Are Visions of Halloween Candy Binges Haunting You?

It’s that time of year where all the kiddos look forward to that night of all nights, second only to Christmas, Halloween night and Trick or Treating! I’ll bet that as a real food eating parent you look to this night with some degree of anxiety. You’ve spend a lot of time and energy learning all about how all that candy your kids will be gifted with during their Halloween night rounds is very very bad for them. While the night with the kids, the costumes and the carnival atmosphere is something you look forward to, the candy part isn’t. At least not since you learned about real food.

I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts on this in this somewhat brief post. While my kids are grown and I’m not an actual Granny yet, I just play one on the internet ;-), I do remember well the worry that went along with being a Momma concerned about healthy food watching the gluttonous consumption of candy that went along with Halloween night. It may surprise you but I wish I had enjoyed more and worried much less. One night of commercial candy consumption isn’t a big deal in light of a year of meals and snacks that are heavy on nutrition. And there are only 13 or 14 Halloween nights to spend with each kiddo … you won’t want to miss a minute worrying.0

If We’re Doing Real Food do I Need to Forbid Commercial Candy?

Lots of parents worry about how to handle the candy issue when transitioning to real food. You know there will be lots of occasions where your children will be the odd child out if they aren’t permitted to eat commercially made candy. You also know what’s in that candy. High frutose corn syrup from GMO corn, hydrogenated oils, artificial colors and God know’s what other additives for flavor. It’s scary to think of them eating this stuff once the curtain is lifted, right?

There are a number of ways around this conundrum all more or less satisfactory depending on your situation. If your kids are very small you could trade the trick or treat candy for healthier treats. If a little bigger you could have a Halloween party and make the treats yourself. But if none of these work you’ll have to deal with the question.

If you’re implementing a strict real food diet or your child is having health issues you may need to go the route of forbidding, at least for now. For families in a more general situation though I’d suggest just going with the flow to some degree.

The 80/20 Real Food Diet and Holidays

If your child doesn’t have health problems that prevent it I’d allow them to trick or treat or attend parties without real food restrictions. These holiday events are rare occasions … one, two or three days out of 365 that are otherwise filled with nutrient dense real food. It’s really a drop in the bucket, nutrition-wise. It’s important to remember that to keep perspective. And don’t let worry over it ruin you’re enjoyment watching the fun they are having!0

I consider holidays a kind of real food time-out, so to speak ;-). Now, if I’m making the food or the treats I make real food versions and enjoy them all the more. But, more often we’re not in control of what the food is or how it’s made. And inquiries would strain relationships with family and friends. And in the case of Halloween it’s likely to lead to your child being the odd kid out. So, I just consider holidays to be part of the 20% of our diet that is not real food. I’d love it if we could enjoy real food treats and meals during the holidays everywhere we went but that isn’t realistic.

So, relax one night isn’t all that important!

What do you do at your house? Do you have a clever work-around you’d like to share with us?

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Is Your Doctor a Nutrition Expert?

When you need advice on nutrition where do you go? Most of us go to the only place we feel we will receive sound, reasoned well thought out advice … our doctors! We think, well, he’s been to medical school where he’s received deep and extensive training on the functioning of the human body. He is the most knowledgeable person I know when it comes to nutrition.

Is that true though? Sure, he’s clearly been thru years of training to prepare him for a medical career. But did that training include nutrition? Shockingly, most of the time the answer is no, it did not. At least not training of any meaningful depth.  Did you know that you could learn everything the average doctor knows about nutrition in one long weekend of study?

Your Doctor is NOT a Nutrition Expert

Did you know that only a minority (25%) of medical schools require ANY classes on nutrition? And that when they do require some training in nutrition it is less than 20 hours of instructions out of thousands of training hours? Check out this video for all the details:

So, if that’s the case who can you trust for reliable information on what is healthy to eat? Especially for you specifically? Can you turn to experts on nutrition for reliable, detailed advice on what to do?

