It's Not Over Until You're Dead
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The Longevity Prescription of Dr. Robert Butler: Eat Your Way to Health

category_bug_journal2.gif With preparations for last weekend's Elderblogger Meetup, the next chapter of Dr. Butler's book got sidelined. Now I'm back on track.

What could be more fun than talking about food, glorious food? Flavor, texture, aroma, beauty, conviviality, family and friends. Oh, and nutrition, which is what Dr. Butler is talking about in Chapter 7 of The Longevity Revolution.

“I don't think for a moment that life is supposed to be about deprivation, and certainly this book is not,” writes Dr. Butler. “Our pleasures help make life worth living...

“On the other hand, a long life depends in part on good decisions about how we live our lives, and nowhere is that more true than when it comes to our dining pleasures.”

“Decisions” is the theme of this chapter – deciding to make healthy decisions in what we choose to eat.

“Make it a habit to think – even for a nanosecond – about every eating decision you make, individually and collectively,” he says, because “for many people, moderate dietary adaptations can reduce insulin level, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and triglycerides, as well as overweight, all of what are significant factors in the aging process.

That means you can eat your way into feeling and looking younger.”

While noting that no single nutritional approach works for everyone, Dr. Butler packs this chapter with with good information and simple rules:

• A good average intake of calories per day for women is 1600; for men, 2000.

• Saturated fats pose a significant health hazard because they put us at greater risk for stroke and heart attack.

• Our bodies require no processed sugar.

• Limit alcohol consumption to less than one drink per day for women, less than two drinks per day for men because aging bodies metabolize alcohol more slowly than when we were young.

• Drink a minimum of 1-1/2 to 2 quarts of water a day. We need to remind ourselves because aging bodies don't send enough thirst signals and with age, our kidneys function less efficiently which together can put us at risk of dehydration.

When Dr. Butler gets to the actual food we eat, he emphasizes the rules we all know – or ought to know by our age. You can decide to eat

Less salt – no more than 1500mg per day

More legumes and leafy, dark green and orange vegetables

Less fat – especially saturated fats in butter and meat

More fresh fruits – 2 or more cups per day

Whole grains should make up at least half of the 6 ounces of grains recommended daily

Less – or no - added sugar.

And, in general, eat less.

Butler recommends a daily multivitamin to be sure we're getting all the nutrients our bodies need.

Interestingly, among the many choices Butler gives of foods that are good for us (think a wide variety of colors), he highly recommends the potato.

“An amazing food is the potato. It is rich in potassium, vitamin C, and fiber. A whole potato, with skin, constitutes only about 125 calories when eaten plain.

"Beware high-fat toppings like gravy, butter, and sour cream; try yogurt, salsa, beans, cucumbers, onions, low-fat cheeses, cottage cheese, fruits, or lean meats.”

For years, a baked potato has been a favorite wintertime dinner of mine. I've tried most of his topping suggestions, but my favorite is a homemade duxelles which I cook up in a large batch that keeps in the refrigerator for a about 10 days for two or three meals in that time period.

Butler considers spinach a “wonder food,” high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidents. Too bad that agribusiness has bred out the wrinkles and with them, the flavor. I hardly ever eat spinach now that it is so tasteless.

On the other hand, I use a lot of ginger – especially in fruit smoothies I have for breakfast three or four times a week. Butler makes a good case for ginger's health properties, as he does for garlic too.

He also emphasizes nuts and fish, but warns against shark, swordfish, king mackerel, albacore tuna and tilefish due to high mercury levels.

There is so much to learn – or be reminded of – in this chapter that once again, I can't go through it all for you, but one story Dr. Butler tells is illuminating.

A woman was told by her physician that her cholesterol reading was 255, way above the healthy high end of 200. Reluctant to take a cholesterol-lowering drug, the woman made every recommended dietary change possible. Sixty days later, her blood cholesterol had fallen to 200.

The lesson, says Dr. Butler, is that you can take control of your diet – and your health.

“The single best way to improve your eating habits is to think before you eat anything, since every bite of food you take represents a choice.”

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: Doctor Visit


Ronni, share your recipe for "duxelles". I was always not comfortable for keeping over a couple of days.

With cholesterol, so much is not just diet but also genetics. My daughter, who is quite slim, eats a very healthy diet, she already has high cholesterol in her early 40s. Her super thin husband has been on statins for 10 years and he's only early 50s. They are the poster kids for eating right but it's not enough for some. So I think what people need to do is try exercise and improved diet but if it doesn't do it, then face that genetic reality. Even though overweight, I didn't worry about my cholesterol until fairly recently when the good one was going down a bit (it had been very high) and the bad wasn't. My family has a history of strokes and heart attacks whether thin or fat; so I followed my doctor's suggestion on what to do-- eventually.

