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Can Fruits and Vegetables Help Us Live Longer?

By Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Founder of The Paleo Diet
January 30, 2021
DisobeyArt/ Shutterstock.com
DisobeyArt/ Shutterstock.com

A History of the “Juice Men” Norman Walker and Jay Kordich, the Juicing Revolution, and Implications for 21st Century Health

There is a current re-emergence of ketogenic diets, which limits carbohydrate intake to less than 50 grams per day [1]. In an earlier era, however, it would have been unthinkable to restrict fresh fruit and vegetable consumption, in large part because of two generations of health-endorsing ancestors who preceded us. [2-5]

In fact, Norman Walker (1886-1985, age 99), the founder of vegetable and fruit juicing, advised consumption of unlimited vegetables, fruits, and their juices [2-4], as did Jay Kordich (1923-2017, age 93). [5]

These two men are viewed as the architects of the contemporary vegetable and fruit juicing movement. Neither were scientists, physicians, or academicians; however, their pioneering ideas regarding unrestricted consumption of fresh vegetables, fruits, and their juices were decades ahead of their times. Today, both Walker’s and Kordich’s perspectives on fresh fruit and vegetable consumption and health have been verified by contemporary peer-reviewed science.

Long before I published The Paleo Diet in 2002 [6] and before my mentor, Dr. S. Boyd Eaton wrote his groundbreaking paper, “Paleolithic Nutrition. A Consideration of its Nature and Current Implications” in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine in 1985 [7], a day and age existed before the internet, before Google, and before online PubMed when information traveled slowly, often without confirmation, validation, or scientific peer review.

In the mid 1970s, as a 20-something-year-old lifeguard at Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe, my staff and I were totally consumed by exercise, health, fitness, and diet. We read everything we could get our hands on, and one of the major nutrition players of the day was Norman Walker, who advocated the consumption of fresh, raw vegetable and fruit juices. We picked up his books [2-4, 8-13] at the health food stores in Reno and Lake Tahoe. A few of us who could afford a juicer experimented with drinking fresh, raw vegetable and fruit juices.

At the time, I had not finished my master’s degree at the University of Nevada, Reno (1978) nor my Ph.D. at the University of Utah (1981), and of course, regular access to the internet and on-line PubMed access was still a decade or two in the future. So, at the time, it seemed reasonable to me that Norman Walker, who labeled himself as a D.Sc. and Ph.D., was a legitimate research scientist with a credible curriculum vitae dating back decades. Unfortunately, years later I learned the truth about his academic background, but this information did not diminish my respect for his anecdotal observations about fresh vegetable and fruit juice consumption and human health.

Although Norman Walker may have had a former history of unlawful activities, he will be forever known as the godfather of fresh vegetable and fruit juicing. Walker had anecdotally stumbled upon a brilliant idea.

The available evidence indicates that Norman Walker was not a Ph.D. or a D.Sc. [14] He even appears to have been a con-man in his mid-career. [14] On May 6, 1933, The New York Times reported that "An indeterminate penitentiary term of not more than three years was imposed by Judge Allen in General Sessions yesterday on Norman Walker, 47 years old."

Beginning in 1932, this was the fifth Times article regarding Walker’s criminal activity. The original charges involved advertisements placed in the Times by Walker, as managing director for The Broughton Institute of Ortho-Dietetics in New York City, wherein he allegedly promised students employment with his school following completion of a six-week course, costing $150.

Neither employment nor the guaranteed return of the students’ $150 tuition followed. According to a probation officer testifying at the Walker trial, 30 students lost a total of $4,500 (approximately $80,000 in 2015 dollars). It is currently unknown how much incarceration time, if any, Walker served or what punishment or plea deal he eventually received. [14]

Although Norman Walker may have had a former history of unlawful activities, he will be forever known as the godfather of fresh vegetable and fruit juicing. Walker had anecdotally stumbled upon a brilliant idea. At the time in 1930, when he developed his first commercial juicer (The Triturator Juicer) [12], Walker knew virtually nothing of the molecular and evolutionary biology [2-4] that would eventually substantiate his anecdotal notions and perceptions about fresh vegetable and fruit juice consumption and health. For that matter, nor did few people from his time, simply because the molecular and evolutionary biology evidence regarding diet and health was sparse or non-existent then.

