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Old 04-05-2008, 03:56 PM   #1
Greg Battaglia
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Default Questioning Paleo: Evidence from Centenarians

Despite the fact that I've been an avid proponent of evolutionary medicine and the paleo diet approach I've always made it a point to keep an open mind. Although I'm certainly not opposed to paleo eating (I currently eat paleo myself) my recent interest in centenarian lifestyles has roused my curiosity. After doing a lot of reading about centenarians I've come to realize that although there are certainly similarities with the paleo approach there are also some distinct differences.

Although centenarians do indeed seem to consume lots of fruits and vegetables the most unique components of their diets appear to be raw dairy products, and soaked/sprouted grains and beans. This seems to coincide with what the WAP foundation has been saying for years. For example, I just read an article at my girlfriends house that was in an issue of AARP titled "Living to 100" that looked into the diet and lifestyle of a Costa Rican village called Nicoya that has an unusually high percentage of centenarians. The author describes his experience with one centenarian women that he met. Before getting into the details of the diet, the author noted that despite her age and failing eyesight Panchita remained incredibly physically active and capable at age 101. Apparently she chops wood and chops down small trees with a machete, moving fast and rigorously all the while. She also walks everywhere. The following is an excerpt from the article:

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A bowl of bananas and papayas sat on the counter for easy access, and everything else-beans, onions, garlic, greens, corn, which all required preparation-remained out of sight.
and
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She moved slowly and deliberately, heating up beans and seasoning them with garlic and onions. From an earthen pot she scooped out grayish corn that had been soaking in lime hydrate overnight, rinsed the kernals, and ground them into dough. She patted out tortillas and roasted them over the open fire. She melted a dollop of lard on an iron griddle and fried eggs. Finally she cut paper thin slices of cheese....
and
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In about 30 minutes she presented us with lunch-small portions of beans, corn torillas, and one egg on a small plate. The serving looked huge, but it amounted to about half of what you'd get if you ordered the breakfast at your local diner.
The author goes on to list the following highlights of the Nicoyan lifestyle:

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Have a strong sense of purpose Costa Rican centenarians have a clear mission in life, what they call a plan de vida. They feel needed and want to contribute to a greater good.

Drink hard water Nicoyan water has the country's highest calcium content, which perhaps explains the centenarians' lower rates of heart disease and less hip fractures.

Keep a focus on family Nicoyans centenarians tend to live with their families, and children or grandchildren provide support and a sense of purpose and belonging.

Eat a light dinner Eating fewer calories seems to be one of the surest ways to add years to your life. Nicoyans eat a light dinner early in th evening. Their traditional diet of maize and beans may be the best nutritional combination for longevity the world has ever known.

Maintain social networks Nicoyan centenarians get many visits from neighbors. They know how to listen, laugh, and appreciate what they have.

Keep hard at work Centenarians seem to have enjoyed physical work all their lives. They find joy in everyday physical chores.

Get soem sensible sun Nicoyans get regular sunlight which provides vitamin D for strong bones and healthy bodies.

Embrace a common history Modern Nicoyans' roots, among the indigenous Chorotega, and their spiritual traditions have enabled them to remain relatively free of stress.
Other centenarians, such as the Sardinians share very similar traits like eating raw pecorino cheese that contains live larvae and consuming beans as a significant portion of their diet. They eat grains too, but in smaller portions. The common theme is that these foods are prepared properly (sprouted or soaked for grains, beans, and nuts and non-homogenized, non-pasteurized raw dairy from grass-fed animals) to leech out any anti-nutrients or lectins and make nutrients more bioavailable.

