Can the Right Diet Make You Live Longer?

Nude artNude ArtImage via WikipediaWe all suspect when we're hitting that wine bottle and getting stuffed on fried chicken and chocolate cookies that we're going to die young. And dozens of medical gurus have told us what is the right diet to keep healthy: eat lots of fruits and vegetables, stay away from fatty and fried foods, cut down on meat and cheese, go for fish and wholewheat bread. And above all, cut your addiction to sugar, stay slim and exercise regularly...

Like that nude girl, what we need is NUDE FOOD (no fats, no sauces, no extras of any kind)!

Fine. But will that make us live longer? There's one guy out there in America who believes it will. His name is David Murdock, he's 87 now and plans on living until he's 125. And he's put his considerable fortune at work for him - Forbes' magazine ranks him as America's 130th richest man - : he's invested in a $500 million food research centre in North Carolina, next to one of his five homes. Food journalist Frank Bruni has a juicy article about him in this Sunday's  New York Times magazine (see article below or click this link). Of course, coming from Frank Bruni that was to be expected. Check out the "healthy egg nogg" recipes he's asked three New York bartenders to mix for him, although I doubt any of the suggested recipes would win Mr. Murdock's approval.

Murdock's North Carolina Research Campus, as Bruni puts it, is "dedicated to his conviction that plants, eaten in copious quantities and the right variety, hold the promise of optimal health and maximal life span." Murdock has a team of doctors working hard and using all kinds of advanced MRI equipment to study the molecular structure of food - like blueberries, to figure out what there is exactly in a blueberry that's supposed to be good for you. 

All this is laudable and there's probably a great deal of truth in all this, but not everyone agrees with Murdock's quest or thinks that it will enable him to live longer.  There just may be a genetic limit to longevity, and no doubt it varies from one person to the next.

But genetic considerations cannot defeat the idea that diet influences how well and how long one lives.

There are the macrobiotic diet die-hards, who combine meditation and slowing down their life style with eliminating all dairy products, meats, and fatty foods from their diet.

There are those who go for high-fiber diets and splurge on raspberries, lentils, peas and barley and oat bran, all foods that are said to be packed with fiber.

There are those who maniacally cut sugar out of everything and replace with artificial sweeteners. When told that diet soda could increase the risk of stroke by 50 percent, they try not to listen and hope new studies will come up with different conclusions. 

Then there are those (like me) who are great believers in the anti-oxydent virtues of omega-3 found in all sorts of food from halibut to linseed or flaxseed oil. Since I don't like halibut, I stick to flaxseed oil which is a lot less intrusive. You can even get it in the form of pills and pop them in, but I prefer the liquid oil I can see (I never quite trust pills and what's in them). Flaxseed oil is great: it helps maintain the digestive tract in good order, it provides the needed element to keep your skin young and your hair shiny. I have a spoonful of flaxseed oil every morning stirred into my (low fat, of course!) yoghurt mixed with Bircher Muesli and brown cane sugar (what else? Never eat white sugar!)

But I'm not going to try and convince you. We all know that nutrition is awash with medical studies and findings that regularly contradict each other.

Instead, I'd like to draw your attention to a very interesting study recently carried out by the University of Maryland that modestly tried to find out whether what older people eat makes any difference in their chances at longevity. Study researcher Amy Anderson and her colleagues examined the eating habits and quality of life of about 2,500 adults, ages 70 to 79, from two American towns (Pittsburgh and Memphis, Tenn). 

One of the study's main conclusions is that older adults who ate mainly healthy foods — such as vegetables, fruit, poultry, low-fat dairy products and whole grains — had a lower risk of death over a 10-year period than those who ate less-healthy foods, including high-fat dairy products. Thus, this study (along with other previous studies) support the idea that older adults can indeed affect their health and longevity by following a dietary pattern that is high in healthy foods.What was interesting was the finding that some people who indulged in alcohol and meat still managed to live longer because they apparently compensated with a higher intake of vegetables and fruits. Which makes sense.

The upshot of all this? Don't believe too much what anyone tells you and use your common sense. If you've "broken down" and had a heavy meal, don't worry, just go light the next few days. Try not to turn obese and exercise as much as you feel like and are comfortable with.

Because even a bout of daily jogging should be carried out within reason: (a) in a clean-air environment (and not along a heavily trafficked road like I've seen so many joggers do!); and (b) not so long and so hard that you look ready for the morgue!

So, I guess, the only real guide to health and long life at all stages in life is...nude food!