Sunday, June 1, 2008

Nature's Laws

Last night I was watching a little video clip of the Jack LaLanne show. LaLanne was an advocate of strength training and whole foods nutrition whose TV show ran from the 1950s through the 1980s. In the clip, he describes how his father died an early death due to heart and liver disease. A quote that really stuck with me was when he said his father died due to "disregarding nature's laws". That pretty much sums up my philosophy. Live in a way that generally mimics what our genes evolved to thrive on. Why did our paleolithic ancestors have strong, healthy bodies? Why are there still cultures that are free of chronic disease to this day, even into old age? Because they are following nature's laws. Break the law at your own risk.

Jack LaLanne and I do differ a bit on what constitutes a natural diet. For example, I don't throw out my egg yolks... But hey, the man is 94 and going strong. Here's another quote of his: "If man made it, don't eat it". Words to live by. Quite literally.

9 comments:

reid said...

"If man made it, don't eat it"
A simple, intuitive and scientifically proven rule yet there's so much (cheap) stuff out there that's man made, modified and/or processed. What's good for corporations (esp. ones like Monsanto) aren't that good for us after all.

Chainey said...

I had never heard of Jack LaLanne before a couple of months ago--I don't think his show was ever shown in NZ. But I checked out his videos after a reference to him by Dr Mike Eades.

I did put a Devil's-Advocate-type comment in Dr Mike's blog to the effect that Ancel Keys had lived to 100, and he replied with perhaps a slight undertone of annoyance that I should check out his earlier post, which compared a fit ninety-something LaLanne with (photos of) a doddering and hunched over ninety-something Keys.

I didn't want to go another round as I'm a great admirer of Eades and didn't want to alienate him, but it's not really apples with apples: LaLanne being a lifelong fitness fanatic and Keys (as far as I know) never lifting anything heavier than a pen.

There's that hard-to-factor genetic element. For instance I was reading one of Alistair Cooke's essays about Frank Lloyd Wright in his later years, and Wright still had all his marbles in his nineties.

Then Cooke himself lived to 96, providing insightful and entertaining radio talks almost up till the day he died. No special diet for either of those gentlemen.

By the way, I take back the crack (no pun intended) about the Eggbeaters. Since then I've looked around the supermarket and realized that I've bought plenty of things dumber and lazier than that myself. Like thickened cream (two minutes with a whisk could have saved me $$)

Stephan said...

Hi Chainey,

I read the Keys/LaLanne post on Mike Eades' blog; it almost made me fall out of my chair laughing. You're right that it's not comparing apples to apples, but I think he still made his point that you can't learn much about longevity from individual cases.

I think you're right not to discount the fact that Keys lived to 100 though. We are trying to get to the bottom of this aging and disease thing after all. I'd be interested to learn more about what he actually ate. Who says he even followed his own recommendations? Or even if he did, he might have been eating a home-cooked lowfat diet with plenty of fresh vegetables and fish. It may have been better than your average low-fat diet. LaLanne himself eats a pretty low-fat diet as a matter of fact.

Anna said...

LaLanne moved to the lower diet in more recent years, I think. When I checked out his earlier video clips, he was recommending foods that came with plenty of fat and protein, too. So perhaps he as a "store" to draw on.

I wonder, too, if excellent, real food nutrition in the earliest decades of life has a role in better health outcomes later in life.

I think specifically of my grandmother, now 88yo, who has been on the low fat way of eating since it was popularized in the 80s, almost in an obsessed way. I'm learning now that she never was much into cooking, and adopted many industrial processed foods as they came along (I ate Cap'n Crunch and "add water" pancakes at her house when I was a kid!). I don't think she cooks anything from scratch anymore and hasn't for decades.

But she was born into a poor rural family in western PA (poor in terms of $) and they produced everything they ate on their small farm (quite a varied bounty, actually). She was happy to leave that hard life behind and has no nostalgia for the food or life. My grandfather died at age 50 from heart disease, though (he grew up in a city).

My grandmother remarried many years ago and she and my step-grandfather (81 yo) are doing quite well, with many years of regular exercise (miles of walking for her and running for him), with full mental capacities. But I have always wondered how they can do this on such a processed, low fat diet. The only think I can come up with is they had a really good nutritional foundation when they were young, along with good genes, active lives, a good relationship, and an overall life pattern of extreme moderation, including the amount they eat (low total calories).

When I read about Ancel Keys at 100 yoa and Jack LaLanne in his 90s, I think of my grandparents. It will be interesting to see what the next decade is like for them.

Younger people, rich & poor, often don't start out with a well-nourished foundation anymore (in terms of nutrients, not calories), and I wonder if that is part of why they are getting sicker with chronic disease at younger ages. Some of the reasons why we have school lunch programs, USDA nutrition advice, and RDAs is because so many young men weren't fit to serve in WWII due to nutritional deficiencies (I wonder how many were urban and how many were rural and if that figured into their nutritional status).

Any thoughts? Am I on the right track?

Stephan said...

Hi Anna,

Nutrition in childhood definitely affects health later in life. Just look at all these metabolically handicapped kids growing up grossly overweight in the US. They may never be able to recover their health. If diet can affect dental and skeletal development, it can probably stunt other organ systems as well, such as the immune system.

There are plenty of examples of people living a long time on bad diets. I think it depends partly on the totality of the risk factors (for ex, your grandmother exercises regularly), and partly on the luck of the draw. And by 'the luck of the draw', I mean factors we don't understand yet.

Chainey said...

Anna, I've often thought that the only way to resolve some of these questions in a reasonable amount of time and for a reasonable amount of money is to take a large group of elderly people and find out what they ate and what they eat now.

Our beliefs would predict that those who ignored the low-fat dogma should be in better shape than those who caved in to it.

I know it wouldn't be "gold standard" because you'd be relying on recall, but I don't see any other way without a multi-decade, multi-billion-dollar controlled study.

Sonagi said...

Younger people, rich & poor, often don't start out with a well-nourished foundation anymore (in terms of nutrients, not calories),

Bingo! Since the 1970s, processed food has taken over every meal. The worst change has been the replacement of water with flavored, sugary beverages like juice, sodas, and other drinks. I lived for more than a decade in Korea and China, and I am sorry to report that the average urban Chinese family eats more nutritiously than the average American family although that is changing. Most restaurants in Japan, Korea, and China still prepare meals from scratch or close to scratch, using fresh or frozen meat and fresh vegetables. Frozen entrees, which occupy a whole aisle in US grocery stores, are almost non-existent in Asia.

Stephan said...

Thanks Sonagi.

trinkwasser said...

"I think of my grandparents. It will be interesting to see what the next decade is like for them.

Younger people, rich & poor, often don't start out with a well-nourished foundation anymore (in terms of nutrients, not calories), and I wonder if that is part of why they are getting sicker with chronic disease at younger ages. Some of the reasons why we have school lunch programs, USDA nutrition advice, and RDAs is because so many young men weren't fit to serve in WWII due to nutritional deficiencies (I wonder how many were urban and how many were rural and if that figured into their nutritional status).

Any thoughts? Am I on the right track?"

Well I live in a rural area surrounded by fit active elderly folks. Also I've seen the graves of people in local chirchyards who lived into their eighties a couple of centuries ago, so they probably also knew what they were doing!

We have a choice of two butchers selling locally produced and mainly grass-fed meat, two veg shops and until recently a fish shop (now replaced by a van that comes to your door). That almost certainly helps a lot in fending off the low-fat rubbish