Tons of Really Bad Nutrition Advice Out There

There are lots of nutrition experts out there of all different kinds and varieties, with widely diverging opinions and levels of training varying from extensive 4 year programs down to having read a book last weekend 😉 . To outsiders the nutrition field looks like one giant raucous argument. I think that’s one reason why people rely so heavily on M.D.’s for information. It’s just too hard to figure out who’s reliable. 

For myself, I use history and food culture as the best guideline to what I and my family eat. My brother likes to say that on the internet you can find authoritative quotes to prove anything you want! And boy howdy is that true in the field of nutrition! Check out this joke post on the dangers of kale 😉 . Just one small example.  Your food culture taken as a whole is the best guide you have on what is good for humans to eat.

I don’t pay a lot of attention to the macro-nutrient wars, i.e. low-carb, no-carb, low-fat or the more recently designed diets like paleo or veganism or raw foodism. None of these diets have been eaten historically by any culture. I don’t pay a lot of attention to the dietary recommendations from the media. These usually come in the form of ‘scares’ about specific foods.  I simply try to eat as closely to the way my great-grandmother ate as I possibly can with my time and budget constraints.

Nutrition is TOO Important, Do Your Own Research

This is your life and your health! The single most important thing you will do that determines your future health and that of your family is making good decisions when it comes to food. That is simply too important to be left to others.  You can’t just ask experts yes and no, black and white questions about food! The answers you get back will not be that helpful for you in your specific situation.

Instead we all have to do our own research and come to our own conclusions. And then do our level best to follow thru on what we find out. We may in fact decide that the expert recommendations we’ve received from medical professionals are in fact the best thing for us. But then we reached that conclusion for ourselves!

What do you think?

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Is Everything ‘Organic’ Real Food?

What jumps out at you when you first arrive at Costco? There’s the crowds, the TVs at the entrance, and the pallets of mostly processed junk food near the door. There’s all the clothes and the books, the luggage and appliances. It’d be very easy to get the impression that there’s no real food to be found here. But if you keep walking to the back of the store you begin to find it! Real actual ingredients, some of them from good sources! I was thrilled to find many good deals on good ingredients when I joined.

But, not everything that seems wholesome at Costco is wholesome.

If you shop at Whole Foods, or any other natural food store for that matter you’ll begin to recognize many products at Costco that normally can be found only at more upscale and expensive stores. No wonder this store is so popular with the diet conscious crowd! The brands may give you that warm glow that can only come from shopping where it’s easy to believe the buyers care about quality. If you feel that warmth, watch out! You’ll be susceptible to … wait for it … Organic Label Syndrome!

What is Organic Label Syndrome?

Okay, it’s a joke I just made up, and not a very funny one at that ;-)! But I am pointing to something that we all need to maintain some awareness of when shopping wherever there are lots of organic items. Organic labels are absolutely no assurance of wholesomeness or quality when it comes to packaged processed foods! At Costco I found many foods that I would put on the “Absolutely Avoid” list that have organic labels. But strangely I find the presence of even these bad foods reassuring, just because I recognize the brands as producers of organic foods … just makes me feel at home. I’d bet I’m not the only one too. I must have a touch of Organic Label Syndrome!

So What Are Some of These Foods?

If you look closely this organic milk is ultra-pasteurized … and unrefrigerated.

Here’s the UHT label

This bouillon was the subject of one of Food Renegade’s decoding labels posts…

Everyone love’s Annies, but take a look at this label …

Here it is … Mac-n-Cheese is super easy to make from scratch!

How about frozen food? Here’s an Amy’s pizza with spinach … sound nutritious?

Check out the label …

This agave brand is found in most health food stores … there are many issues with agave.

Just a small sample …

Of what I found … not to pick on Costco though, you could go into any natural or high end grocery store and find even more of this stuff. By way of reminder, don’t decide based on the huge print labels instead read the fine print ingredient label. It’ll tell you what you need to know.