I still try to avoid bad cholesterol foods but haven't been walking near enough. This summer, when I twisted my knee, really put me off my game but that's well now and with it my excuse for not regularly walking but even when I did, it didn't bring down the bad one's numbers.

The other thing I have read is some doctors are warning that you not take your cholesterol down too far as it actually does serve a positive purpose in the body-- so real low cholesterol may not be healthy either. It's that balance that we want.

....ah, food. Ah, chocolate. No processed sugar? The body may not need it, but the soul might.

At age 73, I find that I can eat a fairly well balanced diet, but I couldn't possibly consume 1600 calories a day. I was raised in a family that never over ate, but enjoyed eating nontheless! And like ernestine, I'd like to hear about the duxelles recipe. Dee

I'd like to see your duxelles recipe too! Yum. I just made about gallon of ratatouille with some little eggplants I was given and froze the excess into meal size bags. I put in on pasta or with meatballs. I make ground turkey meatballs in volume and freeze those in a bag so I can just used what I want. Safeway has some frozen turkey meatballs also that I like. Sometimes it's just hard to cook for one. The daily food consumption advised on page 188 seems like a lot of food to me.

I was told I had diabetes last year and altered how I eat, including less meat. I do eat yogurt and cook assorted bean dishes. It's paid off. None of it makes me exercise and I really need to do that.

Some of this really is just the luck of the draw though. I am the 4th generation on my mother's side to develop adult onset diabetes. Diet and drugs have my blood sugar under control. But I could sure see it coming as well as low blood pressure, a gift from our parents genetic material. We get some good and some not so good. Doctor Bulter's book is a good tool to deal with some of that.

Oh, and chocolate. Must have chocolate. I don't keep it in the house anymore, will eat it all immediately, one piece or half a pound. I wait until I can't stand it anymore and then get one to-die-for, huge dark chocolate truffle at Bright's, the local made-from-scratch candy store. Then guarding it like Gollum with the Precious I slowly devour it.

Living in Italy has switched me totally to olive oil rather than butter or other oils. It's so delicious and even makes great popcorn. I also put a little on my baked potatoes and find it tasty. That and a little fresh lemon is my salad dressing.

Ernestine and Dee...

This is my own duxelles recipe (based on something I found somewhere about 30 years ago) so it's a little rough around the edges, but don't worry about exact measurements - all are approximate. Doubling the recipe works fine.

2 lbs mushrooms, chopped
Mix them up, three or four different kinds for a yummy, complex flavor

6 medium-sized shallots – minced

1t dry or 1T fresh (minced)

1/2C dry sherry

Pepper - freshly ground

Olive Oil

Chop the mushrooms. I do it by hand with a mezzaluna, but you could use a blender – I've never been good at stopping it before the mushrooms turn to liquid. You don't want that; they need to be in small pieces.

In a large frying pan, heat a small amount of olive oil and saute the shallots on medium heat until transparent.

Add the chopped mushrooms. They will release a lot of water. Cook down while stirring regularly until all the water is evaporated.

Add the tarragon, and pepper to taste, then the sherry. (Sometimes I substitute dry port – depends on what's in the house.) Continue cooking/stirring until all the liquid is absorbed.

Cool and store, covered tightly, in the refrigerator for up to a week or so. I've let it go 10 days without a problem.

I heat whatever amount I'm using for a baked potato in the microwave.

Hot diggity!
Never knew about that name, anyway. Can't wait to try it.
Thank you.

Ronni, thank you...the main thing I wanted to know was what herbs you used.

Thanks! This sounds yummy. For me mushrooms especially portobello, are like eating a good piece of steak/beef. Can't wait to try your recipe. Dee

Ernestine hits the nail on the head regarding the significance that genetics has regarding cholesterol levels. I am also a poster child for eating right and exercising religiously, watching fat, lots of veggies and fruits, very little red meat, avoid processed salt and sugar foods. My mom has high cholesterol and although borderline myself, I have been taking Statins for about 5 years (currently age 52). Fortunately they do the trick with no side-effects so far. I will still maintain my healthy routine but thank God for modern pharmaceuticals to make up the difference!

Ah, the potato. My grandmother, who lived to 99 years, had to have a potato every day. She thought she was being true to her Irish roots, and in later years, it was sometimes her only real meal of the day. I think Dr. Butler could be right.

1600 kcal per day? Ye gods, I would be the size of a house if I ate that much! I put on weight even at 1000 nowadays, even though I walk 3 miles a day.
One thing I've learned from studying,teaching and practising good nutrition over all these years is that each of us is biochemically unique and we each have to figure out what works best for us. However, if there is one good general prescription it is the one by Michael Pollan (whose books I highly recommend): "Eat food: not too much: mostly plants."

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