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One-quarter of what you eat keeps you alive.
The other three-quarters keeps your doctor alive.
(Hieroglyph found in an ancient Egyptian tomb.)

 So how do you know if living right pays off?

 It is widely accepted that regular exercise, keeping your weight right and avoiding tobacco all reduce health risks across the board.  Vegetarian meals and vitamin supplements also carry clear benefits. But what do you say to the almost inevitable comment that so-and-so did everything wrong and still lived to the age of 96?

 Having heard this one before, I offer this response. Outside of positive mental attitude, fortunate heredity and the grace of God, for every one who broke the laws of nature and lived, I can show you hundreds more buried in neat rows. An elderly, healthy priest was asked if you could still get into heaven if you ate junk food. "Yes," he said, "And a lot more quickly, too."

 It is likely that you personally know precious few old persons who are in good health after a lifetime of bad habits. A relative of mine broke all the rules of nutrition and logic by smoking, drinking, being overweight, and eating lard spread on bread. Yes, he lived into his mid-nineties. But no, he was hardly the picture of health, and had been completely dependent on others and in continual discomfort for many years. Length of life is not quality of life. 

 It is just amazing how tough the human body can be, sometimes. Beggars in India were found to have fewer, yes fewer, dental cavities than well-fed persons in most wealthy Western countries.  In one study of 160 beggars, carious teeth were noted in only two. The overall health of the beggars was remarkably similar to that of a comparison group of 80 medical students. "Clinically, the physical status of the two groups did not vary much... 94 percent of the beggars were free from symptoms and signs of avitaminosis or hypovitaminosis (vitamin deficiency disease)". (Pathak, C. L. "Nutritional Adaptation to Low Dietary Intakes of Calories, Proteins, Vitamins and Minerals in the Tropics," American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 6, No. 2, March-April, 1958, pp 151-158.)

 Please do not hurry to catch the next boat to Calcutta just to try to stop Mother Theresa's workers from helping the destitute. The truly poor and the sick need all the help they can get. Still, there is a puzzle here.  Is it what the beggars ate, or what they didn't eat, that enabled them to survive in impossible nutrition conditions?

 Pathak's above study indicated that beggars ate less and "were always underfed." There: the overweight connection. The medical students were perhaps overfed, but undernourished, eating more sugar and processed foods. The study also proposed that the beggars had better intestinal flora, or friendly digestive tract bacteria, to synthesize more of certain B-vitamins for them.  That would figure, for beggars would receive far fewer courses of antibiotics than "properly" cared for students. At the very least, I think we are left with the suggestion that we should eat less in general, eat less sugar in particular, and eat some more yogurt.

 We've tried a few impromptu nutritional experiments in our house. My son had a gerbil that ate fresh seeds, grains, nuts and garden vegetables. We also fed the gerbil fresh, raw bean sprouts. There definitely were times when my son forgot to feed the animal at all.  The gerbil's name was Mister Chubb, and don't ask why from a boy who invented a dish called dogstocket. In round numbers, Mr. Chubb lived six and one half years. That is very, very old for an animal whose heart rate is hundreds of beats per minute. Oh, I do wish I'd contacted the Guiness Book of World Records on this one, but who would have thought to have certified the birthdate of a rodent?

 We've also had some rather long-lived cats, and even a catfish that is surely eligible for a pension. The cats get raw egg yolk and what the catfish eats is indescribable. Our dog gets carrot pulp left over from the juicer mixed into her dog food, and has never needed to go to the vet except to be spayed. My wife raised an amazingly ancient parakeet.  It would eat sprouts, too. (Hey, everybody in this family eats sprouts!)

 There is, presumably, a point to all of this show-and-tell, and here it is: the common thread connecting all these species of pets is that we have systematically underfed them. I do not mean that they have been starved, but they are seldom allowed to eat their fill. All our pets are a little hungry. In nature, this seems to be the rule by necessity. With pets, and their keepers, it is a healthy rule by design: planned undereating promotes longevity.  The best exercise is still to push yourself away from the table. Or the dog dish.

 UCLA Medical School professor Roy L. Walford has written a book detailing how he has "added 40 percent to the normal life span of mice and ... kept fish alive 300 percent longer than normal" (Zucker, M. Of mice and men: eating less and living longer. Let's Live, May, 1983, p 44). The book is called Maximum Life Span (W. W. Norton), and is all about "undernutrition without malnutrition."

 The beggars in Pathak's study provide some confirmation for this idea. Now: would they have been healthier with a better balanced diet and vitamin supplements? Sure. I think we all would be. But with many vitamins, the B-complex in particular, vitamin need parallels food intake. If you avoid unnecessary calories, your vitamin need can actually decline. This also means that if you over eat, your vitamin need is going to be higher. Unfortunately, just eating more of the Standard American Diet (our SAD, really SAD diet) full of empty calories from foodless foods does not provide healthy quantities of vitamins. Eating more of the wrong thing is no solution.

 We all know that eating right is important. Eating less may accomplish more. As expressed in the vedic literature of ancient India:

 "Hunger is not the cause of death, for death comes to the man who has eaten."

 "Eat less? Eat right? Why bother, when you are just going to be run over by a bus someday anyway?" Aside from the fact that statistics show that few people are done in so spectacularly, while well over half of us do indeed die from diet-related disease, this is really a question of self-image. If I don't care, then I don't have to act. If students declare to anyone who will listen that they "didn't study, and didn't even read the chapter," then they have prefabricated an excuse for the bad test grade that they are about to create. If "everything causes cancer, so don't tell me what to eat" is part of your personal code, then why bother? Avoid the rush: buy a box now, and climb in.

 An ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure, and at today's prices, probably tons of it.

 Now for "The Best Health and Longevity Bargains Ever." May I have the envelope, please. The best health bargains ever are:

    1. The don't-stuff-yourself Vegetarian Diet, or as close as you can manage it

    2. The High-Potency, Natural Multivitamin-Multimineral Supplement

    3. The use of Extra Vitamin C and Extra Vitamin E Each Day

    4. Eating lots of Raw Foods (like salads and sprouts) and Fresh Raw Vegetable Juices

 How do you prove that this will work? Medical and nutritional research proves it over and over again. So do the many millions of Americans who take vitamin supplements each day. So does our family's pet menagerie. And, I am happy to say, our kids prove it too. Whenever I give a nutrition lecture, people listen to me but want to see my kids. So sometimes I tote them along as exhibits. I suppose I could take some pets instead, but the kids answer questions better.

 The big difference between the hunger of a slightly underfed pet and that of a constantly-eating teenager is primarily this: Most pets cannot open a refrigerator, and most teenagers cannot close one. Generally speaking, we would do better to follow the example of our pets.

Andrew Saul is the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at )

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Andrew W. Saul


AN IMPORTANT NOTE:  This page is not in any way offered as prescription, diagnosis nor treatment for any disease, illness, infirmity or physical condition.  Any form of self-treatment or alternative health program necessarily must involve an individual's acceptance of some risk, and no one should assume otherwise.  Persons needing medical care should obtain it from a physician.  Consult your doctor before making any health decision. 

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