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.


[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 ?


  1. Hi. It’s a fact that calorie-restriction has been proven to significantly improve the health and longevity of animals like flies and monkeys. We can only assume that it works for humans too based on studies on animals and anecdotal stories of some centenarians.

    The interesting thing would be the mechanism behind this life extending effect of calorie restriction. But I am sure that one of the primary player in our aging and lifespan is insulin. So avoiding sugar and highly refined carbs could be good.


    I am still entertaining ideas on protein restriction and maybe methionine restriction too. But seeing that most of these super centenarian loves eating eggs and meat, I am not sure whether it is a good idea.

  2. Hi Daniel, Yes, all true. The evidence for protein restriction looks pretty solid too. There’s also lab evidence for pathways – autophagy clearly promotes longevity and protein restriction promotes autophagy.

    As a practical matter, bacterial and viral infections are probably a key element in shortened lifespans, and autophagy is a key part of immune defense against these, so there’s good reason to believe that these life-extending practices will also protect against disease.

    I think most of the supercentenarians probably restrict protein. Eggs are 68% fat and fatty cuts of meat are similar. So you can eat 1/2 pound of fatty meat a day and still hold protein to 200 calories. That’s what I do. I doubt many supercentenarians eat more than that.

    Look at Jeanne Calment — eating olive oil. No protein there. If you put oil on all your food it’s certain you’ll be eating a low-protein low-insulin diet.

  3. Hey thanks for emailing me. I hadn’t seen your site but I really like it, and a really interesting post. I have added you to my links!

  4. Just found your blog via the forum at Mark’s Daily Apple.

    I just love this post for two personal reasons. The first is that last night, as my husband and I sat playing cards with my father and step-mother (74 and 71 years old, Dad said he had heard on the radio that fat might not be so bad for us after all. And that he remembered his grandfather would eat the fat that everyone else at the table trimmed off of their meat. His grandfather, my great-grandfather, lived a healthy life in his own home until the age 101. I had the pleasure of spending time with him and he was always a jolly friendly man who outlived his reserved, and reportedly “a little on the mean side” wife by several years.

    My second reason for loving this post is that my Dad still laughs about my request for my 15th birthday dinner…liver and onions!

    I am looking forward to reading much more and feel pretty certain that your soon to be published book will be a must read. Congratulations on that, but more importantly, congratulation on your healing!

  5. Perfect Health Diet » Happy Birthday, Walter Breunig! - pingback on September 21, 2010 at 7:16 am
  6. This is just nice, I just love it. We need several blogs like this. You have great material and it?s really useful. I bookmarked this blog and will be back. Sincerely Cheers

  7. Hello Paul,
    I know this thread is pretty old, but I was intrigued by that “living Buddha” comment. (I live in Tokyo.)

    So I looked up a Japanese article on it, and the phrase used (sokushin joubutsu) does literally means “attainment of Buddhahood during life”. So far so good.

    But the article also said that what the phrase means is “starve to death and become a mummy”. Which probably happened to a lot of Buddhist monks who took their austerities too far. This guy was no Buddhist monk though — he’d been a teacher.

    The only way thirty years could be an “intermittent fast” is if you’re counting in kalpas. But if there’s a steady paycheck in it, I want to become a living Buddha too!

  8. Hi garymar,

    Thanks for the translation assistance. Maybe the family wasn’t making an “excuse” after all.

    If living Buddhahood requires starving to death, I might do without the steady paycheck. I can starve to death on no paycheck!

  9. Sorry but you used the words *”steady diet”* of crispy bacon, fried chicken and ice cream.

    There is no evidence of this. Other than a story they are trying to sell to make it appear more ironic.

    You mention “their diets” come in two basic flavors making out the super centanrians as a whole fall into either of these two categories but don’t mention any other concrete cases of supercentanrians on iferior diets other than Gertrude Bains apparent “story”. There is also no other backing information to suggest Jeanne Calmen cut right back on either carbs or protein….

    Look forwards to your response.

    Thanks a lot for your article.

