What Makes a Supercentenarian?

Centenarians live to 100; “supercentenarians” live to 110. It is a much more selective club.

There are an estimated 600 supercentenarians in the world, whereas the number of centenarians probably exceeds 600,000. There are about 100,000 centenarians in the US, 40,000 in Japan, and 8,500 in England and Wales. [1] Meanwhile, only about a dozen people in the world may currently be age 115 or older. The oldest person who ever lived, Jeanne Calment, reached age 122. [2]

As I mentioned yesterday, I have a Google Alert for centenarian stories and have been reading about them for some time. One thing I’ve found is that most centenarians don’t seem to think very much about their diets (which protects them from the food pyramid!), but supercentenarians tend to be very picky about what they eat.  Supercentenarian diets come in two basic flavors:

1)      Calorie-restriction and intermittent fasting.

2)      High (saturated and monounsaturated) fat low-carb diets.

We present some supercentenarian stories in the diet book; here are a few. First, some fat lovers.

Jeanne Calment “ascribed her longevity and relatively youthful appearance for her age to olive oil, which she said she poured on all her food and rubbed onto her skin” [2]. She also drank wine and ate chocolate every day. Olive oil, wine, and chocolate — you can’t get much healthier than that, as long as you get some vitamins on the side, and don’t let too much sugar in.

Gertrude Baines of Los Angeles lived to 115 on extremely healthy diet – bacon, chicken, and ice cream:

Gertrude Baines, who lived to be the world’s oldest person on a steady diet of crispy bacon, fried chicken and ice cream, died Friday at a nursing home. She was 115. [3]

When Edna Parker of Indiana died at age 115, Governor Mitch Daniels was impressed by her diet:

Parker especially enjoyed eggs, sausage, bacon and fried chicken. “I guess we’ll have to rethink lard,” Daniels quipped after hearing about her high-fat diet. [4]

The other longevity strategy is calorie restriction. Among the pioneers was Luigi Cornaro, a medieval Venetian nobleman who lived to 98, maybe over 100. Wikipedia explains:

Finding himself near death at the age of forty, Cornaro modified his eating habits on the advice of his doctors and began to adhere on a calorie restriction diet. Twelve ounces of solid food and fourteen ounces of wine was the daily allowance he allowed for himself initially. He later reduced his daily food intake to no more solid meat than an egg.

His first treatise was written when he was eighty-three, and its English translation, often referred to today under the title The Sure and Certain Method of Attaining a Long and Healthful Life, went through numerous editions. [5]

Intermittent fasting (say, confining food to an 8-hour window each day) is a great way to implement calorie restriction.  A practitioner is Walter Breuning of Great Falls, Montana:

So what does the world’s oldest man eat? The answer is not much, at least not too much.

Walter Breuning, who turned 113 on Monday, eats just two meals a day and has done so for the past 35 years.

“I think you should push back from the table when you’re still hungry,” Breuning said.

At 5 foot 8, (“I shrunk a little,” he admitted) and 125 pounds, Breuning limits himself to a big breakfast and lunch every day and no supper….

“You get in the habit of not eating at night, and you realize how good you feel. If you could just tell people not to eat so darn much.”…

And for his birthday lunch he got his favorite: liver and onions. [6]

I like that: liver and onions. Nutritious and fatty. You don’t find supercentenarians eating cake on their birthdays!

Fasting, however, can be taken too far. Sogen Kato’s strategy was ill-conceived:

Tokyo’s oldest man is no longer the city’s reigning centenarian….

Officials grew suspicious earlier this year when they attempted to visit [Sogen] Kato, who was to turn 111 last month. His family refused to let anyone in to see him, and repeatedly chased welfare officials away.

Eventually returning with police, the welfare officials discovered a mummified corpse, believed to be Kato, lying on a bed in his underwear and pajamas.

He is believed to have died in 1980 at the age of 81.

Kato, born in 1899, had long been believed to be one of the world’s oldest people.

Police suspect Kato’s family — his 79-year-old daughter and two grandchildren — had hidden Kato’s death in order to keep collecting his pension. They reportedly received upwards of 9.5 million yen (about $190,000).

