Visionary technologist, writer, and current director of engineering at Google Ray Kurzweil believes that he’ll live forever. Within mere decades, he says, nanotechnology will allow us to halt and even reverse aging. His current mission is to stay alive until that happens. Much of the advice below is sourced from his book Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough To Live Forever.
Eating healthily is hard. It requires willpower and it’s hard to care about long-term benefits when there’s cake in front of you. But there’s an even harder problem — what does ‘healthy’ eating even mean?
I’ve never been visibly unhealthy but a lot of my meals were — picture Eric Cartman and Chief Wiggum in charge of the food for a five-year-old’s birthday picnic, but with more chocolate.
I never thought this was an issue as long as I stayed fit. Since then family illnesses, other people’s opinions, and some basic research convinced me that I should probably reconsider.
A few years ago, after reading In Defense Of Food, I decided to give up soft drinks almost entirely. The evidence against soft drinks and refined sugar more generally is uncontroversial, and many think that in a few decades the soft drink industry will be viewed in the same way we view the tobacco industry today. But what about the other aspects of diet?
Is it enough to look at calorie count, or should you care about the balance of macro-nutrients (carbs, fat, protein, etc)? Does it matter more what you eat, where your food is sourced, or how it is prepared? Should you eat low-fat? Low-carb? Paleo? Atkins? Slow carb? Soylent?
As nutritionism is notoriously faddish, it’s important to look beyond what people around you are doing right now (juice cleanses, anyone?) and consider what matches up with the evidence we have and the understanding of how food is processed in our body.
It’s hard not to believe Kurzweil — he’s more than just technically literate, has sufficient resources at his disposal, and has an enormous amount of self-interest in following the most effective diet possible. While his book contains a wealth of fascinating information on biological processes and chemical makeup of different types of food, Kurzweil’s main advice boils down to the following points:
- Cut out sugar and simple carbs almost entirely
- Eat mainly whole foods
- Reduce fat intake, especially saturated fats
- Eat a lot of vegetables of various colours
- Drink lots of water and green tea, avoid excess alcohol and coffee
- Take a variety of supplements
Does this make sense? Probably…mostly. Sugar and simple carbs cause glucose spikes, which cause insulin spikes, which might reduce insulin sensitivity, leading to diabetes and potentially other long term downsides. Fats, especially saturated fats, contribute to increased risks of heart disease. Many vegetables are low in both of the above while containing high levels of important vitamins and fibre. Water is important for almost every process in our bodies.
As for supplements… Kurzweil has recently cut down his daily dose of supplements to ‘only’ 150 pills. He believes that aggressive supplementation is a necessary part of a modern diet, as it allows us to make up for dietary deficits and ‘hack’ our bodies by exploiting our understanding of the chemical processes underlying disease and ageing. Though he may have a point, I think Nassim Nicholas Taleb has an interesting stance on this: our knowledge of supplements and their impact is still very limited, and while they may have some positive effects it’s not possible for us to know what negative effects supplements will have without further long-term research.
Further, the fact that Kurzweil has his own dietary supplements business makes this part of the advice less interesting and potentially more biased (though I don’t believe that this is necessarily true).
My approach? Write the above points down on a business-card sized piece of paper that I keep in my wallet and read before every meal, checking whether the meal complies. I’m hoping that this will guide me in the right direction.