Like Walker, Jay Kordich, who came later upon the raw vegetable and fruit juicing scene, had no academic, professional, or scientific background to substantiate his views upon diet and health. [5, 15]

His ideas about health and fresh, raw fruit and vegetable juice consumption are comparable to Walker’s, and likely were based upon his personal and anecdotal observations of people who followed his recommendations to consume more fresh vegetables and fruit juices and less processed foods. Both Walker’s and Kordich’s perspectives regarding increased consumption of fresh, raw, vegetable and fruit juices are consistent with the evolutionary model of optimal human nutrition [6,7, 16-21] and randomized controlled trials (RCT) and meta-analyses of fresh fruit and vegetable consumption and positive health in humans. [22-34]

Fruits and Sugars
By The Paleo Diet® Team

Why Did the “Juice Men” Live So Long?

Without question, on a population level, women live longer than men. In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that the average life expectancy for all women in the U.S. was 81.1 years, whereas it was 76.1 years for men. [35]

Walker lived 30.6 percent longer than the average male life expectancy for 2017. Jay Kordich lived 23.2 percent longer than the average male life expectancy for 2017.

People living to the age of 100 to 109 years are called centenarians. The CDC noted in its 2017 report that for the entire U.S. population, 2,697 females lived to the age of 100 years and beyond, while only 971 males reached this range. [35] Hence, in the U.S. in 2017 there were almost three times more centenarian women than men.

The world’s longest living people, dubbed super-centenarians, who reach the age of 110 years and beyond have been examined to further demonstrate the superior longevity of women compared to men.

In September of 2018, of all the world’s 6-7 billion people from all countries, only 1,615 supercentenarians have ever been identified and then verified. [36]

Only 148 of all supercentenarians are males which corresponds to 9.16 percent of this population, whereas 1,467 of all supercentenarians are females which equals 90.84 percent. This is a staggering difference between the genders! In other words, for every one male supercentenarian, there are nine corresponding female supercentenarians.

Norman Walker lived a very long life (99 years, 153 days), as did Jay Kordich (93 years, 274 days). Walker lived 30.6 percent longer than the average male life expectancy for 2017. Jay Kordich lived 23.2 percent longer than the average male life expectancy for 2017 (his death year).

There are obvious questions that come into play about these two anecdotal cases:

  1. Were Walker’s and Kordich’s long lifespans due to small and statistically un-representative sample sizes (n=2) of their diets or the genetics of these two juice men?
  2. Was their longevity due to a genetic predisposition for a long life from their immediate ancestors and siblings?
  3. Did Walker’s and Kordich’s lifelong adult ingestion of fresh fruit and vegetable juices influence their lifespans?

Of course, each of these three questions and associated hypotheses are difficult to answer objectively. Nevertheless, let's examine each hypothesis.

  1. Clearly, a sample size of two represents a ridiculously small statistical sample for which little population specific information can be gleaned. However, small case studies frequently can lend insight into complex issues, particularly if the case studies are comprehensive and well detailed.
  2. It is possible to determine genetic lineages and lifespans for both Walker’s relatives and those of Kordich using established genealogical databases [37], and thereby obtain a glimpse of their ancestral influence upon their own longevity.
  3. Both the writings of Walker and Kordich are suggestive that they regularly consumed fresh, raw vegetable and fruit juices throughout their adult lives. Did this environmental/dietary factor influence their longevity?

The Case of Norman Walker

Norman Wardhaugh Walker (4 Jan 1886 - 6 Jun 1985) was born in Genoa, Italy, to Robert J. Walker, a Baptist minister from Scotland (b:1839 – d:1917, age 78) and his wife, Lydia Maw also from Scotland (b:1857 – d:1934, age 77).

Besides Norman, Robert J. Walker and Lydia had four or perhaps five other children: David (b:1887 - d:1980, age 92), Emmelina (b:1890 - d:1975, age 85), Lydia (b:1892 - d:1980, age 88), Robert H Walker (unknown birth & death). Table 1 below indicates how much longer Norman Walker lived than either of his parents or his siblings.

Table 1. Age of Norman Walker and his Immediate Relatives [37]

Can Fruits and Vegetables Help Us Live Longer? image

The data is suggestive that Norman Walker’s long life had more to do with environmental factors (diet perhaps) than his immediate family genetics, as he far outlived all his close genetic relatives.

The Case of John Steven Kordich

John (Jay) Steven Kordich (26 Aug 1923 – 27 May 2017) was born in San Pedro, California, to Jakov (Jack) Kordich (b:1894 – d:1997, age 103), a naturalized U.S. citizen from Croatia/Yugoslavia and his wife, Vica Ilich (b:1902 – d:1999, age 97) also a naturalized U.S. citizen from Croatia/Yugoslavia.

