Typical Lifetime Dietary Habits of Centenarians
A centenarian is a person who has achieved the age of 100 years or more. It is a milestone that is being reached increasingly worldwide. The numbers of those celebrating a triple digit birthday are dramatically increasing in every industrialized nation the world over. This population is expanding so much that the centenarian is becoming the globe’s most rapidly increasing age group. Which begs the questions, where do these people live, how do these people live, and most importantly what do they eat?
You can find individual people that live to 100 or more that have eaten just about every kind of diet imaginable. However when looking at the group there is consistencies that emerge in those that become a centenarian. Interestingly enough the diet that allows people to live 100 years or more stretches back many more millennia than that.
Our earliest ancestors in prehistoric times where primarily carnivores and ate a diet that consisted almost exclusively of raw meat. Late in Paleolithic times ancient man added to that diet a variety of fruits, raw vegetables, and roots. It is only in the last few 1000 years or so that cultivation farming added grains and dairy product into the human diet. One thousand some odd years is but a momentary blip in evolutionary terms. So it may just be that our systems have not quite caught up with our changing dietary habits. Vast evidence exists that in primitive tribal cultures worldwide that primarily still eat a “Stone-age diet” there is little evidence of obesity, diabetes, cancer, or heart disease – and a pronounced degree of longevity. Similarly, worldwide most centenarians report that they have consistently eaten a diet that closely emulates that of the ancient world.
Specific Diets of Centenarians
One of the most common factors among the diets of centenarians is not only the consumption of good foods, but of eating small amounts of food over the course of the day. The benefit of consuming small amounts of food has also been reflected in recent studies that showed rats that were fed only enough food to survive, actually lived 50% longer than their counterparts that were given an unlimited supply of food.
- Elizabeth “Ma Pampo” Israel, the oldest documented living person, who died recently at 128, says she ate a steady diet of dumplings, natural foods, and bush tea. She also said she spent her lifetime working hard and drinking the clean mineral rich water of Dominica
- In Okinawa, an island of Japan, where there are more centenarians per capita than anywhere else in the world they eat a very healthy diet. The typical Okinawan diet is filled with whole grains, vegetables, and fish. They eat very little meat and dairy. An Okinawan staple is tofu. They are probably one of the world’s largest consumers of the soy-based bean curd. Eating soy products has been shown in many scientific studies to fight disease and improve health because soy is loaded with isoflavones. The isoflavones in soy also known as with flavonoids; have been shown to fight cancer and are believed to help prevent heart disease. Okinawans definitely follow the less is more philosophy when it comes to caloric intake and longevity. They actually have a name for it. It is called hara hachi bu, which literally translates to “eight parts out of a full 10”. In other words they only eat to the point where they are about 80% full.
- Azerbaijan also has a very high rate of longevity. In the last census, Azerbaijan noted close to 50 people per over the age of 100 per every 100,000 inhabitants, or about15,000 centenarians in total population. Against contemporary wisdom, and contrary to the diets of the Okinawans, the Azerbaijani’s do consume a lot of dairy and fats, in terms of milks and sour creams. However much like their cousins in the better known Russian Caucasus such as Georgia they consume vast amounts of yogurt. You may recall the recent Yogurt advertising campaign that linked the documented longevity of the Georgians to yogurt consumption. Scientific study seems to bear this out. The “good” microorganisms in yogurt seem to counteract the negative effects of the other dairy fats.
Centenarians are a very diverse group of people. Some follow very healthy lifestyles and others break every rule and reach extreme old age despite drinking and smoking and lousy diets. However, according to Thomas Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study, living a long life even to 100 is not rocket science. He says the key to a long, healthy life is simple: Don't smoke, gets lots of exercise, reduce fat, build lean muscle mass, get enough sleep, and eat a healthy balanced diet. He said people should really just do what their mothers always told them to do - with one notable exception, don’t eat everything on your plate.