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If You Have a Chronic Illness

If you have a chronic illness you know exactly how the woman in the photo above feels. Some days you can’t get out of bed and there are many more days when, well you could but the prospect is daunting to say the least.

And while following along this past spring with The Granny Plan you may have felt that “This is all very well and good for people in good health, but I can’t possibly keep up.” I hear ya … if you’re already ill you’re probably super motivated to change your diet and start reaping the benefits but are frustrated by the two steps forward, one step back dance of learning something new while sick. Heck I think everyone experiences this to one degree or another but it can feel a lot worse if you’re already sick.

You know that it’s urgent to make the changes and that you likely won’t see improvement until you’ve been able to keep it up for a while, yet so many difficult days just happen, days where not much gets done and when you look back over your day you just feel like you’ve lost ground rather than gained it.

With a few changes to the plan to accommodate bad days and an ever-present awareness of limits you can make more headway than you think!

How Many Spoons Do You Have Today?

Have you read But You Don’t Look Sick’s Spoon Theory post? If you haven’t you should hop over and check it out. Christine has lupus and gives us a great way to visualize the ebb and flow of energy for those that are chronically ill. She calls it the “Spoon Theory”. In a nutshell if you have a chronic illness you start out each day with a limited amount of energy. That energy is represented as a number of spoons you have to spend that day. The number of spoons you have on any given day is influenced by the choices you’ve made in prior days and weeks. Good nutrition will increase your future supply of spoons.But the effort involved in getting good nutrition will cost you spoons today. You want to increase your future supply of spoons without overwhelming your ability to cope today. So it’s all about balance and striking that balance on a day-to-day basis.

Practical Steps to Increase Your Spoons

Following The Granny Plan on a week to week basis isn’t really workable for those who are chronically ill. You can’t predict your energy levels and The Granny Plan depends on your ability to take on a slightly increased workload every week. It’s a plan to help build habits slowly and surely. If you’re chronically ill you’ll still need to build the habits but you’ll need to be very flexible about taking on an ever-increasing workload.

Instead of planning on an incremental increases weekly you may find it productive to think about bad days vs. good days. On a good day you have the max amount of spoons you would ever be likely to have. On these days you’ll want to strive to take on a little more. You’ll also want to use a little of that energy to plan for bad days, so that on those days you don’t lose as much ground. For example, on a good day you might make up a large crockpot of broth or soup, eat a good dinner and then freeze the leftovers in individual servings. Then on bad days when you are really too sick to cook you’ll have something nourishing prepared to eat that will just take a few minutes to heat on the stove.

Shoot for making the best use of good days that you can, nourishment wise. Stock up on easy to prepare very nutrient dense foods. If you do this then bad days won’t be as big a setback as they used to be. Having nourishing meals more often leads to a larger spoon supply and less low spoon days. With more good days you can plan ahead a bit more, slowly taking on more tasks from “The Granny Plan” on those high-spoon days. Babystep by babystep you gain ground.

The Negativity of Judgement

Anyone who is sick and following a new improved diet to support their healing will meet with some criticism from skeptics. There are many popular diets for different illnesses and if they mesh well with the USDA’s guidelines people following them can expect to meet with support, particularly if they are following a doctors recommendation. Or if your chosen diet is popularized in the media, like heavy juicing for instance, you’ll find more support. If not, well let’s just say you’re likely to find less support for your decision. Some may even feel that your choices are aggravating your illness. If you’re already sick this lack of support might be hard to bear. Remember that you are the one who knows your body best, no matter what! Pay close attention to what nourishes your body and gives you more spoons. Also pay attention to what takes away your spoons and act accordingly.

Many people really don’t understand what it is like to operate in a world of limited energy. Where you put your energy really needs to line up with what is making you better and not what other people believe will make you better. If you find a particular food is draining you then you’re better off skipping it. If it’s a nutrient dense food perhaps in the future you’ll find you can eat it in health again.