Additionally, primitive (but not necessarily tribal) cultures have been thriving on diets that contain grains, beans, and dairy products that are properly prepared. Could it be that in the last 10,000 years humans have developed adaptations to such foods, so long as they are prepared in a proper manner? Maybe it is the fact that only in the last 100 or so years have we begun to eat grains, beans, and dairy in their modern, unprepared form that makes them detrimental? Perhaps if we consumed these foods in a properly prepared state (99.9% of Americans don't) we would do just fine incorporating them into our diets. I'm not sure to be honest, but I don't think it's completely out of the picture. I personally have never tried soaked/sprouted grains or beans. People like Ross Enamait have noted a complete amelioration of seasonal allergies and a dramatic improvement in immune function after adding raw milk to his diet. Not to mention that the presence of lactase in some European cultures is clear evidence of at least some adaptation to dairy. Couple this with the fact that the most robust centenarians include these foods in their diet and you have a pretty convincing argument.

Also, I find it quite striking that some very prominent promoters of paleo-esque diets (Mark Sisson, Ori Hofmekler, Mark Lundegren, Tamir Katz) state quite clearly that 10,000 years ago-once agriculture began-human evolution came to a screeching halt. They are essentially claiming that our genome is exactly identical to what it was 10,000 years ago. This is absurd, as anyone with even rudimentary knowledge in the area of human evolution knows that evolution is a continuous process that is influenced by environmental cues (like diet, especially). Surely, there must be [b]some[b] level of adaptation to grains, beans, and dairy within the last 10,000 years. To what degree, I don't know.

Finally, I think centenarians are a far more appropriate reference point for modeling our lifestyle habits, as they are actually living proof of what works. We can't rely on the assumption that just because contemporary H/G's have a short lifespan due to traumatic death and infant mortality that they would live to be centenarians barring any accidental death. Centenarians seem to get it all, both long life and a high quality of living.

That being said, I'm not about to give up my paleo diet just yet. I'm going to continue to study up on any relevant information pertaining to centenarian diets and life styles. If I keep finding these same consistencies I'm going to give the WAP style an honest try for the sake of experimentation. If it sucks, I can always go back to paleo.

Thoughts, comments, opinions?
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Old 04-05-2008, 09:01 PM   #2
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My money is on calorie reduced diets and active lifestyles that keep them living for a long time....it's the combination of excessive calories and other things like gluten, high stress, toxins in mainstream foods and so forth that dont allow the body to handle the overload. The body can adjust to stresses to some level....and their lifestyle had low amounts of stress....compare that today with western civilization and you have a completely different picture.

IMO, a diet lower in calories with moderate protein and fats, and carbs from fresh veggies and fruits is a pretty good plan for longterm health. I think there is more threat from excessive oxidative damage from high calories and overload of higher HR aerobic based activities that leads to more accelerate ageing. One theory is you only have so many metabolic enzymes...and the faster you use them up for repair and digestion....the quicker you will age....as once you run out, you are done. (that just a theory people have)
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Old 04-05-2008, 09:09 PM   #3
Neal Winkler
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Greg,

I think everyone, paleo or non-paleo, would agree that the less processed your foods are the healthier they are going to be. Centarians have this going for them.

After that, as you know, you have reasons why grains and dairy consumption may be less than optimal. But what would be the mechanism by which grains and dairy enhance longevity?

One of the things that centarians have in common is low insulin. A paleo diet versus an unprocessed diet with added grains/dairy is still going to be higher in insulin production, but much lower than a modern diet. Enter the bell curve. I imagine this is an area where it would apply. Some people just have the genes and naturally greater insulin sensitivity for longevity, so of course they are still going to do great despite their diet not being 100% optimal.

I think that's all that's going on here. The bell curve. But, maybe there is something about their diet that enhances longevity, let us know if you figure it out!
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Old 04-06-2008, 05:22 AM   #4
Susie Rosenberg
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Greg, you've raised some interesting points.

I've also done a lot of reading about culture, health, and longevity. There's a lot of easily accessible literature on this out there!

