soon as they are admitted. What‘s an I.V. fluid? It‘s 0.9% solution of table salt. Hence, 5-6 grams of salt consumed daily represents 0.16% from total blood volume, and only 0.014% from all body fluids, which maintain similar “salinity.” So get over it, and do what the doctors do to stabilize the critically sick — consume salt in moderation. It will do your body good.
- Moderate consumption of wine. Table wines from France, Italy, and/or organic wines from other regions/countries are the only ones suitable for drinking because they contain no added sulfites, and are made from grapes grown in organic conditions. Aged wines are loaded with sulfites — a chemical used to preserve expensive oak barrels from rotting — and other substances, which make them unsuitable for daily consumption in quantities beyond an ounce or two.
I can‘t vouch for Chilean, Spanish, Portuguese, or Australian table wines, because the controls and standards in these countries may not be as strong as in France. Most American table wines have added sulfites to preserve freshness, and are better to avoid. There are some organic brands, but they are more expensive than French table wines.
And, incidentally, I don‘t believe that bottled blended table wines from France or anywhere else are close in nutrient density to home-made young wines from recently harvested grapes.
So if you don‘t particularly care for wines, don‘t drink them for the sake of your health — despite all those numerous reports about the health benefits of wine, you aren‘t going to gain much, unless you buy your wines from local farmers by the jug. (I realize these are strong opinions, not supported by research, but be serious — can you take seriously the “research” paid for and promoted by the wine industry? If you do, read that tale about the fox guarding the henhouse again.)
As time goes by, I‘ll be adding more essays and analysis about all the major groups of food and related myths, just like I did with fiber. Also I realize that you may not immediately grasp some of these concepts because they fly in the face of what you‘ve been hearing and doing for the last few decades. Here are a few suggestions:
- Read this entire site before addressing your own nutritional needs. You will have a much better perspective on the role of nutrients and digestive mechanisms that lurk behind this analysis.
- You should really read Fiber Menace. It explains all of these concepts in greater length and depth than it‘s possible to do here.
- Don‘t try to envision or create a new menu from what you are reading. It‘s impossible. Simply look at your current menu, take each single ingredient, and ask yourself a simple question: Could my grand-grandma a hundred years ago have procured this ingredient from her garden, pantry, or grocer? If the answer is no, then you shouldn‘t eat it either?
Yes, what I am suggesting isn‘t leaving too many foods. But, again, this site and my books aren‘t for people with abundant health and stomachs made from iron, but for people with chronic digestive disorders who are in their forties, fifties, and beyond. Past middle age, it‘s always a trade-off between health and variety.
Finally, quality supplements (similar to these) are the only reliable way to compensate for the shortcomings of urban living, tap water, supermarket foods, and for prior damage. Besides, if you get off fortified bread, pasta, cereals, milk, and juice, then you need to replace these supplements with others, preferably of better quality.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Are you on this kind of diet?
Yes, I practice what I preach. My nutrition is basic, just like the one I just described. I eat only twice a day — a small lunch in the afternoon, and a dinner in the late evening that by most standards would look like a breakfast. Since I don‘t experience strong hunger or cravings, it suits me just fine, and doesn‘t rob me of energy. (When I overeat, I feel drugged out.) To avoid vitamin and mineral deficiencies in my diet, I drink imported mineral water and take the supplements described here.
And when I write, I work 12-14 uninterrupted hours on that little food, and feel great and energetic. The only concession to this crazy regimen — I work on the laptop semi-reclined in bed, on the coach, or in the recliner to avoid stressing my spine from sitting in the chair that long.
Even if I wanted any other diet, I can‘t have it, because I stumbled into all this not seeking fortune, but out of misfortune. Considering my brush with death a decade ago (in 1996) from a vegetarian diet, I am in better shape today than most men my age — my weight is normal, no medication, no chronic pain, normal bone density, my hearing is as sharp as in my teens, my eyesight is only 10%-15% less than when I was born, I still have all of my teeth, I no longer have gum disease or new cavities, and there are no signs of cardiovascular disease.