In old books there are many references to special diets for the very ill. These diets often include lots of broth and in some cases raw milk. The goal is to make the food as nutrient dense and as easily digested as possible. If you find that within full spectrum of healthy food choices there are some that don’t work for you don’t sweat it too much, just eat as much as possible from the nutrient dense choices that agree with you. As your health builds you may find you can eat those foods again.

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Did Grandma Eat Gluten?

Take a trip thru the grocery store and you’ll find gluten-free labels everywhere! It seems gluten-free eating has arrived and everyone is doing it. The guy in the cubicle next to you, his wife cured her allergies by going gluten-free. Your doctor suggested that you might consider it for weight loss. Your friend wants to go gluten-free but says they have an unreasoning addiction to bread that drives them eat entire loaves in the middle of the night 😉 .

Well, call me a skeptic but I remember when the idea of eliminating wheat was deemed a bit fringe. After all wheat has been a staple of the human diet for millennia. I use traditional diets as my yardstick for determining what my diet should look like. After all, it’s gotten the human race this far hasn’t it? Our ancestors survived and thrived on a traditional diet long enough to produce us!

I receive questions about gluten and breads very often and frankly I’m concerned about all those who are new to the world of real food being confused by the avalanche of negative press gluten containing products and starches in general are receiving. So let me just state as clearly as I can that restrictive diets like the gluten-free diet are not traditional! Now, I understand that there are many with genuine medical issues surrounding gluten. This post doesn’t address their situation at all. Instead I’m talking about a very modern tendency to restrict entire food groups for a lifetime based on very flimsy evidence or even worse fashion. I view this as a dangerous practice and what’s more, your Grandma would have too.

Grandma Ate Gluten and Plenty of It!

Yes, she did eat gluten. Your great grandma most likely even made her own bread every week developing the gluten with her own two hands, forming the dough into loaves and baking them in a wood fired oven. These loaves were made with a sourdough starter that she maintained and shared amongst friends. By the time the loaves went into the oven they were well fermented to get a good rise and flavor and to reduce the anti-nutrients present in the grains. This whole process was sacrosanct in Granny’s world. The dictionary defines sacrosanct as “Regarded as too important or valuable to be interfered with.” Bread making was serious business! If you could be transported back in time to Granny’s kitchen she’d offer you bread and would be pretty horrified if you refused it. She would have seen it as high foolishness on your part.

The Hype Implies that Gluten is an Unnatural Additive

Gluten is entirely natural to grains with bread grains having the highest percentages. The rise and texture of dough is greatly affected by gluten content so some commercial bakeries do indeed add even more gluten to their breads than would naturally be present. This practice requires the ability to separate gluten and is therefore modern. The presence of gluten in grain-based foods though is totally traditional.

The Hype Implies that High-Gluten Hybridized Wheat is Basically GMO

Modern wheat is hybridized wheat. Virtually all of the food supply is grown from hybrid seeds. Peppers, carrots, lettuce, beans and of course wheat found in the supermarket or farmers market are nearly 100% hybrid varieties of plants. While there may be advantages in flavor and just sheer variety in the pre-hybridized heirloom seeds no one is eating these plants in large quantities. We are all eating hybrids every day.

Man has been influencing the breeding of plants for centuries. Hybrids have been around for at least a couple hundred years and represent a more sophisticated kind of tinkering than what was done before. Hybrids became popular with farmers about 100 years ago during Granny’s time. They are produced by cross-pollinating varieties to produce a new variety with desired characteristics. It does NOT involve splicing of genes across species or any of the other Dr. Frankenstein horror show science genetically modified foods are subject to. Barring possible contamination from Monsanto’s GMO wheat experiments nowhere in the world is the wheat supply grown from GMO seeds.

