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Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
10/10/2005
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New book takes a more modest, holistic approach to Americans’ growing age-obsession

by Randy Hartnell


Some Vital Choices readers may recall that Andrew Weil, M.D.—the nation’s leading advocate of nutrition-oriented integrative medicine and a bestselling author—joined us for a tour of southeast Alaska in August of 2004.  He was already an advocate of omega-3s and fish, but I believe we may have deepened his already considerable appreciation of wild salmon.  And I know that the trip reminded him of the unsurpassed succulence of sablefish.


His latest book Healthy Aging, will be released tomorrow, October 18, and it’s also the cover story of last week’s edition of Time magazine (This was the October 17 issue: to read the full excerpt at Time.com, click here).


Amid the growing array of medical authors whose books offer prescriptions to slow the aging process, Dr. Weil is a relative latecomer, but the title of his new book signals his singular perspective on Americans’ growing interest in “anti-aging” diet, lifestyle, and medical strategies.  Rather than proposing extreme interventions that promise dramatic results, he focuses on ways to make aging a healthier experience through material and spiritual approaches alike.


Here is how Publishers Weekly characterized the book’s overall viewpoint, in a starred review:


“America's best-known complementary care physician… assesses the growing and lucrative field of anti-aging medicine, takes the position that aging is not reversible, and offers many ways for readers to prevent conditions and illnesses … and ensure well-being into the later years.… Refreshingly, Weil embraces the notion, popular in Eastern cultures, that age brings wisdom, peace and prosperity of a different kind.”


It comes as no surprise to us that Dr. Weil is a fan of wild salmon, and other fish high in omega-3s, given these special fats' proven preventive health powers with regard to cancer, Alzheimer’s, age-related senility, cardiovascular disease, and age-related eye disorders, and their beneficial effects in diabetes and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.


These excerpts from Healthy Aging encapsulate Dr. Weil’s views on the role of fats in a healthy-aging diet.  Note the last point, regarding anti-inflammatory omega-3s:


“It should be obvious by now that diets don't work, except in the short term.… I am going to urge you to follow a diet that I believe can increase the probability of healthy aging…. I like to call it the Anti-Inflammatory Diet.


“The food choices we make can determine whether we are in a pro-inflammatory state or in an anti-inflammatory one. The anti-inflammatory diet… offers specific recommendations for foods to include and foods to avoid.

  • “REDUCE your intake of saturated fat by eating less butter, cream, cheese and other full-fat dairy products, un-skinned chicken, fatty meats and products made with coconut and palm-kernel oils.
  • “Use extra-virgin olive oil as a main cooking oil. If you want a neutral-tasting oil, use expeller-pressed organic canola oil. High-oleic versions of sunflower and safflower oil are also acceptable. [See our note, below]
  • “AVOID regular safflower and sunflower oils, corn oil, cottonseed oil and mixed vegetable oils.
  • “STRICTLY AVOID margarine, vegetable shortening and all products listing them as ingredients. Strictly avoid all products made with partially hydrogenated oils of any kind.
  • “Include in your diet avocados and nuts, especially walnuts, cashews and almonds and nut butters made from them.
  • “For omega-3 fatty acids, eat salmon (preferably wild—fresh or frozen—or canned sockeye), sardines, herring, black cod (sablefish, butterfish), omega-3 fortified eggs, hempseeds, flaxseeds and walnuts; or take a fish-oil supplement….”

To read the full diet discussion at Time.com, click here.


His intent is clearly to reduce hidden inflammation by getting people to shift their fat consumption away from saturated and hydrogenated fats, and shift their polyunsaturated fat intake away from omega-6 fatty acid—i.e., his warning against “safflower and sunflower oils, corn oil, cottonseed oil and mixed vegetable oils”—and toward foods high in omega-3s.


I only regret that Dr. Weil did not include macadamia nut oil in his list of recommended cooking oils.  Its fatty acid profile is similar to, and in some respects superior to, that of olive oil. It also resists heat damage to its fatty acids better than most oils, as evidenced by its a high “smoke point.”


Healthy aging versus anti-aging

“Anti-aging” is a handy term, one that we and many others attach to foods and supplements that inhibit known age-accelerating processes like inflammation and free radical damage to cells.  In this sense, Dr. Weil’s dietary recommendations resemble those of other nutrition-oriented physicians like Nicholas Perricone, Walter Willet, and Christiane Northrup.


But Dr. Weil has no use for extreme “anti-aging” programs, and rejects obsessive attempts to look far younger than ones years, via Botox, surgery, and hormones. Rather, he focuses on aging more healthfully and gracefully: goals eminently attainable through exercise, social contact, personal intimacy, wise diets, and positive attitudes. As he says in Healthy Aging, “ …age brings wisdom, peace and prosperity of a different kind.”


We hope that Healthy Aging will bring much-needed balance to discussions about aging. It certainly gives people good advice on how to make aging a more positive experience.


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