  10. As a child I met my great grandfather who eventually died at age 106. He was a dairy farmer, he ate almost exclusively meat, lots of additional animal fat, milk fat and almost no vegetables. he disliked bread or any other food made out of grains and of course had little or no processed or canned food. he also for religious reasons fasted at least once a week and on occasion twice a week. He was never sick, physically strong, had all his teeth and only needed help around age 100. He was also very religious and this may have helped him. He had 10 children. About half of the children would fast once a week and the other half did not maintain the habit. Almost every one of the children who fasted lived well into their 90s or into 100. The non fasting children also had long lives but none reached 100. Geenics is also very important.

  11. Hi Edward,

    Great story! Thanks much. Fasting does seem to help a lot.

  12. Thanks for the story.

    When we analyze these stories it’s easy to jumpt to conclusion about each and every thing they did as contributing factor. Has anyone thought to consider that some of the things they do may actually ne detrimental? I think the expression “some things matter, and they usually matter an awful lot” is approporiate. Like the fasting – that we know has a positive effect. You also say he was a farmer – that to me says everything. I repeatedly hear longevity stories of farmers. Is the most important factor that they spend most of the day in the great outdoors walking, taking in fresh air, relaxing as opposed to sitting all day stressing in dark 4 wall offices. Could the other factor be that he had a massive support network underneath him of 10 children offering him an abundance of warmth and family love consistantly throughout his latter years.

    The fact he ate only meat and no vegetables and dairy may even be irrelevant when you weigh in these more important factros and may even be red herrings. But one thing is for sure if you want to live long stick by your family.


  13. Perfect Health Diet » Higher Carb Dieting: Pros and Cons - pingback on February 2, 2012 at 11:35 pm
  14. Greetings Drs Jaminet,

    I’m inclined to agree with Philip, who points out that virtually no reliable evidence exists to prove whether Ms Calment skimped on carbs and protein during her life.

    Similarly, multiple articles on Walter Breuning give evidence of his penchant for fruit. He said he eats lots of fruit everyday, but does not state when he eats it. Therefore, it’s misleading to say that Breuning is a practitioner of intermittent fasting.

    Many thanks for your otherwise excellent blogging.


  15. Hi Colin,

    It’s true there’s limited data on Ms Calment’s diet, but generally when someone eats a large amount of fat, as she did, they eat less carb and protein.

    Breuning’s intermittent fasting is well attested. At an earlier birthday, age 114 or so, his local paper did an extensive interview with him on it. He had been doing it every day since early middle age. The story is quoted in our book. He also stated he avoids sugar and sugary foods, and asked for liver and onions on his birthday.

    • Jeanne Calment lived in the south of France. Safe to assume her diet was a Mediterranean type diet. I suspect she ate fish. She loved port wine and ate 2 lbs of chocolate per week.

  16. the bias is also another factor, when we believe something – we often get stuck in that belief without rationalizing the possible options(subconciously filtering out information that otherwise contradicts our belief) I am inclined not to get stuck in believing any assumption when it comes to diet and longevity. Aubrey de Grey one of the gurus in this even mentioned the effects of a normal diet are marginal. It’s what they don’t do that matters. Ie. smoking etc…

    The number 1 killer heart disease – have numerous books – and none of them mention a high fat diet! If you are eating more fat, you are prone to eating more ‘oxidized fat’ the stuff that goes in but does not come out…

  17. Hi Philip,

    It’s true, when eating a high-fat diet the quality of the fat becomes an important health factor.

    But that is true also in the standard American diet, which is ~35% fat (my diet ~60% fat, less than a factor of 2 difference). I eat fresh plant and animal foods that are low in polyunsaturated fats; the average American eats processed fats that have sat on shelves for weeks, mixed with chemicals, and rich in polyunsaturated vegetable oils that are easily modified.

    So I think quality is much more important than quantity as far as fat is concerned. Perhaps Jeanne Calment used high-quality olive oil!

  18. Everything is a trade off and unless all the fat you are eating is A: not exposed to oxygen and B: not heated and C: with a correct ratio of omega 3:6, I find your hypothesis hard to swallow. Literally…

    i also think its worth being cautious about flinging about the word carbs…

    Just like cancer it is just a word without enough definition. There are literally hundreds of different varietals of carbs…the
    carb packed with b vitamins/ magnesium vital for mitochondria function? the carb with antioxidants which protect ldl from oxidation? or the carb that posesses anti glycation properties? Namely rutin inside buckwheat, the russian fav.