You might have read the argument that since modern hybridized wheat contains considerably more gluten than ancient varieties that we modern folk should avoid it like the plague. Modern wheat does contain more gluten than old varieties, that isn’t in dispute. But does it follow that we should completely cut out this staple of traditional diets completely as a result? I don’t think so. If you feel it’s a priority in your budget to ensure your grains are as old school as possible you could consider spelt or einkorn wheat instead of the more modern hybrids. There are options other than elimination.

Many Arguments Against Gluten are Really Arguments Against Eating Processed Foods

Many of the arguments against modern wheat go on at length about modern baking methods, quick rise yeasts and dough conditioners for example. These are really not arguments against wheat or gluten but are instead arguments against eating processed foods. We all know that commercial bakeries use such things and more, like preservatives to keep the bread fresher longer, dyes and even artificial flavorings. If you want to eat breads make them at home using traditional methods or find yourself a good local bakery. Baking bread is one of those scary to do household tasks that once you try it you wonder why it was so intimidating! If you’re following The Granny Plan you could make it a kitchen project to work on over a bit of time.

What If You Are Having Trouble Digesting Grains?

Many people find that proper preparation of gluten containing flours makes them completely digestible. Really, rarely does anyone in our culture have a chance to eat properly prepared grains. It’s worth a trial run if you’re experiencing trouble. If that doesn’t help addressing problems with bad gut flora helps many to eat gluten containing foods without issues. Some of the protocols for addressing gut dysbiosis involve eliminating grains for a predetermined time while rebuilding the gut. Also worth a trial. I’d encourage everyone to give it much serious consideration before deciding to cut gluten long-term though. Like Granny it pains me to see people cut this major traditional staple out of their diet forever.

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Why Healthy Food Doesn’t Cost as Much as You Think!

Perception is a funny thing, isn’t it?

Take this picture for example. It looks for all the world like water is spilling into thru the wall and into a hole doesn’t it? Yet it is just the angle of the camera. If the photographer walked around to the other side of the drawing and took a picture we’d see something that would look pretty much like what it actually is: colored chalk carefully drawn onto a street. We probably would have trouble making out what it was intended to be a drawing of!

Our perception of everyday things can be just a skewed. Sometimes things can seem like simple common sense but still be wrong, dead wrong. Take the common belief that eating healthy is very expensive. That it is something beyond the reach of the average joe. Take this quote from USA Today for example:

“Almost 15 percent of households in America say they don’t have enough money to eat the way they want to eat,” Seligman said. Recent estimates show 49 million Americans make food decisions based on cost, she added.

When people hear this they think “There are many people who simple cannot afford to eat in a healthy way.” No, there are many people telling us that they believe that they cannot eat in a healthy way … huge difference! This belief affects their reality by making it less likely that they will buy and eat the healthy choices that they in fact could afford.

Does this mean they are dead wrong and if they’d get their act together they could actually be eating sushi everyday, or the kind of salads sold at upscale restaurants, or even steak and lobster? Absolutely not! Few can afford to eat in this fashion regularly. What it does mean is that there are many different ways to create a healthy real food diet. This isn’t an either steak and lobster or Kraft mac-n-cheese kinda choice. That is a false dichotomy. We don’t have to afford baby lettuce produced by virgins in the finest soils … produce common and organic is fine! Plain ground grassfed beef is fine … no need for steak if the budget does not allow for it.

A Little More for Some Things, A Lot Less for Many Others

Experienced real foodies know that while you pay much more for some items you end up paying way less for others. Say you spend twice as much per pound for meat. That isn’t at all uncommon. But at the same time you give up buying deli chicken from the grocery store, or boxed cereals, or frozen dinners. Or say you were in the habit of ordering pizza every Friday for movie night. Now you make a fun buffet mexican meal instead. The takeout pizzas cost about $16 each and the grassfed beef taco dinner costs around $10 for a family of four. That’s a savings of $6 right there, but hardly anyone just orders a pizza. Instead they order dippin’ breads with sauce, and big bottles of soda bringing the bill to about $30 with tax. Then you need to tip the driver. You could save $20 just by buying that grassfed beef and making a nutritious and fun dinner at home!