The family, however, has an alibi: they claim Kato had “confined himself in his room more than 30 years ago and became a living Buddha,” according to a report by Jiji Press. [7]

Thirty-year fasts rarely work. If you do decide to become a living Buddha, ask for some bacon, eggs, liver, wine, and chocolate with your Zen.

References

[1] Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research; http://www.csmonitor.com/World/2010/0810/Supercentenarians-around-the-world/Italy;  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centenarian.

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeanne_Calment.

[3] “World’s Oldest Person Dies in L.A. at 115,” MSNBC.com, Sept. 11, 2009.

[4] Elaine Woo, “Edna Parker dies at 115; former teacher was world’s oldest person,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 28, 2008.

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luigi_Cornaro.

[6] Sydne George, “Two-meal diet aids in oldest man’s longevity,” USA Today, Sept 24, 2009.

[7] Michael Sheridan, “Officials learn Tokyo’s oldest man, Sogen Kato, actually died 30 years ago; family kept body hidden,” New York Daily News, August 2, 2010.

Leave a comment ?

94 Comments.

  1. Bolivian indigenous farmer Carmelo Flores claims to be oldest human ever, 123 years old, surpasing France’s Jeanne Calment 122. It isn’t recognized officially yet.

    He credits traditional Andean diet and quinoa, river mushrooms, and coca leaves (not cocoa/chocolate). He likes potatoes with quinoa.

    http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/08/18/20076751-quinoa-mushrooms-and-coca-bolivian-says-ancient-andean-diet-has-kept-him-alive-for-123-years

    • Mushrooms sure help vitality… Especially months upon months and varied species. Beta-glucans have a myriad of functions for us… Increasing t-cell activity is one of the functions that favors longevity.

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  3. This is cherry picked , I’m betting most don’t practice low carb or cal restriction and I bet you find many eating birthday cake

  4. Supercentenarians on a low-carb, high fat diet. In your Paleo dreams perhaps. Too bad the data doesn’t show it.

    Next …

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  6. Correction: Jeanne Calment was the oldest confirmed human, not necessarily the oldest one. There are several unproven cases of people who are said to have lived longer than Calment. Some examples are:

    Mariam Amash
    Habib Miyan
    Dhaqabo Ebba
    Almihan Sayit

    These cases (and more) haven’t been confirmed or disconfirmed. Thus, it can’t be proven that Calment was the oldest person ever due to the possibility of the unproven cases being true.

    • Anon,

      People can claim whatever they want. Until those unconfirmed cases are confirmed, Calment is the oldest as she had the official documents to prove it.

  7. Hi Paul,
    Just wondering if you have jotted down the stories of these two centenarians (one a supercenterian who passed at 111, the other at 107).
    Both mention eating plenty of lard/bacon grease, and a positive attitude.
    Lorena Volz (Ventura County, California)

    Elizabeth Buhler (Manitoba, Canada)

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  9. This is a more complete list of super-centenarians and their diet.

    http://justpaste.it/longlifediet

    I couldn’t find a pattern, except that there are quite a few who restrict their calories. I also don’t think anyone practice low carb.

    Maybe you guys can try to decipher a pattern.

    • Not easy to find a pattern, I agree, and it is important to try and be extremely open minded, which I must admit is terribly difficult.

      I would look at words that are repeated often, such as “milk” (22), “vegetables” (19), “chicken” (16), “egg” (14), “fruit” (11), “chocolate” (10), “coffee” (10 positive, 1 negative), “honey” (7), “ice cream” (7), “bacon” (7), “potatoes” (5)… and as importantly look at words not mentioned, or mentioned only very few times, such as “beans” (3), “beef” (0), “lamb” (1), “pork” (1), “nuts” (0), “seed” (1), “cheese” (1), “liver” (1).

      Avoiding polyunsaturated fats and iron rich foods may possibly be a pattern (cocoa/chocolate is about as saturated as butter). I think we should assume “milk” in many if not most cases would equal “whole milk”, as skimmed milk wasn´t so common in the past.