    Defining the specific carb from which you are referring is very important. Do you have any citations when making assumptions about Calment?

  19. For Calment my information came from Wikipedia, links therein, and Google and links there.

    Of course there are huge differences among plant foods, in nutritional value and toxicity. A large part of our book is devoted to breaking down the key issues.

    And yes, we do recommend eating fresh fats (from recently killed plants and animals), that are gently cooked or uncooked, and with a correct ratio of omega 3:6 and low amounts of PUFA.

    But, fyi, plant antioxidants that protect LDL from oxidation are not necessarily beneficial.

  20. Thanks for elaborating, Dr Jaminet.

    Funny, I read that Breuning had begun the fasting regime “30 years ago,” at around his 85th birthday. Perhaps the article I read misquoted him.

    Cheers, Colin M.

  21. Hi Colin,

    Looks like you had the dates approximately right. Here’s a story: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2009-09-24-oldest-man-diet_N.htm which says he began in 1978, which would make him 81 or so.

  22. George Henderson

    The take-home lesson here is surely that these fried, fatty foods are not inconsistent with great longevity.
    Consuming them is not a death sentence.

    What we don’t seem to have is supercentenarians eating yoghurt and meusli and fruit juice, tofu, canola oil, “healthy wholegrains”, agave syrup, and “lean protein”.

  23. What Makes a Supercentenarian? - pingback on February 15, 2012 at 9:24 am
  24. Could be that their relaxed attitude towards eating carries through into their physiological state. No worrying about eating translates to less cortisol iterated over a lifetime at each helping at the dinner table. They probably enjoy every moment. But I definitely would not bank on your comment George – lipid peroxides are a target in the longevity forum discussions and ingesting fat does not help matters…

    In an ‘unoxidized world’ I can see where your hypothesis is coming from about increasing fat intake to lessen the requirement for more frequent carb loading. I think it’s a delicate balance.


    I have several concerns with fat:

    it’s reactive – much more than carb or protein.
    it sticks (just look at your baking tray after a roast..)
    it’s vulnerable to lipid peroxides – the kind of damage that aint easy to repair…
    it’s a gamble – noueveax diets are always a gamble unless you do a double blind randomized trial on human guinea pigs over a lifetime which is never going to happen.

    One thing I noticed on the blue zone videos is that they are all happy friendly people…

  25. Paul,

    picking up on your last comment:

    “plant antioxidants that protect LDL from oxidation are not necessarily beneficial.”

    Please could elaborate a bit more on that?


  26. Hi Philip,

    LDL are components of the immune system. They sense toxins/pathogens and when they meet one they grab it, become oxLDL, are taken in by macrophages, the macrophages grab the toxins and present it on an MHC molecule for antibody generation. Think of LDL as the scouts of the immune system.

    LDL that is more sensitive, like sdLDL or antioxidant-free LDL, makes the immune system more sensitive. LDL that is less sensitive makes for a less sensitive immune system.

    Toning down immunity can be good or bad, but in general, the healthier your diet and body, the more you want the immune system to be sensitive. The worse your diet, the more you want the immune system to be insensitive, otherwise it will overreact to all the dietary toxins you are giving it, leading to excessive inflammation.

  27. Hi Paul

    Great summary… I learned something new today.

    Given that is the case – one would presume this reinforces the necessity for stuff like Garlic and onion which possess anti bacterial, anti fungal and anti viral properties? Your comment also reinforces the need to get the balance between omega 3 and 6 in the right proportions to tone up or down immune response…

    What is your hypothesis on exercise protocol to minimise oxidation of LDL…?

  28. Your quote on Breuning was incomplete. He DID eat cake for his birthday.

    “Breuning celebrated his 113th birthday with not one, but two cakes, one chocolate and one vanilla. And for his birthday lunch he got his favorite: liver and onions.”


  29. “Breuning, chatting with a succession of people, ate a few bites of a vanilla slice of birthday cake baked by Sam’s Club.”


