I clipped a good looking recipe for a Lavender Dressing out of my local paper the other day and as I was filing it away, I noticed a little blurb in the Food & News Notes with this headline:

AARP Shares some secrets to longevity

Say what? Silly me, I was unaware that the secrets to longevity had been fully worked out.

Here’s the received wisdom from the World According to AARP…as least at it pertains to longevity:

1) Add fish and low-sodium soups to your diet to improve your health and lose weight.
2) Each time you eat, chew at least 30 times before swallowing. Important nutrients will be absorbed more readily.
3) Avoid carbonation because many beverages with bubbles contain phosphoric acid, which can diminish bone mass and increase risk of osteoporosis.
4) Add apricots to your diet. They’re high in antioxidants which help fight cancer and reduce bad cholesterol levels.
5) Eat protein and fat during the day, but avoid these items at night. Eating these foods at dinnertime tends to increase weight, blood pressure, and heart disease.

Oh my. Where to begin. Let’s take it from the top.

I can’t argue that eating more cold-water fish–and the fattier the better–for the omega-3 oils they contain is probably a good idea for health (questions of mercury, PCBs, dioxins, furans, etc. aside) as a part of a sugar/starch restricted eating program makes sense for longevity. But ‘low sodium soups’ to improve health and lose weight? Come on. Even if the point is to reduce high blood pressure, only a tiny minority of people who have elevated blood pressure have what’s called “salt sensitive” hypertension. For the rest, cutting sodium has been shown not only not to help but possibly to be downright detrimental.

As to adopting a program of ‘chewing each bite 30 times’ ? Well, shades of the turn-of-the-last century. Back then, when J. Harvey Kellogg was promoting such beneficial remedies for overweight as milk and grape fasts, milk enemas, hydroshock therapy, and irradiation at his Battle Creek, Michigan sanitarium, a gentleman named Horace Fletcher was making himself a millionnaire travelling the world instructing people on how to ‘Fletcherize’ their food–ie, chew it until it basically dissolved. No doubt his claim that it promoted weight loss was a true one; afterall, if you had to chew every bite of food (or, get this, every sip of liquid) at least 32 times, your muscles of mastication would fatigue before you could get much in. Like radiation, it would probably work for weight loss, but would it be a weight loss you’d want?

But what of the AARP contention that it will make nutrients more readily absorbable to chew 30 or, as Horace himself would have had us done, 32 times? Certainly it will do so for starch; since saliva contains amylase, it will quickly turn starch into glucose for ready absorption. Does this mean they’re recommending that speeding wads of glucose quickly into the bloodstream is a good thing?

Hmmmmm. None for me, thanks.

How about ‘Fletcherizing’ all the other nutrients? Easier absorption from endless chewing? Nah. All important nutrients, protein, fat, and the micronutrients in plant and animal foods get utterly liquified in the carnivore stomach’s acid bath (pH of 2 to 2.5) into which they’re dropped and churned for an hour or two, however many times they were chewed first. Even if they were practically whole going in. And, of course, actual digestion and absorption doesn’t begin until the chyme (acid liquified stomach contents) exits the stomach and enters the small intestine, where equally strong bases and powerful bile salts converge to chew up and emulsify everything the acid didn’t take care of.

On to number 3, the inclusion of which on a list purporting to impart a few key tips simply defies understanding: avoid carbonated bubbly beverages because of the phosphoric acid they contain that “may diminish bone mass and increase the risk of osteoporosis?” I can think of a lot better ways to preserve bone health than avoiding bubbles; work out with weights and get some sunshine for vitamin D spring immediately to mind. Likewise, I can think of a legion of reasons to counsel against drinking typical ‘bubbly beverages’ …duh…HFCS and aspartame maybe? Risk of diabetes or memory failure, maybe? But the teensy amount of phosphoric acid they contain would certainly not top the list. As to how much is a teensy amount? Here’s what the often quite humorous Urban Legends webpage has to say about the concentration:

Coca-Cola does contain small amounts of citric acid and phosphoric acid; however, all the insinuations about the dangers these acids might pose to people who drink Coca-Cola ignore a simple concept familiar to any first-year chemistry student: concentration. Coca-Cola contains less citric acid than orange juice does, and the concentration of phosphoric acid in Coke is far too small (a mere 11 to 13 grams per gallon of syrup, or about 0.20 to 0.30 per cent of the total formula.)

Besides, while it may be true that back in the heyday of the old time soda fountain, fruity syrups got their bubbly charge from phosphoric acid–hence, their name: phosphates–nowadays, the carbonation comes from, uh, carbonates or more correctly carbonic acid. The teensy phosphoric acid content, like the citric acid content, mainly serves to add zip or tang or bite to the flavor.

Judging from numbers 2 and 3 on their hit list, it looks like AARP must have found their treasure trove of tips in an abandoned storage closet at Battle Creek.

On to number 4. Add apricots to lower cholesterol and fight cancer.

Holy Moly!

Let me begin by stating categorically that I have absolutely nothing against apricots; I love them. I have an apricot tree in my yard. Taste-wise, they’re one of my favorite stone fruits for jams, preserves, crostadas, tarts. I love to add them fresh to green salad or chicken salad. But in the antioxidant sweepstakes they aren’t exactly the grand prize winners. Berries, prunes, and raisins are far higher up the ORAC list. Broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage far higher on the cancer fighting sulphorophane list. And, it could just be my own deficiency of knowledge, but I don’t recall any significant study that hailed the apricot as a weapon in the fight (misguided though it is) to lower cholesterol. Or, to use Mike’s pet peeve phrase: artery-clogging cholesterol. The apricot? Really? Who’da thunk?

And, saving the best for last, the World according to AARP turns to the meat (sorry) of the issue. The AARP list thoughtfully permits its disciples to eat protein and fat (although I must say it absolutely amazed me that they didn’t feel compelled to add ‘in limited quantities’ after protein or ‘heart-healthy polyunsaturated vegetable’ before fat. They’re slipping.) However, it then goes on to caution the elderly population to eat protein and fat only during the day, pronouncing that “eating these foods at dinnertime tends to increase weight, blood pressure, and heart disease.”


I’m not even sure how to counter such nonsense. Something unusual happens to our human biochemistry after 6 pm? Suddenly protein and fat cause heart disease and obesity, when they don’t during the day? Am I understanding this right? I must have missed that day in med school.

Contrary to this bizzare compilation of nonsense, actual medical research studies (click here) done on living, mentally and physically fit octagenarians, nonagenarians, and even centenarians (those living to 80, 90, and 100 years and beyond, a benchmark of longevity that’s hard to argue with) has shown three commonalities: low normal blood sugar, low normal insulin levels, and low triglycerides.

I’ll leave it to you to determine what diet never fails to produce those three results.

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