      I think much of this is in line with Fred Kummerow´s (now age 101) findings in the following paper: http://wphna.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/WN-2015-06-01-02-72-78-Idea-Fred-Kummerow-My-diet-JF.pdf (Kummerow also drink only whole milk.)

      and with Ray Peat´s ideas (Ray peat drink lower fat milk)

  10. Paul,

    I thought this would be the appropriate place to post this. Recently the OECD came out that the average life expectancy in the world was owned by the Swiss at 83 years, on average! That’s an extra 5 years or more on Americans. My heritage is half Swiss, and I know from experience they eat a TREMENDOUS amount of cheese. For breakfast, lunch and dinner you can see cheese appear. Breakfast it’s with jam, lunch to end the meal, dinner sometimes fondue or on potatoes.

    Your stance on cheese seems middle of the road. Do you feel the Perfect Health diet is aligned with this way of life. I will add they like their cornichons and saurkraut as well, so fermented food is definitely one aspect that closely aligns. I’m just curious your thoughts on it.

    Thank you,
    Amy

    • Hi Amy,

      Congratulations to the Swiss! (and half-Swiss)

      Yes, I do feel they are aligned. We are supportive of cheese consumption, and of fermented foods. Mountains seem to be healthful too. The Rocky Mountain areas in the US have the longest life expectancy.

      • That’s good to know, I might have to consider relocation! It’s interesting that life expectancy is higher in the mountains, since most people as they age, they seem to migrate south. I’m actually in the south and moved from the cold, very cold north.

        It’s good to know that I can continue to enjoy my gruyere for breakfast!

  11. Amy,

    The thing about the Swiss is that heart disease is still a major cause of death there although living in high altitudes can have a cholesterol-lowering effect. One reason for their longevity is their economic status. They have a high standard of living and an excellent health care system. I think also that the Swiss tend to be more active than Americans and Canadians. Don’t quote me on this though. Its just something I heard.

    • Hey Rob,

      Thanks for your response. I have heard that as well. Although, my grandmother was raised here and lived to be 87. My great grandmother lived until she was 93 and I swear I only saw her eat buttered toast,tea and Campbell’s chicken noodle soup! Lol. She wasn’t a big cheese person and lived through the Great Depression and never ate more than when she was half full. And she was healthy and lucid until she died. So who knows.

      My thought was that really good Swiss cheese as in, gruyere or emmenthaler, is made from healthy bacteria. Obviously processed cheese and the like, doesn’t have the properties of hand made cheese.

      Thanks!

  12. Amy,

    Whether its high fat or low fat diets, wholesome natural foods are the way to go! I think your grandmother proved that chicken soup isn’t just for when you’re sick. ;o)

  13. My friend moved to Italy 5 years ago and worked as a live-in care assistant for the old people for a few years. Her observations: Even though there are more incidences of cancer and heart disease nowadays, the older generation still live to a pretty ripe age. It’s very common for a woman for instance to live to 90 plus years and still remain all her mental faculties. They all drink wine, they put cheese virtually into everything, they like pizzas, pastas and desserts. If they could get away with putting cheese into their coffees they would. She worked for an old lady who had to take antibiotics for some infection. 92 years old and she refused to flush pills down with water. “What have you brought to me?” She asked in disbelief when my friend brought her the pills and a glass of water. “Bring me wine!”

    • The older folks worked hard whole day (or at least when they were younger), so they can get away with eating anything. The reason that people need a diet is because they are sitting down whole day!!!!!

      My granduncle is in his 70s, he worked on farm all day, eat lots of fat, carbs and meat. But his health report (cholesterol and everything) is perfect. My another relative who is on the same diet but less active, developed diabetes.

      • Yes to the cheese in Italy! I always laugh when I hear Americans talk about the healthy “low fat” “pasta-based” Italian diet.

        My Italian family – and everyone else in their small village – eat a real traditional Italian diet. I cannot even begin to describe to Americans the sheer volume of cheese, cured pork products, and red meat these people put away on a daily basis!