Besides their son John (Jay) Steven, Jakov and Vica had two other children, daughters Louise (b: 1925 and living today, age 93) and Annie (b: 1929 and living today, age 90). Table 2 below indicates the age differences between Jay Kordich, his longer-lived parents, and his two living sisters.

Table 2. Age of Jay Kordich and his Immediate Relatives [38]

Can Fruits and Vegetables Help Us Live Longer? image

The data in Table 2 for the Kordich family is suggestive that important genetic underpinnings may explain the extraordinary longevity in this family, but it does not exclude environmental factors such as diet.

After Jay’s father, Jakov arrived from Croatia/Yugoslavia, his life’s profession was as a fisherman in San Pedro, California. [38] Likely, the Kordich family must have had extensive access to fresh fish and crustaceans because of Jakov’s (Jack’s) profession. Increased fish consumption is known to promote health and longevity [39 – 45], likely via its concentrated source of long chain omega 3 fatty acids. [39, 43, 44]

From his anecdotal recognition of the health benefits of fresh vegetable and fruit juices in the late 1940s, Kordich became a champion and promoter of the concept that Walker had created a generation earlier, and therefore became the main modern figure associated with the massive popularity of fresh vegetable and fruit juice consumption in the early 1990s. [5, 15]

Accordingly, it is not known what influence fruit and vegetable consumption had upon Jay’s very long lifespan or that of his family, as all his immediate relatives including his father, his mother, and his sisters lived long lives, and ate fresh vegetables and fruit from their home gardens. [5]

But it is not known if Jay provided his mother, father, and sisters with commercial juicers in the 1950s through the 1990s. Thus, fresh fruit, vegetables, and fish may have played a role in the Kordich family’s impressive longevity, but the data is inconclusive [5, 15], as family genetics selecting for longevity likely were also involved. [38]

21st Century Science and the Health Benefits of Fruit and Vegetables

Although both Norman Walker and Jay Kordich dabbled in the nutritional, medical, and scientific health details of fresh, raw vegetable and fruit juice consumption, neither man had a verifiable academic, medical, or scientific background in the concept. [5, 14, 15]

Clearly both of their vast anecdotal experiences with patients cannot be ignored. [2-5] However, without present day biochemical, physiological, medical, and evolutionary data [16-34] regarding vegetable and fruit consumption, the health ramifications of raw, fresh, juice consumption could have only remained an unverified belief system for these two early health pioneers in their day and age.

Nowadays, however, the consequences of fruit and vegetable consumption on, for example, electrolyte balance is well documented.

With real, contemporary Paleo Diets [66-69], you won’t have to worry about the K+/Na ratio because those Paleo Diets don’t contain added salt, and a Paleo Diet allows you unlimited consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.

In human nutrition, two major electrolyte pairs (potassium to sodium and calcium to magnesium) play crucial roles in health and disease. Plasma and intracellular calcium (Ca2+) concentrations affect magnesium (Mg2+) concentrations and vice versa. [46-51] Similarly, plasma and intracellular potassium (K+) concentrations affect sodium (Na+) concentrations and vice versa. [52-61]

The dietary relationship between K+ and Na+ in human nutrition and adverse health is well known and incontrovertible. [52-61] High dietary sodium intakes and low potassium ingestion increase the risk for numerous chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke, cancer, kidney disease, and autoimmunity among others. [52-61]

The current dietary K+/Na+ ratio in the U.S. has a value of 0.76 [62], which is 2.6 times lower (worse) than recommended values of 2.0 [63, 64] and 6.6 times lower (worse) than the estimated K+/Na+ ratios of greater than 5.0 found in ancestral human diets. [65]

With real, contemporary Paleo Diets [66-69], you won’t have to worry about the K+/Na ratio because those Paleo Diets don’t contain added salt, and The Paleo Diet allows you unlimited consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. [66-69]

These guidelines ensure that your K+/Na ratio will be greater than 5.0 like our hunter gatherer ancestors. [21, 65, 69, 70] Accordingly, the ratio of your intake of potassium-rich and low-sodium fruits and veggies (Table 3) has an enormous impact upon your health and wellbeing.