Another measure of “graceful aging” — my skin today is about the same as a decade ago — no wrinkles, no age spots, no discoloration, and no moles. And I can‘t say that I am not an outdoor kind of person — I walked my two late dogs two to three times daily in all kinds of weather from 1972 to 1990, never used sunblock, and never hid from the sun (though I never intentionally sunbathed).
My only regret —not knowing all this before and missing out on so many unbelievable opportunities that came my way so many times. Still, it‘s a passing regret — for as long as I have my health, opportunities will follow wherever I go.
Q. What mineral water do you drink?
We rotate imported mineral waters regularly from what‘s available on the shelves at Whole Foods or similar specialty stores. Any mineral water is okay — as long as you like the taste, it doesn‘t break the bank, it lists mineral content on the label, is naturally carbonated, and is sold in glass bottles.
If you go by these criteria, Perrier — one of the most popular imported waters — doesn‘t qualify: it‘s artificially carbonated ([link], see page 6), sold in plastic bottles, and doesn‘t list minerals on the label.
Perrier does contain 155 mg of calcium and 5.9 mg of magnesium per liter. To get your recommended daily calcium intake you‘ll have to drink 7 glasses — and 65 for magnesium. So it isn‘t as bad as tap water, but there are better choices. Just read the labels and you‘ll find them.
Incidentally, don‘t construe this as if I am anti-Perrier or something? No, I simply analyzed for you one of the best-known and widely distributed brands, so you can apply similar analysis to other, less known brands.
Then, there is bottled purified water like Dasani (Coca-Cola Company) and Aquafina (PepsiCo.). Given a choice between Perrier and Dasani [link] or Aquafina, and based on this description on Dasani‘s web site, I‘d rather drown in Perrier:
Translated from the ad-speak, here is what it means: Coca-Cola’s local bottlers buy municipal tap water [local water supply] for around $2 for 1,000 gallons (enough to make about 11,000 bottles at 12 oz each). They filter tap water via reverse osmosis until its mineral content is near zero. Then, they add trace amounts of magnesium sulfate, potassium chloride, and table salt [special blend of minerals] to associate Dasani with healthy “mineral” water, so you‘ll think it’s wholesome [link].
At the end of this production cycle, the bottles from recycled plastic are the most expensive part of Dasani‘s. Essentially, you are paying to drink the same water you are flushing your toilet with, only purified, bottled, and premium-priced. After all, a sucker drinks every day…
Incidentally, if you install a reverse osmosis filter at home — a point of pride for so many — you are making your own Dasani. I am all for removing chlorine and contaminants from tap water to wash veggies, take showers, and boil eggs — but obviously, not for drinking.
Q. Why dietary fat is important for health and longevity
People who don‘t consume adequate amounts of fat regularly may develop the following disorders:
- Constipation, because dietary fat is a primary stimulant of the gastrocolic reflex.
- Gallbladder disease, because dietary fat is the sole stimulus for the release of bile. If bile isn‘t regularly released from the gallbladder, bile salts may form gallbladder stones.
- Acute cholecystitis, because unused bile salts or gallbladder stones may obstruct the hepatic (bile) ducts — the outlet tubes that connect the liver to the gallbladder and duodenum [link].
- Weight gain and obesity, because dietary fat is a primary substance behind the control of satiety, hunger, and appetite.
- Enterocolitis (inflammatory disease of the small and large intestine) because underutilized bile causes inflammation of the intestinal mucosa and diarrhea.
- All forms of bone and joint diseases (tooth loss, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, rickets, scoliosis, and osteomalacia, rheumatoid arthritis), because dietary fat is essential for absorption of vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium in the small intestine.
- Rapid vitamin D deficiency and all related disorders, because an absence of dietary fat prevents the absorption of dietary vitamin D and reabsorption of the endogenous vitamin D secreted with bile.
- Heart disease and hypertension, because vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium regulate contraction and relaxation of smooth (blood vessels) and cardiac (heart) muscles.
- All kind of skeletal muscular disorders, such as fibromialgia, for the same reasons as above.
- Blood disorders, because dietary fat is essential for absorption of dietary vitamin K a coagulation factor, and because essential fatty acids are required in the “manufacture” of blood cells.
- Impaired immunity, night blindness, and skin disorders, because dietary fat is essential for absorption of vitamin A.
