The 100 Year Diet

Jan• 28•2010

In 2007 there was a minor sensation created by the publication of the book The 100 Mile Diet which chronicled the efforts of the two authors to only eat foods made from within 100 miles of their home.  This idea got me to thinking and well just to come out with it, I think I have an even better idea for a diet, or at least one that is similar but likely easier to accomplish, I am calling it the 100 year diet.  Let me explain.

What if you only ate foods that had been available 100 or more years ago?

Certainly we hear every other day it seems about another study finding health benefits from “traditional” diets, the most well known of these being the Mediterranean diet.  However there is also the French paradox, where a traditional diet that would be expected by Western medical standards to be unhealthy instead leads to low rates of heart disease and longevity.  There are the Inuit Eskimos subsisting for much of their caloric needs on seal blubber, one would expect them to die in their 40s from heart disease, yet now we know that this traditional diet is rich in healthy omega fatty acids.

Weston Price more than half a century ago set out to document the diets of isolated “primitive” cultures throughout the world.  In every geographic region, he found that these less developed communities had greater health, resistance to disease and an absence of the types of diseases common to developed industrial societies.  When these same communities began adopting a more modern diet they too were then plagued by the diseases of modern society.

Just consider for a moment what you would avoid if you only ate foods that had been around for at least 100 years.  No diet soda as this contains aspartame with all its well documented health risks.  By the same token no “healthy” yogurt with aspartame or any other of the 100s of cereals, jams, syrups, candies, ice cream, etc that might have this artificial sweetener.  In fact off the list would be a food with any artificial sweetener whether aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame K or sucralose.  You could have a soda, however only one sweetened with sugar and not with high fructose corn syrup.  In avoiding high fructose corn syrup you would avoid a whole plethora of other foods from ketchup to salad dressing and most notably nearly all the mass produced breads on the market.  Of course bread 100 years ago wasn’t made from bleached, refined flour either.  So one would go back to what has been done for thousands of years and get one’s bread from the local bakery.  It’s not to hard to find a bakery that makes healthy bread.

There were no trans-fatty acid foods 100 years ago.  These first three points really eliminate most everything from fast food joints.  There was no acrylamide laden food from boiling food in over heated cooking oil, this would again eliminate fast food French fries and most potato chips.

There were no GM foods.  Unfortunately these are often not labeled and especially in the United States staple foods such as corn will often be GM foods so one has to look for organic labels.  There was also no recombinant growth hormone 100 years ago.  Actually at that time the chickens were free range and the cows ate grass.  There was no fluoridated water or fluoridated salt 100 years ago.  There was no red dye #7 or yellow #3 100 years ago. Oh yes there were also no chemical butter substitutes.  And so on and so forth.

There is another advantage of this approach as compared to the 100 mile diet.  It can be pretty difficult and time consuming to figure out if a food was made locally or shipped in.  On the other hand if you look at a label and it says acesulfame K or red dye #7 you can be pretty certain the Amish don’t have that on the dinner table.  Its pretty easy to make a common sense guess if something is a traditional food or is filled with things straight out of Dupont’s laboratories. I also don’t think on the whole it is any more expensive to eat this way, yes one needs to pay more for organic produce or meats but having water with meals and snaking on carrots instead of Doritoes likely evens things out.

I’ll admit I haven’t yet tried to follow this diet strictly, but I have been moving in this direction more and more for some time without ever putting a label on what I was doing.  Of course, one could still eat poorly on this diet, if all one ate was French pastries with red wine you would would have a problem but the beauty of it is that as one eliminates the chemicals and additives one’s body becomes more attuned to healthy eating, it becomes far less of a struggle to keep a healthy weight and one finds that far from missing the chemical laden foods one has no appetite for them and they often seem rather disgusting.  I used to drink two 20 ounce diet sodas a day a few years back, at this point it tastes to me about like antifreeze and I wonder how I ever drank that garbage.

There is one last benefit to this approach.  The tradition of different foods is also tied in with various cultures.  By trying to force down our throats some mass produced, homogenized, synthetic, chemical simulacrum of what is supposed to pass for food we also risk losing an important part of our cultures.  This is a way both of safe-guarding one’s health as well as voting with one’s pocket book against a greedy and crass obliteration of centuries old cultures.