Lots of things are like this. When I shop at a grocery store I route around all the Betty Crocker boxes, and packaged wing-dings, and frozen ready-to-heat pot roasts all of which costs substantially more than their nutritional value would support. Buying them will take a bite out of your food budget. Buying plain potatoes, or bags of plain rice and spices in quantities larger than the tiny rip-off jars they usually have on the spice aisle instead of these convenience foods makes all the difference. These plain foods are dirt cheap let me tell ya, even in their organic versions. Pound per pound, calorie per calorie, nutrient by nutrient they are cheaper dollarwise than the cheap processed foods so commonly eaten by those trying to eat within a budget.

Average Food Budgets for Real Food LESS than Average USDA Food Plans

In my post Real Food Economics 101: Real Food vs Average Food Budgets I give details about what several real food bloggers are spending for food, person by person. This makes it easy to compare. My findings were that virtually all of the real food bloggers were spending less per day per person than the USDA’s moderate food plan costs. I give more detail on how that is achieved in Real Food Economics 101: Strategies to Reduce Food Costs. I hear from people every week who have even lower food costs than the ones cited in my post. This is real people … this is doable!

Dealing With the Perception of Added Expense

While the belief that eating the real foods way costs double or triple what a conventional food budget does is totally false the fact the many perceive it that way is not. The perception of expense alone can cause grave difficulties in transitioning a family to real food. And these problems are interpersonal in nature. Like say your mother-in-law not only thinks you’re endangering the kids with raw milk but you’re wasting tons of money to do so and whispers to your husband about it whenever she has a chance. It’s eating away at his resolve to feed the kids real food since his job isn’t really secure and he’s worried about saving more money as a cushion. Or maybe your spouse never goes to the store and has little idea of food prices but believes everything is cheaper at Walmart. They reason that since you’re on a budget that is really the only place your family should buy food. These problems of perception are very real obstacles to transitioning to real food. In fact I’d venture to say they are about the biggest problems in transitioning to real food with a desire for the comfort of familiar foods coming in a close second.

These perceptions won’t disappear overnight that’s for sure. In many cases they may never go away. You may never persuade your mother-in-law that your food bill is less now than it was before. But you can be aware of the issue and provide your husband with the supporting information he needs to be assured that this new way of eating is not only healthy but is in fact saving the family money. Dealing with these problems is mostly a matter of being aware, remaining calm and presenting the facts to those involved in the decision making. Absolutely do not pay much attention to what those that are not directly involved think of your food decisions. And lastly, it’s a matter of persistence. These things can take some real time.

An Important Exception

While most shoppers are buying convenience foods and eating fast food there are a sizable minority of families that have cut out all processed foods and eating meals out and are still having issues making ends meet when it comes to food. I do hear from them and I get it. Just wanted to give them a shout-out in this post that the problems addressed here are not the issues they are directly dealing with. I hope to write something soon that will more directly deal with their situation.

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The Art of Thoughtful Real Food Compromise

What kind of compromises are you prepared to make? Almost no one goes into a major change in their life or their diet thinking of the need for compromise. The very human tendency is to believe that you can “be the change” 100% right off the bat, or at least soon thereafter. At that point no further compromise is necessary … you’ve made it, you’ve arrived. But change is really a journey and not a destination. You never arrive, not completely. There is just variation in the degree of the completeness of your arrival.

[Read more…]

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How Long Did People Live 100 Years Ago?

“Of course people didn’t live long … the average life expectancy was 40 years”. How often have you heard this quote or something very similar? If you are a watcher of tv documentaries or attended public school anytime in the last 70 years or so you’ve probably heard this several hundred times. Just last night I heard it again while watching Frontier House, the PBS reality show from about 10 years back.  The belief that most everyone in the past dropped dead around 40 is common. People with ancestors that lived to be old generally think the members of their family were just exceptionally long lived.