  30. Dr. Jaminet,

    After immersing myself in Ray Peat and Danny Roddy, I find your ideas a refreshing counterbalance, particularly the entry on diet and mood. I’m 62 years old and afflicted with treatment resistant ultradian cycling bipolar illness. I did learn some things from Ray Peat’s writings, such as using a small dose of my daily Cytomel at night to lower cortisol and get me to sleep and using glycine(gelatin did not agree with me). But trying to increase my carbs via orange juice, fruit and simple syrup hasn’t set well with my stomach. 🙁

    I’m a former vegetarian now consuming fish but my wife, who is still a vegetarian, would stroke out if I started eating meat or chicken, though I do eat it on the sly.

    Your articles and the posted responses are uplifting and informative and I will utilize your research and that of other contributors in my quest to bring my illness under control as well as improve my health.

  31. AHS 2012: The Safe Starches Panel | Perfect Health Diet - pingback on August 18, 2012 at 1:11 pm
  32. Hi Paul

    Read your book and found it made very much sense to me. So I’m trying to adapt to it in a world filled with sugar and bread. I was wondering what your take is on this article about italian centenarians:


    Best regards

  33. Thursday 9.13.12 | Crossfit Murphy - pingback on September 12, 2012 at 8:46 pm
  34. Doesn’t sound like a bunch of happy people.

    Whats the point in living a long life if you’re not living it. They sound more like bunch of scared of death parasites.

  35. What are centenarians eating? | Fun And Educational .com - pingback on October 10, 2012 at 12:45 am
  36. One more thing regarding Calment – she used to smoke a couple cigarettes per day and gave it up only because her eyesight was failing. Not that I’m recommending smoking to anyone. 😉

  37. I would like to point out that there are other notable super-centenarians such as Christian Mortensen, and Bernando Lapollo who ate/eat vegetarian diets and exceeded the age of 110 years old.

    It seems as if people are emphasizing diet too much. I believe there are even greater factors contributing to a person’s longevity such as having and caring about friends and family, having faith, etc. No diet is necessarily a ticket to a long life. Though the quality of your food is important, so are the reasons for which you abide by a certain diet. For example, if I was a vegan, I would be a vegan because of my own ethical beliefs that are also supported by my community (it would suck being a vegan in a place full of livestock!).

    • Hi Matt,

      You’re right that those other factors are extremely important, and often swamp dietary factors.

      But to reach 115 you have to do pretty much everything right.

  38. longevity « the nourishing seed - pingback on May 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm
  39. Hi Paul, great post!

    You say that calorie restriction plus high fat, low carb diets are primarily responsible for centenarians. But on the PHD, you advocate moderate to high carb intake, not low carb. By low carb for centenarians, do you mean between 50-150grams?

  40. Jeanne Calment ate a Mediterranean diet. She lived in the south of France. She also smoked. These other stories about super centenarians eating high fat diets are suspect and lacking evidence. The cases that are better documented through studies indicate a higher carb, plant-based diet (but not vegan nor vegetarian).

  41. Hi Paul

    Watching a video on YouTube Dr. Mercola Interviews Paul Jaminet where you mentioned pork as one of the worst meats since its high Omega 6 but most of these sepercentarians and centarians are eating bacon pork etc, would like to here your thoughts about this?

  42. Jeanne lived in the south of France. Certainly ate at least a few bites of refined bread (with olive oil). According to Wikipedia, France also has the highest pop density of centenarians (super-cents is another story). The country where refined foods as we recognize them (not talking about flour in general, that would be the Middle East, thousands of years ago) were largely invented and popularized. I’m not shooting for the part-whole fallacy here, but I recall and super-centenarian Japanese man who died recently who said his favorite food was red bean cake. Just sayin’. Don’t go crazy, meet someone who will redefine art, eat a bit of cake, and relax. I don’t want to liver super long if I have to fast and eat nothing but coconut and macadamia nuts and the odd piece of liver.

    • Hi Anonymiss,

      Generally good points, but a few quibbles:

      France has traditionally had the lowest-carb diet in Europe and also the richest tradition of home cooking and fresh food, so I’m not surprised they have a lot of centenarians.

      And – our diet does have a great variety of foods, of all kinds. It is not just coconut and macadamia nuts and liver.

      • Yes, that was my point also. Jeanne lived in the south of France where the diet is lower in saturated fat and higher in fruits and vegetables. Bread is consumed in that part of France as it would be in any Mediterranean country. Jeanne loved olive oil, that is well documented as was her love of chocolate.

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