Well, I would be really curious to hear what people think of this idea.  I honestly do believe this is a really straightforward rule-of-thumb to keep in mind that could help people’s health immensely.  Who knows we may just start the next diet craze.

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42 Comments

  1. Steve Parker, M.D. says:

    You may be on to something here. Write a book and you may have a best-seller.

    I've heard the concept stated another way:

    "Don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food."

    -Steve

  2. Anonymous says:

    Oh no – does that mean no hot dogs?
    smj

  3. Anonymous says:

    Isn't it already called 'Eating Clean?" Same concept

  4. PDM says:

    1) Thanks Steve, may just do that!
    2) Would you settle for Brautwurst
    3) The difficulty is that many people believe they are "eating clean" as you put it when they have "health" foods like Activia yogurt (sweetened with aspartame) or whole wheat bread full of high fructose corn syrup. While it may be obvious to you, this approach provides an easy rule of thumb for evaluating "healthy" food that is different than what is presented in adds and marketing.

  5. weight loss says:

    Your idea is good and may help lots of people who really wants to have a clean and healthy living. If we can just turn back the time… for sure no one will die young.

  6. Roz says:

    Great idea! Reminds me of Michael Pollan's "rules" which include: – 1. DON'T EAT ANYTHING YOUR GREAT-GRANDMOTHER WOULDN'T RECOGNIZE AS FOOD.

    2. AVOID FOOD PRODUCTS CONTAINING INGREDIENTS THAT ARE A) UNFAMILIAR, B) UNPRONOUNCABLE, C) MORE THAN FIVE IN NUMBER, OR THAT INCLUDE D) HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP.

    Made a lot of sense to me. I help people lose weight using a non-diet approach and it is scary how many people think if it's "low fat" it must be OK, even if it's stuffed full of sugar and chemical junk. I may recommend they use this 100 year test.

    http://www.enlightenprogramme.co.uk/

  7. Anonymous says:

    seems a little too good to be true.

  8. Jim says:

    Just looked at my Activia yogurt after reading the comments. I'm only seeing fructose and sugar in my vanilla flavored ingredients list. No aspartame. Perhaps in other varieties? For what its worth, I really do like the idea of the 100 Year diet plan.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Ah, This is great! Puts to bed
    several contradictions I've heard

  10. PDM says:

    @ "seems a little too good to be true."

    I'll admit that's not the reaction I would expect, I didn't make all that many health claims and its not the easiest thing to do, but really I'll I'm saying is be sure what you put in your mouth is food not chemicals

    @Jim,
    Thanks, I was careless there. According to a list here http://supersweetblog.wordpress.com/list-of-products-containing-aspartame/ (no idea whether accurate) it is in cherry falvored activia

    @ Anon.
    glad you liked it. Of course if someone just ate sugar red meat and milk they could still abuse this approach but it provides a good commonsense starting point for what is healthy and what isn't.

  11. Kelsie says:

    " . . . if you look at a label and it says acesulfame K or red dye #7 you can be pretty certain the Amish don't have that on the dinner table."

    Oddly enough, the Amish seem to be highly addicted to junk food, judging by what they put on the conveyor belt at the local store.

  12. Tom says:

    I came to this blog via your post on Ad Age's article on food labeling. I am totally in sync with your approach. Wouldn't it be better for nearly everyone (except drug purveyors) if we all started eating real food, did more exercise and quit ingesting chemicals?

    At some point I would appreciate hearing your views on autism spectrum disorders (epidemic?). My wife is a roving science teacher and goes into a lot of schools and she has noticed how more and more kids are afflicted. I haven't read much about it but my hunch is that there is some connection to the chemicals we ingest. Are you aware of any good epidemiological research?

    Keep up the good work! It is a worthy service.

    Tom Beakbane

  13. PDM says:

    Kelsie, doesn't anyone live simply anymore? I stand corrected.