The story goes something like this: Prior to the introduction of antibiotics and vaccines most people succumbed to an infectious disease prior to or around middle age. Children died at a very high rate. Work was hard and cruel. Food was salty, fatty, monotonous, somewhat scarce and just plain bad for you. Life was short and miserable … Survival into old age was a rare miracle.

This is a myth. We’ve been mislead into believing this by a simple trick of statistics. In actuality life expectancy for a modern adult is pretty much the same now as it was back then. You’d expect it would be much better now with modern medicine but the statistics do not bear that out. What was it Mark Twain said?

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Let’s review the evidence then we can know more clearly just how long average people with decent kind of life lived prior to the advent of modern diets and modern medicines.

The Basic Misunderstanding Explained

The problem is simple really. When the media mention at what age people used to die they sometimes but not always mention that “life expectancy” statistics is the source of their information. Sounds reasonable enough … if life expectancy is 40 then people die on average at 40. Not true though.  We think “Life Expectancy” is a record of the actual age at death but it isn’t. It is calculated using a number of actuarial formulas … it is not a simple average of actual age at time of death. I had hoped to shed a little light on the calculation, but frankly only a mathematician could read the formulas :-). So there is some complexity there. Even if they were a simple average of actual age at time of death these averages would include all deaths from infants just born thru old age just as the “Life Expectancy” calculations do. The high number of deaths amongst infants and small children prior to modern sanitation and antibiotics will skew the numbers so the average is quite low. So if say 10% of babies and toddlers die before the age of 5 that will dramatically shift the average life expectancy downward.

Benjamin Radford at Live Science in this post about how lifespans have been constant for 2000 years explains the misunderstanding better than I can when he states:

Again, the high infant mortality rate skews the “life expectancy” dramatically downward. If a couple has two children and one of them dies in childbirth while the other lives to be 90, stating that on average the couple’s children lived to be 45 is statistically accurate but meaningless. Claiming a low average age of death due to high infant mortality is not the same as claiming that the average person in that population will die at that age.

I’ve put together the graph below to help illustrate. Now, I’m not a researcher nor a statistician but I spent a few hours searching for data that would help us clarify the problem. First I looked for historical stats on age at time of death. All I could find was “life expectancy” tables for various points in history so the numbers in the graph for 1900 are estimates based on statements from various books and articles. I was able to find good current year age at death records so that really helps. I also included a really unscientific survey of age at death taken from my local papers obituary. This includes age at death for 100 people in 2012/2013. If anyone knows where I can find good stats to replace my 1900 estimates please let me know. 

Historically the number of deaths would be a kind of reverse bell curve with most deaths occurring in the very young and the very old. This chart illustrates the difference:

Now you may ask why the death statistics for infants and toddlers was so high … Good question! For starters, most statistics available for the era were taken in big cities at the turn of the century, places notoriously difficult to live in. The health statistics for adults were also not very good in these places, so children would have been very vulnerable. They were generally taken at large hospitals, places the healthy avoided. The rural areas where things were more traditional, the pace slower, the diet much better and the living more secure, well they didn’t keep records as closely and so tended to not be included in the numbers. There are a few interesting historical sources like this one published in the Journal Of The Royal Society Of Medicine on Victorian England showing that many average english of the victorian era lived long lives and enjoyed better health than modern people do. They were working with medical records taken from 1850-1900 that showed better health overall for this population than in the current British population. source article

Early deaths from accidents and infections roughly equals early deaths from modern diseases

Modern medicine has done a fabulous job of helping people in acute crisis. Like infants born too early, people with acute life-threatening infections, and those in terrible accidents. Access to modern medicine greatly reduces deaths from these causes. What it hasn’t done a good job of however is eliminating heart disease, cancer, diabetes and autoimmune illness, the biggest killers of the modern era.  In fact these diseases were extremely rare before modern times, so rare as to be statistically insignificant. Generally the deaths from these modern diseases balance with the deaths from accident and infectious diseases for the most part. The age at death is higher but still far short of a full lifespan.