- A broad range of cognitive dysfunctions, cardiovascular diseases, inflammatory disease, infertility, amenorrhea, nerve damage, cancers, and other conditions, related to acute deficiency of essential fatty acids.
- Cellulite and other skin disorders, related to overconsumption of vegetable fats to satisfy cravings while avoiding animal fat.
- Undesirable exposure to unstable trans and rancid fats in all vegetable oils, which are considered the primary triggers of inflammatory diseases (digestive, cardiovascular, atherosclerosis, joints, asthma), and cancer.
Why, then, is Uncle Sam telling you not to consume animal fats? It‘s simple — vegetable fat costs a penny a pound to produce, while quality animal fat is much more expensive. Ages ago, the agro-industrial oligopolies funded academic research to “prove” the benefits of vegetable fats, lobbied the government, and spread enormous amounts of disinformation through the trade groups. This has been going since the beginning of the 20th century, with the advent of margarine and related technologies to package and resell vegetable fats.
At one point everyone began to believe their own lies, and they became the “truth.” This happening has two names — groupthink and mass psychosis. The advent of vegetable fats and the disgrace of animal fats very much parallels the advent of dietary fiber. And, just like with fiber, its affects aren‘t immediately apparent, and take a long time to develop. It‘s not really a conspiracy per se, but more like a collective stupidity.
You won‘t find a reputable scientist or doctor attacking these points, because all of the above is broadly taught in every biology, physiology, and medical biochemistry class, and isn‘t a subject of debate. Yes, some paid PR flacks from trade groups may shill and shrill, but their opinion in this debate is just as relevant as angry barks behind the fence, particularly in the Internet era.
What you‘ve just learned isn‘t an invitation to consume unlimited fats, animal or vegetable alike, as Dr. Atkins once recommended. Dietary fat digests almost completely and the excess is deposited under the skin as fat for storage. The “excess” is the difference between the fat used by the body for energy and plastic needs (to make cells, hormones, etc.) and all digested fat.
Your energy needs vary, depending on your carbohydrate consumption. The plastic needs are in the ballpark of 1 gram per 1 kg of body weight. In other words, if you consume adequate amounts of carbs and proteins, and weigh 70 kg, consuming about 100 g of fat will not increase you weight. (The extra 30 grams are for losses from stools, cellular uptake in the intestines, and inefficiency in digestion.)
The longevity diet (i.e. basic nutrition) is naturally moderate-to-low in fat, because natural meats, fowl, fish and seafood, and fermented dairy are relatively low in fat. In fact, most of the excess of fat consumption in the American diet is coming from vegetable oils well hidden in fried foods, sauces, dressings, and mayonnaise. If you exclude all vegetable oils from your diet, you aren‘t likely to consume excess animal fat, unless you do it consciously and intentionally.
Also, note that sometimes I recommend an increase in animal fat (butter) consumption because it‘s essential to overcome digestive disorders and related conditions. Once you normalize your situation, you can resume moderate fat consumption.
Finally, if you are overweight, then, with the exception of essential fatty acids from liquid fish oil, you don‘t need any additional fat. Your body will supply all the fat you need for energy and plastic metabolism. This is, in fact, the most reliable method of weight loss. Still, you need to consume moderate amounts of fat to prevent hepatic and intestinal dysfunctions, listed in the bullet points below.
- Endogenous — a substance synthesized by the body, which is chemically identical to the substance available from food. Between meals, for example, the body can synthesize glucose from glycogen (glycogenolysis), which is stored in the liver. After glycogen is exhausted, the body converts amino acids (stored as muscle tissue) into glucose (gluconeogenesis).
- Exogenous — nutrition substances that come with food. Vitamin D, for example, can be exogenous, when it‘s derived from cod liver oil or supplements; or endogenous, when it‘s made in the specialized skin receptors from the sun‘s UV-exposure.
- In situ — literary, made in place. When vitamin D is synthesized in the skin receptors or vitamin K is synthesized by bacteria in the large intestine, it means in situ. All in situ substances are, therefore, endogenous.
- Macronutrients — carbohydrates, proteins, fat, and essential fatty acids.
- Micronutrients — all substances required by the body other than macronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and trace elements).