    Hi Tom,

    I did a first glance sort of look at autism in an earlier write-up here
    http://healthjournalclub.blogspot.com/2010/01/first-glance-at-autism-and-at-vaccines.html

    One reason I haven't written more on it is that I don't feel all that expert in it and the whole topic is quite tragic. In terms of epidemiology, there have been numerous studies that have found increases in prevalence of 500-1000% or more over the course of a generation. Such a finding could not be accounted for by genetics, so I agree with your hunch that it points to an environmental or infectious exposure, not sure whats been written in terms of exposures versus autism. I certainly don't dismiss vaccination especially as many parents pin the blame squarely there, but again I am not well read in this area.

  14. suZen says:

    I may be late to this post of yours, but I come with enthusiasm! I grew up on a farm in the 50's – it was organic before we knew there was such a thing! I am going back to my roots – so your diet plan is exactly that! I love it! We are eating much simpler meals and there is actually room in the pantry where the "snack" food resided!

    Been going thru your archives – thank you for a very informational blog! I'm delighted to be here!
    Hugs,
    suZen
    ( I'm a hugger hope you can deal with this! ha!)

  15. PDM says:

    No ones going to get called out for "hate speech" for a cyber hug;) At least not on my blog.

  16. Jackie says:

    Hope this isn't a duplicate battling to get it to accept my comment.

    Thanks for visit. No need to leave link as you are linked automatically via blogspot when you comment :)

    Yes I agree. Buying local, organic, whole foods is the route to go and cook from scratch, not ready made foods with additives and preservatives you cannot even pronounce and worst of all GM foods.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Why not bake your own bread? And grow your own organic veggies in the backyard? I don't think people shopped so much 100 years ago.
    Where you live makes a difference I suppose. I grew up on a farm – rice and flour were about the only foods we bought in a shop because we couldn't grow those.

  18. lisa says:

    just dont buy processed foods, eat fresh and nature.

  19. jill says:

    My family has been making a move toward a more healthful approach to eating. My husband and I began reading in January – reading things like In Defense of Food (Michael Pollan), Food Matters (Mark Bittman) and Fast Food Nation (Eric Schlosser). By making just a few changes in our diet, I lost those last 10lbs of baby weight; my children now ask for fresh or dried fruit for snacks now. They have tried all sorts of new vegies and it has inspired me to get creative in the kitchen once again.
    I think it is up to us – the consumers – to tell the food industry what we want; and what we will no longer tolerate. It is shameful what these large food-producing companies have been allowed to do. I am a mindful shopper now – I look for locally produced food; and food produced with a minimum of indredients. With very little effort, I found a local flour mill … it is family-run, and they gave my children a tour of the facility so that they could learn how flour is (or should be) milled. I had no idea it was only about ten minutes from my house. So, with a little effort, you can locate foods that are good for you and you might even get to learn something, too.

    Great post …

  20. Dillon Martin says:

    Great idea!

  21. Anonymous says:

    Another useful piece of advice to add to these sensible suggestions: don't eat anything that you see advertised.

    The idea being that whatever it is, is probably grown/produced far away and part of the cost goes toward advertising. Something to consider anyway.

  22. Char Lyn says:

    I'm a little late to the party, but I love the post. Similar to the 100 year diet, I had a friend who wouldn't live anywhere that wasn't inhabited before 1900. Her thought was that if people couldn't survive there before then, she wouldn't be able to survive there if her power went out for more than a day.

  23. Anonymous says:

    We obviously can't trust companies to make sure we eat healthy. So many things are marketed as healthy yet loaded with high fructose corn syrup/aspartame. We just have to check ingredients is all.

  24. The TeaHawk says:

    Tea was apparently a favorite of Homo erectus, according to archaeological records. I'm good! ^_^

    (tea bags & iced tea barely make the cut, both appearing around 1905)

  25. Mira Dessy says:

    I think it's a great idea! As a Certified Nutrition Educator I help folks learn how to eat whole foods. I like this idea a lot and can see it as much easier to accomplish than going by radius, especially living here in TX.

  26. PDM says:

    Many thx for the recent comments, I'm not sure I can respond to each individually but appreciate the anecdotes, support and learning I am receiving. Who knows maybe I will try to really flesh this idea out much more completely at some point.