What about the argument that people just didn’t live long enough back then to develop these degenerative conditions? Well, historically a large percentage of the population did in fact live to a ripe old age without developing any of these conditions. So this argument just doesn’t hold water.

Life Expectancy is lowest for those who are poorer

Always has been … obviously the main reason why people don’t want to be poor! There were populations of people in the past with extremely short lifespans. Generally these folks had little access to fresh clean food and water and were made to work very long hours in very unhealthy conditions. They had very limited diets and thus were susceptible to tuberculosis (TB), pneumonia, and diphtheria three of the major causes of death at the time. Those on extremely limited diets developed frank deficiency diseases like pellagra and beriberi in large numbers. They were very susceptible to injury on the job, and if injured received little or no assistance. This included about everyone that worked in large cities, had factory jobs, were miners or railroad workers. It would also include some rural people that had very exploitive working conditions, renting the land they worked from a landlord. People like sharecroppers for instance.  All these people were the poorest of the poor and like the poor in all times and places died an earlier death on average. My Mother used to say of women that died young “She lived a hard life” by way of explaining their early death.

In modern times we talk about these poverty conditions as if everyone in the past suffered this kind of restriction. Not the case at all!  The majority of people lived in settled rural communities with a tradition of local trade. While they may not have had a lot of cash or huge amounts of property they were still basically independent as a community. These small towns and villages were made up of yeoman farm families that produced food and traded largely amongst themselves. 

The majority of the population of North America lived in such rural communities. This is what made the Americas attractive to immigrants. Farm living was widely regarded as the most wholesome kind of living and many made great efforts to attain land they could own outright rather than rent so they could enjoy the benefits of good food, sunshine and a guaranteed way to make a living.

Around the time of the construction of the railroads the independence of these communities began to be eaten away around the edges. These communities began to see a reduction in health as well. Many children from these farms had to go to cities to earn cash money to pay new or increased taxes for the family farm, or for the cash needs of the farm now that the community cohesion was deteriorating. People started to have to pay cash for many healthy food items rather than barter as in times past. Some foods were now brought in from a distance. Food adulteration became widespread, bringing the FDA into existence. This is the beginning of the loss of health Dr. Weston A Price saw in his practice around the turn of the century.

Upsurge in Degenerative Conditions Coincides with the Introduction of Processed Foods

Dr. Price was conducting his research at this time and was able to document the effects of these newfangled foods on populations that had previously ate only their own cultures diet. He was able to show that degenerative diseases became far more common once the processed foods were eaten particularly by the second generation.

Now we can enjoy the benefits of medical care for acute conditions AND the benefits of eating a healthy wholesome diet. We can live out our full lifespans in good health. We needn’t suffer from early death from infectious disease or degenerative modern conditions.  All we need to do is eat traditionally.

Update 4/5/13: I’ve added another series to the chart with actual numbers from 1924. Haven’t found the 1900 actuals but have made some adjustments to my estimate based on the 1924 numbers. I will include the actuals when I find them. 
Sources:  1924 Actual Death Rate, Mortality Stats Table E

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What Makes a Diet Good? The Final Five Principles

Your grandparents or great-grandparents or great-great-grandparents knew what a good diet was. They knew it through and through without even the slightest shade of a doubt. A good diet was what people always ate. A good diet was about plenty of wholesome food. Good health was about more than just a good diet though. It was also about healthy living. Over the past few weeks posts we’ve talked at length about the details that made up the diet our grandparents recognized as healthy and how that diet differs from a modern diet, whether it’s average or perceived as healthy. Today’s guidelines are mostly about that part of health that granny would have called clean living.

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