        Home cured capocolo or salami is a staple for breakfast lunch and dinner. Pasta is just a first course, typically followed by a solid slab of steak, fish, pork which is ALWAYS fried in two inches of lard or olive oil. Similarly they love their wild greens but would never imagine preparing them any other way than in a 2 inch deep bath of olive oil. Honestly the only food they don’t deep fry is pasta 🙂

        And as for the pasta, it’s traditionally served with either a heavy cream sauce or pecorino romano cheese. And when my aunts put the cheese in the pasta bowl their rule of thumb is that the pile of cheese should be about the same size as the serving of pasta.

        I know very few Paleo or low carb Americans who even remotely get as much animal-based fat in their diet as my working class, super-traditional “mediterranean” relatives. Personally after I lived in Italy for a year I came home and told my mother I never wanted to look at cured pork products again for the rest of my life!

        I don’t know which Italians American diet researchers are looking at — but they sure aren’t any Italians I ever met!

        A final observation that I’ve always found interesting. Most Italian women get fairly chubby as they hit menopause. But it’s not American fat. As the women hit menopause they get this round Grandma figure … but without any of the strokes, heart attacks, diabetes or other health issues. And they always have fabulous slim legs even into their 90s. So it’s routine to see grandmas who can still rock a miniskirt.

        Clearly they’ve got the good life all figured out. have it all figured out. It makes me think that most Americans could probably add 10 healthy years to their lifespan if they just relaxed, spent more time with their families and ate more cheese, steak, and bacon.

        Oh yeah … and never touch pasta unless it’s buried underneath a pile of cheese that’s bigger than your head 🙂

        • I’ll have to ask my Italian friend who runs his own restaurant here where I live in Canada. He has relatives that still live in the old country. Incidentally, my friend uses olive oil liberally as he also does with cheese and creamy sauces. You didn’t mention (or perhaps I missed it) their salt usage. Do they use a lot? I heard they tend to use herbs for seasoning over salt. As far as longevity goes, it varies greatly from region to region with Sardinia being the only Blue Zone.

  14. My take on all of this:

    Note how happy these people are? Happy people = happy gut. I reckon the prime reason for their optimism is that they don’t have leaky guts or flattened villi, etc.

    If they ate wheat with their bacons and fried mushrooms, I bet they’d have different stories.

    Also, these people are living ancestral lifestyles and probably aren’t doing what I’m doing atm, surfing the net behind my boss’s back, and increasing my cortisol levels LOL.

    Roxie

  15. My grandmother turned 100 yesterday!!! Wonderful celebration. I have other family members that were super centurians as well!!!

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  17. What about Bernando Lapallo?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9oc5nIqJZU

    He turned 114 this years and is in a great shape. His carb intake is much higher and I think he just eats protein few times a week.

    Any insight Paul?

  18. Jeanne Calment estimated her chocolate consumption at about 2lbs per week. Assuming it was similar to Lindt 90% chocolate in its composition, and assuming her estimation was accurate, that’s around…800 cals from chocolate a day? Or 1.4 lindt 90% bars per day, 10 per week. In my personal experience, the more chocolate I eat, the better I feel. Eating chocolate with a high ratio of fat to CHO in large quantities pretty much automatically skews your diet toward a high percentage of calories from fat. Also, it contains stimulants, so eating chocolate all day is similar to drinking coffee, BUT with the high SFA content of the chocolate balancing the potentially stressful nature of the stimulant. IMO, the stimulant load and fat load might contribute to moderate, inadvertent cal restriction, or at the very last inhibit overeating.

    The next notable quality of Jeanne Calment’s diet would be the olive oil, which she said she poured on all her food, again skewing her total macronutrient ratios in the favor of high fat, but perhaps more importantly offsetting any potential glycemic harm from the glucose load of her meals. One interesting thing I notice in myself is that, while fat is important for managing glycemic load in a meal, it also seems to somehow offset a metabolically inhibitive effect by glucose, independently of how much time has passed since the high glucose meal. I think the magic is in the ratio of CHO to FAT.

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