    Would just mention to anon's point about not buying anything that is advertised, I must admit if it is large scale advertising you might likely have a good point. While a bit off topic, in general, whenever I notice an add that is offensive and/or revolting (>50% of adds that I see), I try to make a mental note to never buy that product. If that's how their ad wizards try to put their product in a good light how awful must their product be? So, while I had never considered it, and with the caveat that something in the local paper about the farm stand starting next week wouldn't apply, I understand what you're getting at. (Of course I'll likely be running adds for cheetos in the sidebars as I write -Lol)

  27. Dr. Kris Campbell says:

    I like it. I have been blogging about weight and lifestyle and many other things at http://www.cleveland-psychiatrist.com. One proviso though. I want to eat what anyone's grandparents would have recognized as food. I don't want to give up sushi or curries or black beans and rice to conform to what my russian immigrant ancestors would have thought was food.

  28. John says:

    Your 100 year diet is an attention getter. Please forgive me if I step on toes as I express my reactions. I hope it is of some value to someone and you read on.

    Your support for 100yd run is the same as usual… Fast food bad, sweeteners bad, chips bad etc etc… I am sure nutritionists and health food marketers will agree with you, but it was mean of you to question fat theory.
    I think you might, add large portions, poverty, pesticides etc.. and you remain unable to really address the problem.

    Consider not throwing out the baby with the bath tube water. Science has made a lot of progress in past 100 years. Vitamin C was not discovered until 1907. The same year the USDA reported the first US food consumption data. Guess what? Our main source of protein was wheat, same as for many cultures for over 10 thousand years. For my view of what happened see Fructose Free.com.

    By going back 100 years you avoid some problems but not what is most important. You still get white flour, cane sugar, fruits and fruit juice, lots of rancid foods, lots of galactose, lots of natural transfats, lots of phytotoxins.

    Let's face it, if we are trying to be scientific or just honest lets say science has learned our cells need 42 or so essential nutrients in adequate amounts and correct ratios if we are to be as healthy as we might be. Our cells will also do better if we avoid what is adverse. You mentioned some of them BUT be specific…. the main problems that are in our current foods are fructose, galactose and transfatty acids.

    So my ideal diet is very simple and universal. With effort you can find it in the 100 YEAR Diet in many forms.

    John Weaver MD

  29. Anonymous says:

    I have been trying this as my New Year's Resolution this year. It's a challenge, but I feel good about my efforts. I've heard the same idea said several different ways: All food should come from a living source; If your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize it, don't buy it; Only buy foods from the outer edges inside the grocery store and avoid the cans and boxes in the middle aisles; etc. Calling it the 100 year diet is catchy and simple.

    This makes perfect sense and we have so much historical data and statistics to support this. The real trick is in convincing a culture of convenience seekers addicted to mindless junk food while on a fast-paced track to who-knows-where.

  30. George says:

    Great great post. I couldn't agree with you more. I also try to eat this way an have been teaching his to my kids for quite a while now but it's an uphill battle when they're surrounded by junk everywhere and their mom isn't as "fanatical" about it as I am

  31. Ally says:

    I think 100 years is not far enough! The agricultural revolution and domestication of animals is a drop in the bucket compared to how long we have been evolving. We are wired for nature, not this processed garbage of today.

  32. Whitney says:

    Great post! I completely agree. I live in Norway and can tell you that while some Norwegians enjoy convenience foods, it is easier to eat healthier here than it ever was in the U.S. There is a strong awareness of what “real” food is and especially what people give to their kids. Kindergartens market themselves as being “sugar free” and parents are very adherent to the old school “no junk food except Friday and Saturday during family movie night/t.v. night”.

    Also, you can find basics like the national brand of ketchup and mustard without HFCS (in most stores) and for not that much more than the HFCS stuff. People prefer chips made without fake flavours, so there is a wide variety to choose from.

    Read more about my food adventures in Norway at Thanks For The Food

  33. Nicole says:

    I live in Israel, and started eating naturally almost 3 years ago. It has totally changed my life. I've lost a lot of weight so far, and even though I'm still technically fat, I don't feel it. I have much more energy than I used to.

