Saturday, September 8, 2012

Not So Fast

Last night I watched the BBC Horizon documentary "Eat Fast and Live Longer." It was certainly an interesting take on fasting to improve overall health and longevity. In it, documentarian Michael Mosley set out to figure out how to live longer with less morbidity.  
He started out at the London marathon looking for the oldest participants. After quick interviews with several robust 70 and 80 year olds, he found an alleged 101 year old man participating. Mosley met the man again at the finish line after about 7 hours of walking, and he was in no way feeble or devastated physically. When asked what he eats, the 101 year old man replied, through the translation by his son, that he eats a "Simple Punjabi farmer's diet." That means fresh, simple foods and in half sized portions, compared to his family members. He has no signs of  heart disease, takes no medications, and has never had a surgery. The man's birthday is April 1st, so even with a cynical eye to avoid being the fool, it's a very impressive feat for the man to finish the marathon at all. He's clearly old enough to be considered an intriguing interview on aging, whether 101 exactly, or not.

National Institute on Aging/NIH
The theme of the rest of the documentary was calorie restriction for longevity. According to a very recent Wall Street Journal article covering a study by the U.S. National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, "Calorie restriction confers health benefits on monkeys but doesn't increase their life span, a new study suggests, undermining some people's belief that a sharply restricted diet could help them live longer." More health may not equal longer life in years, but who wants long years without consistent health? It's the "years in your life vs. the life in your years" argument. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, "The quality, not the longevity, of one's life is what is important." I agree.

Lately I've been watching you tube videos by DurianRider and Dan The Life Regenerator. Durian Rider, whose real name is Harley Johnstone, promotes an unlimited calorie diet, as long as it's raw vegan, and follows the 80/10/10 (carbs/fat/protein percentages) formula with great success- as evidenced by his brilliant cycling and running hobbies. Dan McDonald is also into raw, vegan, living food including lots of green juices. He speaks frequently about fasting and detoxing to improve quality of life. Both men are constantly preaching how our society's perspective on appropriate amounts of protein consumption is completely skewed. This was also a theme in Eat Fast and Live Longer. Eating higher levels of protein promotes production of IGF-1, or Insulin-like Growth Factor, which is naturally occurring in the body, but is linked to several disease processes, like cancer. Eating less protein, and less total food, puts the body into a repair mode versus a building mode. 

Vegetarians and Vegans are constantly harassed by questions of how to get complete proteins. Dan the Man explained in one (at least) of his videos, I'm still looking for the exact one for the link, that the body doesn't need continued barrages of complete protein to function on a daily basis. His analogy was that when you build a house, you have raw materials trucked into the sight. After you build the house with those complete pieces, like bricks and lumber, you just need electricity and fuel to live there. If you're a normal sized person doing normal activity, you just need carbs for energy and small pieces of protein (separate aminos found in veg) to do maintenance type repairs- think spackle. If you're doing a remodel, like focused body building or healing from a major injury, you might need a shake full of complete proteins.

The real problems arise when you keep delivering bulky raw materials to your house and have nowhere to put them. I don't want to move a palate of bricks off my couch so I have room to sit down. Excess protein and fats just build up and get in the way, in the body- which brings us back to fasting.

Fasting allows the body to catch up- physically, energetically, and spiritually. Since we're on the physical subject, I'll stay there today. The last segment of the documentary shows Mosley implementing his favored formula of fasting, after arriving back home from his research travels. 5/2 Feast days/Restricted days. On the 5 feast days a week, he eats whatever he wants in whatever quantity he wants- high fat, high sugar- whatever. The other 2 consecutive days of restriction still allow for 500 calories of food- that's a fast even my Wife says she can handle! He ate eggs, ham and a bowl of strawberries for breakfast on his fast day. After a set time of following this 5/2 system, his bloodwork indicated great improvements in all of the health indicators they were following. 

What would I do? Instead of eggs and ham, which are not filling and contain comparatively high fat and therefore a lot of calories, I would stick to a raw vegan leafy green diet of 500 calories on my 2 fast days. Raw kale, for example, has 34 calories in 1 cup. If I ate nothing but Kale, that allows for almost 15 cups to equal 500 calories! Say 6 cups of kale, spinach, and romaine with some broccoli and cabbage and carrots on top, dressed with lemon juice and crushed ginger- twice in a day. That's a ton of food for a day of "fasting."
Something like this- 2 bunches in my 5 cup Blender

Shopping for food this way would be easy too. Since I'm already going to the farmer's market once a week, I could just buy two days worth and "Fast Salads" and have the freshest produce possible. Forget Meatless Monday- lets do 2 raw vegan days a week. I'm currently only eating about 3-4 leafy green salads on a good week anyway, so why not consolidate them in 2 days to magnify their value? Overall it sounds like an easy way to keep the diseases of excess at bay- even for just a little bit longer.

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