Thursday, July 3, 2008

People Who Live Longest Follow Spartan Diet -- Almost published this week a review of the incredibly well-researched book, "The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest." The book profiles people in communities where an unusually large percentage of the population lives well past 100. Those locations are: Barbagia region of Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; the community of Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, Calif.; and the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica.

Unsurprisingly, all these communities eat diets that are nearly as healthful as the Spartan Diet. From the Forbes article:
"In Okinawa, Buettner met a woman in her 70s who whispers "hara hachi bu" before she eats, a reminder to consume only 80% of what's on her plate. While scientists have known for decades that animals can live longer when they eat less, researchers are just beginning to determine the extent of the impact caloric restriction can have on humans.

A study published in 2006 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, for instance, found that the hearts of people who followed a low-calorie, Mediterranean diet resembled those of younger people. Researchers compared 25 people who consumed 1,400 to 2,000 calories per day for six years to 25 similar control subjects eating typical Western diets of 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day, concluding that the Mediterranean diet could delay aging and increase longevity.
The Spartan Diet has elements of the "Mediterranean Diet," but it's not the "industrialized Mediterranean diet" you'll find in restaurants. The Spartan Diet imposes a ban, for example, on white pasta, white bread, domesticated animal meat and non-organic ingredients -- foods that in their modern form would have been totally alien to ancient Spartans and ancient Greeks. The Spartan Diet is much closer to the original Mediterranean diet, not the modern compromised one.

The Forbes article mentions the Seventh Day Adventists community in California, but does not mention that hard-core Seventh Day Adventists have very strict dietary rules for themselves that includes abstaining from meat and alcohol and junk food in general. They're also into eating nuts, beans and grains. All this is very Spartan (you can eat meat on the Spartan Diet, but not domesticated animal meat, and not every day).

The Spartan Diet also has what we now call "calorie restriction." The way the Spartan Diet achieves this is in three ways:
1. The Spartan Diet advocates what we call "The Doctrine of Hunger." The idea is to eat exactly three meals a day, and achieve a solid feeling of hunger between each one. If you find yourself sitting down to meals, and don't feel entirely hungry, then you need to eat less, exercise more or both. Hunger is a goal in the Spartan Diet.

2. There is no snacking on the Spartan Diet. Eat meals, achieve hunger between each one, and go to bed hungry.

3. The Spartan Diet calls for the formation of a habit: Never eat to what Americans would consider "fullness," but what many cultures would consider a feeling of being "stuffed."
This hunger is different from the hunger felt by someone attempting "calorie restriction" on a more conventional modern diet. The reason is that the Spartan Diet provides the body with all protien, vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidents and other components that body needs. So the "hunger" felt is the crazy "I'm starving to death" variety you'd feel if trying to cut calories on a conventional diet.

In Classical Sparta, boys in the agoge were often underfed, and all Spartans had to be comfortable with hunger and starvation for days on end. Their rational for this was that hunger makes kids grow taller (which is unlikely), but also that familiarity with hunger gave Spartans an advantage in war: They could fight on an empty stomach and not panic about it.

There you have it. People who eat even an inferior version of the Spartan Diet live very long and very healthy lives.

We've ordered the book, and we'll publish our own review on this blog, so stay tuned.