    Whitney, I have a couple of Norwegian acquaintances, and they tell me the same thing. Israel though, is starting to fall into phony food (which I like to call "phood") and some companies are changing their recipes to include HFCS, soy lecithin, soy oil and other nasties. It's hard to even find chocolate that doesn't have soy in it now.

    Fortunately, we have a very strong and vocal pro natural community here, so shops and stands that specialize in real food do brisk business. Hopefully supply and demand will hold back the fake food tide.

    I'm linking to this article at the CookingSlim.org blog. I think the 100 Year Diet is a great name for what we do. It's catchy and to-the-point, but I agree with others who say that maybe 100 years isn't quite far back enough. There's also the issue of differently adapted people's varying needs.

    Overall though, the name does encapsulate the idea very well.

  34. Anonymous says:

    I was glad to see these comments. I was on a post regarding a new MCD's in our neighborhood (in addition to several other fast food giants) I made a comment it was unhealthy for our kids and I got CRUCIFIED for my comment. Yes, we are responsible to teach our kids to eat healthy but the temptations are huge with these places that give out toys, etc. I hope healthy eating will come back for the sake of this generation of overweight unhealthy kids.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Great post, and great idea; I too suspect it would make a good book!

    Yet thinking about my own family tree, 100 years ago my (Italian) ancestors were eating some good things (fresh veggies & olive oil) but also a lot of pasta, bread, butter, and red meat (meatballs!), plus sausage of all kinds like salami, etc. Most of them were thin because they were doing a lot of manual labor every day, but even 100 years back, there WERE chubby members of the clan!

    My other comment is about something that rankles me whenever I see it: namely the people who want to eat "real food" but "no chemicals". I'm sorry, folks, but without chemicals, there is NO food. There isn't even water, because water is a chemical compound of hydrogen & oxygen – H20. I implore people to THINK before they make these "no chemicals" pronouncements. That thinking is similar to those who only want to eat what's "natural", to which my response is that cyanide and botulism are "natural", but you don't want to be ingesting them!

    Thanks for letting me have my say, and for a great blog!

  36. Anonymous says:

    I don't even know where to start. I came upon this article while doing a report about food addiction. But this article definitely gives me hope about my diet and the health of my family. Even though I am 16 years old, I believe that I can make a difference within my family and our food consumption. We eat out probably once or twice a month and the rest of the month my mom cooks meals at home. Although they are homemade meals, at times they are high in fat and sugar. We've tried several time to go organic, but it is just so expensive and we normally are sucked back into the cycle of processed foods.

  37. A. Lanine Pro says:

    I haven't read much about it but my hunch is that there is some connection to the chemicals we ingest. Are you aware of any good epidemiological research?

  38. Anonymous says:

    Cool

  39. Carla de Cervantes says:

    I love the idea of only eating things that were around 100 years ago!! Personally, I extend that to things I put on my skin, and I only put things on my skin that I'd feel comfortable ingesting. So, I use organic coconut oil, almond oil or olive oil as a moisturizer. To get a sense of how absorptive the skin is, try rubbing some garlic on the sole of your foot. See how long it takes until you taste garlic in your mouth!

  40. PDM says:

    Hi Carla,

    I would tend to agree. You might be interested in a post I did a little before this one,

    http://healthjournalclub.blogspot.com/2009/10/here-comes-sun.html

    outlining just how inane and ridiculous the official academy of dermatology's recommendations are for sun protection. I.e. 2 ounces applied every two hours rain or shine, inside or out summer or winter, of whatever undefined chemical "sun-screen" may be that you have on hand. No wonder skin cancer rates increased dramatically at the same time that chemical sunblocks began to mass marketed.

  41. Dr. J says:

    It's a little gimmicky as a concept, but when I look st my personal diet, what I eat for the most part would qualify.

  42. Blue Cross of California says:

    I love the idea just to be healthy and to those people who likes diet. Eating too much is Bad but eating well is good to have a energy in our body and to our daily habit.