Table 3. Potassium and sodium content of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Vegetables (n=47)Na (mg)/1000 kcalK (mg)/1000 kcalK/Na (mg/mg)
Beet greens10273346363.37
New Zealand spinach928692861.00
Swiss chard8950274503.07
Celery5000162503.25
Water cress3727300008.05
Bok choy30913372510.91
Purslane28133087510.98
Chicory greens1957182619.33
Leaf lettuce1867129336.93
Dandelion168988225.22
Endive12941847114.27
Turnip greens125092507.40
Artichoke113253964.77
Arugla10801476013.67
Green onion102186258.45
Lamb's quarters100011051210.51
Broccoli96992839.58
Mustard greens9621361514.16
Radicchio9571313013.75
Kale860894010.40
Cauliflower79479109.97
Green cabbage72068009.44
Iceberg lettuce7141007114.10
Collard greens66756338.45
Napa cabbage5631487526.44
Grape leaves55829255.25
Spaghetti squash54834846.35
Zucchini squash4711535332.63
Butterhead (Bibb) lettuce3851793546.63
Tomato2781316747.40
Okra258977437.88
Jalapeno peppers2411172448.57
Mushroom2271445563.60
Brussel sprouts210317015.10
Sorrel1821772797.52
Hubbard squash160716044.75
Bell pepper150874258.37
Cucumber133980073.50
Summer squash12516375131.00
Palm hearts12215704129.00
Poblano chili119576348.56
Crookneck squash10511684110.99
Butternut squash100710071.00
Asparagus9810095102.90
Eggplant839583115.00
Acorn squash717804109.25
Pumpkin3813077340.00
Tomatillo318375268.00
Mean14031292746.68
Fruits (n=47)Na (mg)/1000 kcalK (mg)/1000 kcalK/Na (mg/mg)
Honeydew melon500633312.70
Cantaloupe471785316.70
Casaba melon321650020.22
Salmon berries29823407.86
Passion fruit289358812.43
Mulberries233451219.40
Papaya186421922.68
Kumquat141262018.60
Cactus pear122536644.00
Chayote105657962.50
Cherimoya93382741.00
Elderberries82383646.67
Quince70345649.25
Lime67340051.00
Star fruit65429066.50
Lemon507250145.00
Kiwi fruit495115104.00
Avocado48303663.50
Cranberries44185342.49
Tangerine38313283.00
Pomegranate36284378.67
Oheloberries36135738.00
Watermelon333733112.00
Plantain334090124.75
Strawberry314781153.00
Chokecherries (wild)31234075.80
Guava296132208.50
Grape29276895.50
Blackberries233767162.00
Gooseberries234500198.00
Boysenberries202780139.00
Pineapple202180109.00
Breadfruit194757245.00
Raspberries192904151.00
Apple192058107.00
Loganberries182636145.00
Pear182141119.00
Blueberries18135177.00
Mango172800168.00
Grapefruit163214207.00
Lychee152591171.00
Banana114022358.00
Persimmon82441310.00
Orange238512386.60
Nectarine245682849.20
Peach248722850.00
Plum134132591.50
Sweet cherry135243420.50
Mean793782387.07

These dietary electrolyte characteristics (high K+ and low Na+) reduce morbidity (disease incidence) and mortality (death) from all causes combined. [52-61]

In contrast, the typical American Diet displays a low K+/Na+ ratio of 0.76 [62] because it is dominated by high salt, processed foods such as whole grain and refined breads, cheeses, processed meats (ham, bacon, salami etc.), chips, pizza, sandwiches, tacos, condiments (ketchup, mustard, mayo etc.), and high-salt salad dressings.

The top 10 sources of salt in the U.S. diet, which greatly contribute to the dangerously low K+/Na+ ratio from processed foods in the American diet, are listed below. [71]

  1. Breads and rolls
  2. Cold cuts and cured meats (hot dogs, bologna, salami, liverwurst, sausage, etc.)
  3. Pizza
  4. Poultry (breaded chicken, chicken wings, Kentucky Fried Chicken, chicken nuggets, enchilada chicken, chicken tacos, supermarket roasted chickens, etc.)
  5. Soups
  6. Sandwiches (all)
  7. Cheeses (all)
  8. Pasta dishes (all)
  9. Meat dishes (processed meats, salt flavored meats, meat sticks, jerky, taco meats, etc.)
  10. Snacks (chips, crackers, tortilla chips, Pringles, potato chips, etc.)
The Sodium/Potassium Ratio and its Importance in Human Health
By Mark J. Smith, Ph.D.