When you first look at disease rates, lifespan and infant mortality, you get a gross approximation of a culture's health. Cultures as disparate in diet as the French and the Okinawans all have better numbers than the US on those gross indices. The French eat a high-fat diet with a lot of wine; the Okinawans eat white rice, fish, sea vegetables, and fruit in season. Pretty low-fat. But what they have in common is that they eat whole, real foods; foods that are tied to their local points of production. (The French actually label these special foods, like their wine. Their chickens get labels!)

Even the Masai, who eat raw whole milk, blood, and meat, do better on those health indices than the US.

So the first take-home lesson is: eat whole, real foods produced in an environment adapted to that food, like the famous Bresse chickens of France, and if possible, produced locally to you!

Industrialized foods are bad. Bad Twinkies! Bad conventionally raised beef! Bad sugared yogurt! Good truly free-range eggs, home garden zucchini, grassfed beef.

What the centerian literature tells us is that more than just our industrialized food is wrong. It tells us industrialized living is wrong. We fragment everything: children are segregated from adults, the elderly are segregated from everyone else, we don't have the same connections to our neighbors, communities, religious institutions, that we once did. We are more and more isolated in our homes with flickering televisions giving us a version of reality. And a constant bombardment of commercials inciting us to keep consuming.

We need to eat whole, real foods, and get whole, real exercise in the company of whole, real community.

We need to stop being rampant, thoughtless consumers of disposible goods and start living with purpose and meaning.

Oh boy, did I go off on a rant!

But truly, what that longevity work tells us is that there is a better, wholer, healthier way to live. And that diet is a part of it, but only a part. I think the fascination with diet I've found here (and on the Crossfit board) is a good thing, because folks who want to excel in athletic endeavor need to eat for performance. But if you are talking about diet in its largest context---ie, for health---you have to think about it as only one part of a much larger picture.

We're in the process of forming a buying club for grassfed, local meats at my Crossfit affiliate. The interesting thing is, while this will enable us to get quality meats in a convenient manner and at a lower price, it also binds us more together as a community. We have to cooperate to get it done. We're a close-knit community already, and this venture is just one more thread that will be woven into the cloth that binds us.

Good foods are produced in a whole manner, and once you start to care about that....well...who knows? The circle can keep spinning in increasingly positive ways............

Susie
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Old 04-06-2008, 05:24 AM   #5
Gittit Shwartz
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Originally Posted by Mike ODonnell View Post
One theory is you only have so many metabolic enzymes...and the faster you use them up for repair and digestion....the quicker you will age....as once you run out, you are done. (that just a theory people have)
You can sub almost anything for "metabolic enzymes" in the above and you'll get a theory with a sort of intuitive appeal and that many people hold to be true. Heartbeats, breaths, cell divisions, hours of sleep, words, bad deeds... Not to take away from the ones that actually have science backing them, just an observation.
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Old 04-06-2008, 05:41 AM   #6
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Susie;

Very well stated. If you get the chance, read some of Joel Salatin's other books. I just finished Hog Heaven and Holy Cow. It's a quick read, but goes right to the heart of your post. Joel speaks very passionately about eating real food, not bar codes.

I'll post a pic later, but I had to smile, when my local Grass Feeding farmer took me for a walk yesterday. When I pulled up to pick up some eggs / meats for myself and some friends, he was building a portable chicken coop, that will be towed behind his tractor. It follows the cows, lets the chickens hop out, do their thing, then back in the chicken mobile, off to next pasture. Idea is right off Joel's farm.

Then he tells me that my steer will be ready in three weeks, and on the way out, stop on down the road and say hi to him. "It's the big Grey one". I'm thinking, "Food with a Face, not a Bar Code", pulled up the lane, climb over the gate, and there are about 10 head, just hanging out, staring at me. Walk up, they back up, whip out the cell camera, they come closer, snap a few pics, and they're just standing there looking like happy cows.

Climb back in car, smile knowing that I'm supporting a great local guy, eating some great meat, and making trips to grocery store, less and less.

Just canned about 10 qts of KimChi, getting ready to till for garden.

Have a great Sunday. Good luck on your GF meat co op, should not be hard to do, and great fun with soul satisfying rewards.

