Google co-founder Sergey Brin recently posted the picture of the man above on Google+. The photo is of a man named Edward who is 72 years old. He looks great, right? I can only assume that Brin asked Edward about his diet because in the caption of the photo Brin writes the following: “His diet consists mostly of conch and fish as well as some vegetables from a small garden. Lean and muscular, he looks healthier than most people I know in their twenties.” It certainly doesn’t bode well for modern American culture (or the people I interact with on a daily basis), but I think the last sentence in Brin’s caption smacks of truth as well.
Edward reminds me of many of the people I remember seeing in Costa Rica when I was there in 2010. The Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica is considered to be one of the world’s Blue Zones, which is essentially a term for places where people live exceedingly long and healthy lives (there are a disproportionately high number of centenarians in Blue Zones).
Strangely though, most of the Ticos I spoke with had never set foot in a gym, drank a protein shake, eaten an energy bar, gel, etc., or worried much about their diets. I suspect that Edward has never done these things either. Anyway, many of the lean and healthy looking Ticos I spoke with surfed frequently, had an all around active lifestyle, only ate real food, and lingered over meals with family and friends. When I heard these anecdotes, it defied much of the conventional health wisdom I’d grown accustomed to hearing in the United States. Wait, they don’t track their saturated fat intake or count their carbs? They don’t waste countless hours running on dreadmills, I mean treadmills? What gives?
Whatever the reason, I’ve always had an interest in health. I mean, really, all other things equal who wouldn’t want to live a more vibrant, healthy, and longer life? Seeing the picture of Edward on Google+ and reflecting on my experiences in Costa Rica has me thinking about something that has been a major theme on my blog as of late, i.e., the power of negative advice.
So what exactly do healthy people (like Edward and those in the Blue Zones) have in common? It may be in what they don’t do or don’t eat as opposed to what they actually do or eat. What I mean by that is that Edwards’ diet of fish and vegetables may not necessarily be what’s making him healthy. In our addition culture, however, that seems to be our first intuition, or at least its my first intuition anyway. I suspect that many people like me would initially want to mimic Edward’s diet, no matter where in the world we actually live.
As I mentioned in my guest post on Rationally Speaking, people the world over have managed to thrive and achieve magnificent longevity on a variety of diets though. The Masai, for example, live almost exclusively from their cattle and eat a great deal of saturated fat. Then, there are groups of people, like the Peruvians and Kitavans, who eat massive amounts of carbohydrates (in the form of tubers) and achieve remarkable health too. How can this be? I think the answer lies in what they don’t eat (e.g., processed foods or refined sugar).
As a young impressionable American teenager, I always wondered what food I should eat in order to get ripped. It turns out it would have been more prudent to look for things that I shouldn’t be eating.