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The ingredients of longevity nutrition

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:


Date of

Date of


 James Polk  1795  1849  54
 Chester A. Arthur  1829  1886  57
 Warren Harding  1865  1923  58
 Calvin Coolidge  1872  1933  61
 Ulysses S. Grant  1822  1885  63
 Franklin D. Roosevelt  1882  1945  63
 Franklin Pierce  1804  1868  64
 Zachary Taylor  1784  1850  66
 George Washington  1732  1799  67
 Andrew Johnson  1808  1875  67
 Benjamin Harrison  1833  1901  68
 Woodrow Wilson  1856  1924  68
 William Henry Harrison  1772  1841  69
 Grover Cleveland  1837  1907  70
 Rutherford B. Hayes  1822  1893  71
 John Tyler  1790  1862  72
 Dwight D. Eisenhower  1890  1962  72
 James Monroe  1758  1831  73
 William H. Taft  1857  1930  73
 Millard Fillmore  1800  1874  74
 Andrew Jackson  1767  1845  78
 James Buchanan  1791  1869  78
 Martin Van Buren  1782  1862  80
 John Quincy Adams  1767  1848  81
 Thomas Jefferson  1743  1826  83
 James Madison  1751  1836  85
 Harry S. Truman  1884  1972  88
 Herbert Hoover  1874  1964  90
 John Adams  1735  1826  91
 Average age at death      71.8

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 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 ( 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):

USDA Healthy Diet

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-à-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-à-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:

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.

USDA Pyramid Food Guide

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:”

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:

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:

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.

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:

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.