- Essential fatty acids (EFA) — eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) acids, available only from fish and seafood fat, such as cod liver oil, fish oil, krill oil, etc. These fatty acids can‘t be made in situ, and can come only from dietary sources.
- Macro minerals (all non-organic substances, body requires over 100 mg daily) include Calcium, Chloride, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium, Sulfur.
- Trace minerals (microelements, daily requirement less than 100 mg) — Boron, Chromium, Cobalt, Copper, Fluorine, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Selenium, Zinc.
- B-complex vitamins — B1 (Thiamine) , B2 (Riboflavin) , B3 (Niacin), B5 (Pantothenic acid), B6 (Pyridoxine), B7 (Biotin), B9 (Folic acid) and B12 (Cyanocobalamin).
- Water-soluble vitamins— all of the above plus vitamin C and Choline.
- Fat-soluble vitamins— vitamins A , D, E, and K; they digest only in the presence of dietary fat in the intestines.
- Raw [drinking] water — ground water from dug or artesian wells and springs originating from under the ground (not rainfall or ice cap), and not filtered, softened, or aerated. Different from raw surface water (i.e. from rainfall, rivers, lakes). Surface water doesn‘t contain as many minerals and trace elements, and is usually contaminated by bacteria, plankton, parasites, and pollutants. Most tap water is derived from surface water. To make it suitable for drinking, it‘s filtered, ozonized or treated by chemicals, such as chlorine, and aerated (oxygenated). In the context of this article, by “raw water” I always mean ground water, not surface water. The “spring” water sold in plastic bottles is processed for safety and extended storage reasons at the source (i.e. spring) just like tap water, and isn‘t considered raw water.
- Mineral water — a bottled water from underground sources with high mineral content (contains at least 250 parts per million total dissolved solids). The degree of processing varies depending on the brand. Some “mineral” waters are reconstituted (i.e. mineral salts are mixed with filtered tap water and carbonation added.) Can be naturally carbonated or non-carbonated. Seltzer isn‘t a mineral water, but artificially carbonated tap water. Reputable, high-quality mineral waters are always bottled at the source into the glass bottles. Plastic bottles can‘t withstand the pressure from natural carbonation, and may contaminate the water through molecular diffusion with potentially carcinogenic compounds.
- Natural carbohydrates — carbohydrates found in plants, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, and grains. (The term may include fiber, because, technically, fiber is a carbohydrate).
- Processed carbohydrates— table sugar, corn syrup, high fructose, and similar derivatives, produced from plants. (The term may include fiber.)
- Fortified food — processed food with added synthetic supplements, which are mandated by the government. The supplements added during fortification are usually the lowest and least-expensive consumer grade, purchased in bulk. China is one of the largest manufacturers of bulk supplements in the world.
- Organ meat — brain, tongue, intestines, heart, kidney, liver, lungs, sweetbreads (thymus or pancreas), and tripe (stomach) from grazing animals. In general, when I say organ meat, I usually mean liver, because it has the highest concentration of vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. It‘s the most culturally acceptable food in the United States, and generally available. In other countries with more evolved culinary traditions, all other organs are widely used in cooking as well, but they aren‘t as nutrient-dense as liver.
- Fermented dairy —naturally soured milk due to bacterial cultures. The resulting soured milk has higher acidity and a slight alcohol level that eliminates pathogens, extends storage, and makes it suitable for drinking without boiling or pasteurization. Additional benefits are absence of lactose, broken protein bonds, easy digestibility, and better taste. Known by many names such as yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, kumis, matsoni, etc., depending on the origin. Curded fermented milk is used for cheese-making.
- RDA — Recommended Dietary Allowances. In use from 1991 to 1989. According to the Food and Nutrition Board, RDA‘s “primary goal was to prevent diseases caused by nutrient deficiencies. Technically speaking, the RDAs were not intended to evaluate the diets of individuals, but they were often used this way.” (More on differences between RDA and DRI here [link]).
- DRI — Dietary Reference Intakes: Recommended intakes of micro- and macro- nutrients for individuals, developed by the Food and Nutrition Board, National Academy of Sciences. Institute of Medicine [link]. In use since 1997, replaced RDA, and established upper tolerable intake levels (ULs) for selected micronutrients. DRI Tables [link].