May 182014

I was in Barnes and Noble recently and wandered into the cookbook section, since cooling is a passion of mine.  I was struck by the number of cookbooks aimed at very specific dietary restrictions:  gluten-free, paleo, vegetarian, and more.  And, indeed, you don’t have to look far to see that nutrition, like hem-lengths, goes through fads.

We seem to be in a low-carb fad at the moment, at least if the number of people I meet who claim to be following a paleo diet is any indicator. Never mind that paleo man died pretty young and that following a true paleo diet is impossible since the same animals and conditions don’t exist today, and especially never mind that paleo man ate a an awful lot of insects, which is something Ive yet to encounter any follower of this diet advocating.  The claim is the man has been farming for only 10,000 years (never mind evidence that shows grains were consumed as much as 100,000 years ago) and that this is not long enough for human bodies to have adapted to grain consumption, hence, it – along with beans and legumes – should be eliminated from one’s diet.

To be sure, there are competing diet philosophies, such as the “starchivore” movement led largely by John McDougall. His diet postulated that man should eat lots of grains and legumes, little meat, and moderate to low fat.

No matter what the diet, there are seemingly countless studies supporting the science behind each one. I sometimes lose myself for hours reading such studies and, although I think I have a fairly good mind, confess that I don’t always know what to conclude.  For one, rigorously controlled dietary studies are hard to conduct, since compliance tends to be an issue and people either forget or don’t want to admit some of what they’ve eaten.  And even the most rigorous studies are conducted for a matter of months, not a lifetime., so how is anyone supposed to know what to eat?

I turned to the internet, of course.  Where do people live the longest?  Most sources pointed to these top 5:

  1. Monaco
  2. Macau (China)
  3. Japan
  4. San Marino
  5. Hong Kong

No, the United States isn’t on the list.  It ranks a paltry 35.  And in spite of our images of Monaco as the home of the wealthy, there is no correlation between wealth or health care expenditures and longevity.

So, what do people eat in these countries:

Country Meat Fish Vegetables Grains Beans and Legumes Fats
Monaco Low High High Moderate Moderate Moderate (olive oil)
Macau Moderate Moderate Moderate Moderate Moderate Moderate
Japan Low High High (esp. sea vegetables) Moderate High (soy) Moderate(unsaturated)
San Marino Moderate Moderate High High Moderate Moderate
Singapore Moderate Moderate High High Moderate Moderate


Hmmm.  This chart looks…  balanced.  Not a single hint of a fad diet in the group and definitely no eschewing of grains.  In fact, the greatest commonalities between these diets are:

  • Food is locally grown
  • Little to no processed foods are eaten
  • Vegetables comprise a significant portion of calories

Pretty simple, isn’t it?