Jay

Last edited by Jay Cohen : 04-06-2008 at 05:42 AM. Reason: Typo
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Old 04-06-2008, 06:52 AM   #7
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Great thread.....I think a huge difference you see in longer living people outside of what they eat is also their social structure and total environment around them. They probably enjoy keeping active, have a sense of purpose in what they do, don't stress out about stupid little things most of us do in a fast paced world, take things on their own time, enjoy time with others and live life one day at a time. Food is just one part of the whole health equation...as the mind is the most powerful muscle we have to exercise. They probably live less in a hightened "fight or flight" neuro-stress response state (as it seems most people live in the state all day...worried and stressing over something at work, traffic, bills, fear of something, etc.....and that is a destructive state to live in) and they live more in tune with the positive energies of the environment around them. (not saying they sing songs with the birds like in a cartoon.....but they just have more positive energies of contentment, happiness, appreciation and compassion for all things and people....and less destructive negative energies of hate, anger, greed, jealousy, envy, fear, self pity and the likes)
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Old 04-06-2008, 07:03 AM   #8
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Great thread.....I think a huge difference you see in longer living people outside of what they eat is also their social structure and total environment around them. They probably enjoy keeping active, have a sense of purpose in what they do, don't stress out about stupid little things most of us do in a fast paced world, take things on their own time, enjoy time with others and live life one day at a time. Food is just one part of the whole health equation...as the mind is the most powerful muscle we have to exercise.
I know quite a few people who were in good health and then retired and lost that sense of purpose and their health deteriorated.
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Old 04-06-2008, 08:37 AM   #9
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I know quite a few people who were in good health and then retired and lost that sense of purpose and their health deteriorated.
Sad but true....hence why I think that whole sense of retirement just to "start living" is a false hope most cling to and will only leave them worse off....as living is only done in the present moment. My mom is 70 and still works a retail job that requires her being active...that and she plays tennis 2-3x a week too. She doesn't "work out"...she just enjoys the activities that she does (that and she has me bugging the crap out of her to stop eating all the bad stuff) I already "mentally" retired from the rat race....but I personally never plan to stop working in some shape or form....it's just that I now choose what kind of work I want to do that I enjoy.
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Old 04-06-2008, 11:55 AM   #10
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I had a feeling this thread would generate some interesting discussion. I appreciate all of your excellent responses.

Susie, that post was awesome. What you just said is exactly how I feel about life in general. Unfortunately I live in an environment (social speaking, not environmentally) that has strong forces pulling me toward people and situations with negativity written all over it. Hopefully once I get a CF gym running I can make my environment become a product of me, not the other way around. After all, the 7th Day Adventists in Loma Linda, CA eat a strict low-fat vegetarian diet and also have an unusually high centenarian population. Like you said, the Okinawa's eat low-fat as well. Then you look at the two other Blue Zone's (high centenarian populations) like the Sardinians and the Nicoyan's who incorporate lots of animal based fats from pasture-fed animals.

Neal, good points. In the madness of all this reading I guess those studies somehow managed to slip my mind. Thanks for the refreshment.

MOD, I think you're spot on, all the way. The diet part too. The diet you suggested seems very similar to Mark Sissons approach: Tons of vegetables, a little fruit and small amounts of adequate meat and fat consumption.

After thinking about what you said some more, I realize that building a Crossfit community (or any other program that brings health-minded people together) is a great way to cover all of the components of a centenarian lifestyle. You get the physical activity, proper diet, sleep habits, other lifestyle habits, and the community support on top of all that.

In my situation, I have everything covered except for the community support. In fact, I usually have the exact opposite. Most people criticize my lifestyle, and I don't know if it's just because it's so different from theirs that they don't want to accept change or that they're jealous or envious of someone else finding and executing a path to happiness in the midst of an epidemic of miserable people. That's why I MUST get a CF gym running.

Anyway, enough of my ramblings.
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