There are four scientifically based pillars of anti-aging, or if you prefer, wellness medicine: diet, exercise, sleep/stress management and bioidentical hormone replacement. More diseases – and possibly all of the diseases we associate with modern civilization – come from bad diet habits.
When Albert Schweitzer was in Africa, the Africans ate a native diet and were not plagued by the big four: heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and cancer. (They had Burkitt’s Lymphoma, a viral induced cancer, but not the cancers we commonly fight.) After a Western diet was introduced, predictably, these diseases became more and more prevalent. The same is true for aboriginal tribes the world over from the Inuit to the South Sea Islanders.
Dr. Weston A. Price, a Dentist, traveled the world during the early 20th century as travel allowed western foods to creep into aboriginal diets. After an average of 17 years “displacing foods of modern commerce” – as Dr. Price put it – these natives developed the diseases of modern civilization and other changed physical characteristics including bad teeth, narrowed face and diminished immunity. He published his findings in his classic work, “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.”
A short biography of Dr. Price is well worth reading and can be found on the website WestonAPrice.org. The site is dedicated to promulgating his nutritional principles which can be summarized in one slogan, “Real food for real people.”
Price analyzed aboriginals diets and found that they provided at least four times the calcium and other minerals, and at least 10 times the fat-soluble vitamins from animal foods such as butter, fish eggs, shellfish and organ meats, whereas “foods of commerce” [consisted] “largely of white flour products, sugar, polished rice, jams, canned goods and vegetable fats.”
In addition to the website above, there are several great books on diet that are worth reading, “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes, which outlines a great deal of the history of nutritional drift; “Wheat Belly” by Dr. William Davis, which I have reviewed earlier; and “The Anti-Inflammation Zone” by Barry Sears.
Quite frankly, as a physician, I pay almost no attention to the “official” government nutritional guidelines. Nor is it easy to figure out proper diet from reading the popular press, which tends to report every news story without enough scientific background to discriminate probable truth from nonsense. But using a basic knowledge of medicine and biochemistry, and filtering through all sorts of nutritional literature in the lay press and in medical journals, this is the diet I feed myself and my family – and I think it is pretty close to “the truth” (understanding that knowledge changes). But as we have understood more and more it becomes apparent that old ways are the best:
I totally avoid the following: Vegetable fats (soy, corn, safflower, canola, etc.), wheat, aspartame and MSG.
I minimize: Simple carbohydrates such as popcorn, white rice and potatoes, but these are eaten in moderate amounts. When we have “movie night” I may make homemade popcorn using coconut oil. But these episodes are very infrequent. I think brown rice is probably a better choice than white, but I have determined that white rice eaten in modest amounts is not the major problem for health, and I confess I simply like it better than brown rice. So three nights a week we may have a fist-sized portion (larger for my 20-year-old, weightlifter son) of white rice.
I use olive oil for cooking, along with butter, coconut oil and animal fat. Again, I never use margarine or vegetable shortening or vegetable oil – these are Omega 6 oils and are inflammatory to body and brain. I never eat store bought or restaurant salad dressing for this reason, because these are generally made with soy oil. I make mine at home from olive oil, balsamic vinegar or lemon, salt and pepper, and sometimes other spices.
I eat meat (all kinds of meat) with its fat, and fish and chicken. I try to vary the main course, and we do eat more chicken than red meat. When it comes to red meat, I try to eat more natural-sourced meat that has been grass fed and contains complete conjugated linoleic acid – which corn-fed beef does not. (It makes sense to supplement with CLA when eating standard beef.) I live in the Midwest and therefore can get buffalo at a moderate price point and am blessed with the ability to eat locally hunted deer. I try to eat wild caught fish, but this is not always financially feasible. I do avoid hormones in chicken.
I have taken advantage of the backyard chicken movement to have my own flock of chickens. Eggs from local free-ranged flocks, according to a recent study that compared true free-range eggs to true caged eggs, have 4-6 times the Vitamin D, 1⁄3 less cholesterol, 1⁄4 less saturated fat, 2⁄3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E, 7 times more beta carotene. Beyond that the differences are obvious – yellower yolks, better flavor and protenacious whites that are thick, not watery. Industry studies that purport to debunk these facts are often done using chickens with trimmed beaks who cannot really forage – even though they are left outside.
I snack on nuts, raw vegetables and the occasional piece of gluten free chocolate. Beware of “protein bars,” as many have wheat and are actually very high carb. Even Adkins bars – which are the best low-carb bar snack – sometimes have wheat, so you need to read the labels.
We never eat “low fat” anything, because “low fat” in processed foods means they have substituted a large globular starch to thicken the item – mayonnaise for example. And removing fat from natural foods – especially milk – means the sugars are more readily absorbed and more apt to spike insulin. Fat, by slowing absorption and possibly other mechanisms, is a modulator of the insulin response. When we drink milk, it is full-fat milk, we eat full-fat yogurt, and when we eat ice cream, we eat full-fat ice cream, not ice milk or low-fat ice cream. All the low-fat versions produce much more insulin response. Furthermore, low-fat diets are not satisfying, they do not “fill one up,” so they do not help people eat reasonably.
In the time we have been pursuing the government’s and organized medicine’s chimera of a low-fat existence, we as a people have become fatter and more diabetic, while patting ourselves on the back for decreasing our fat intake. It is the biggest fraud perpetrated on the American people by so-called “experts.”
I eat green and cruciferous vegetables but do not obsess over the six portions the nutritionists mandate. I try to eat them as a habit and incorporate them in every family meal.
For fruits, I serve grapes, berry salad and have access to a backyard of natural berries in spring. I avoid hybridized very sweet fruits, which are new to modern diets and very apt to spike insulin levels, but eat apples in moderation. Red Delicious apples have the highest (significantly highest) anti-oxidant value of all the apples. I do not drink fruit juice, which has removed all the fiber and glucose-modulating factors.
Of all the health habits about which we perseverate, none are probably so overblown as salt. I’m sure there is some issue in some people with blood pressure and salt, but even the experts are conflicted on the real story here. I think life without salt is so dull that I’m willing to accept some risk in eating it.
Remember, salt is not a disease. Salt is a potential possible risk factor for hypertension, which is not a disease but a risk factor for heart attack and stroke. I eat sea salt, along with other spices and pepper and simply don’t worry about it.
I eat very little processed food except for canned tomatoes. As I tell my patients, if your great great grandmother could not recognize something as food, or if bacteria reject it – don’t eat it. I don’t think Great Grandma would recognize a Twinkie or boxed macaroni and cheese – neither of which spoil when open to the air – because even germs don’t see them as food. Yet how much of the American diet is made of these? And we wonder why we are sick?
In the next column we will discuss supplements.