The Importance of Magnesium and Calcium Interactions

In human nutrition, the dietary Ca2+/Mg2+ ratio maintains a huge effect upon our health and well-being. Ca2+/Mg2+ ratios of less than 1.7 and greater than 2.8 are detrimental. [46] High dietary values (greater than 2.8) for the Ca2+/Mg2+ ratio may increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, particularly from increased artery calcification. [48-51]

Typical Western diets cause Ca2+/Mg2+ imbalances because of their reliance upon dairy products, which are low in magnesium but high in calcium. This is particularly true of calcium-rich cheeses that provide a huge average Ca2+/Mg2+ ratio of 23.9 [72, 73] (see tables 5 and 6), which further increase the dietary imbalance between calcium and magnesium.

Table 5. Calcium and magnesium content of dairy foods [72, 73]

FoodCalcium (mg/100g)Magnesium (mg/100g)Calcium/Magnesium Ratio (mg/100g)
Butter24.02.012.0
Whole milk113.010.011.3
Cheeses (n=36)611.526.623.9
Yogurt (plain, low fat)183.017.010.8

Table 6. Calcium and magnesium content in various cheeses [72, 73]

CheeseCalciumMagnesiumCa/Mg
Roquefort6623022.1
Parmesan11093829.2
Blue5282323.0
American, processed5522720.4
Romano10644126.0
Feta4831925.9
Edam7313024.4
Provolone7562827.0
Camembert3882019.4
Gouda7002924.1
Fontina5501439.3
Limburger4972123.7
Tilsit7001353.8
Queso Fresco5662423.6
Queso Blanco6902923.8
Cheshire6432130.6
Caraway6732230.6
Queso Asadero6612625.4
Brie184209.2
Muenster7172726.6
Cheddar7212825.8
Mozzarella7822334.0
Colby6852626.3
Gjetost400705.7
Calzone4252616.3
Brick6742428.1
Monterey Jack7462727.6
Port du Salut6502427.1
Goat (hard)8955416.6
Gruyere10113628.1
Neufchatel1171011.7
Cottage 2% fat91713.0
Cream cheese98910.9
Swiss7913820.8
Emmental Swiss7913820.8
Ricotta (part skim)2721518.1
Mean611.526.623.9

Unlike dairy products, with their exorbitantly high calcium to magnesium ratios (23.9), fresh vegetables (Ca2+/Mg2+ = 2.56) (Table 7) and fruits (Table 8) maintain lower, more favorable Ca2+/Mg2+ ratios which generally fall between known healthful values of 1.7 and 2.8. [46]

VegetablesMg/100gCa/100gCa/Mg
Sorrel102.144.00.43
Swiss chard81.051.00.63
Purslane68.065.00.96
Spinach79.099.01.25
Beet greens70.0117.01.67
New Zealand spinach39.058.01.49
Pumpkin leaves38.039.01.03
Watercress21.0120.05.71
Arugula47.0160.03.40
Okra57.081.01.42
Sweet potato leaves61.037.00.61
Parsley50.0138.02.76
Nopales (cactus leaves)22.0164.07.46
Chicory greens30.0100.03.33
Mustard greens32.0103.03.22
Crookneck squash27.020.00.72
Summer squash17.015.00.88
Zucchini squash18.016.00.89
Grape leaves95.0363.03.82
Rapini (broccoli raab)22.0108.04.91
Butterhead (Bibb) lettuce13.035.02.69
Turnip greens31.0190.06.13
Bok choy (Chinese cabbage)11.068.86.26
Endive (Escaroie)15.052.03.47
Cucumber13.016.01.23
Romaine lettuce14.033.02.36
Napa (Chinese) cabbage13.077.05.92
Dandelion greens36.0187.05.19
Acorn squash32.033.01.03
Artichoke42.021.00.50
Lamb's quarters34.0309.09.09
Collard greens20.0140.07.00
Lettuce, red leaf12.033.02.75
Butternut squash29.041.01.41
Kohlrabi19.024.01.26
Asparagus14.024.01.71
Celery11.040.03.64
Kale34.0135.03.97
Tomatillo20.07.00.35
Broccoli21.047.02.24
Tomato11.010.00.91
Jalapeno pepper15.012.00.80
Cauliflower15.022.01.47
Radicchio leaves13.019.01.46
Brussel sprouts23.042.01.83
Eggplant14.09.00.64
Fennel bulb17.049.02.88
Cabbage, red16.045.02.81
Bell pepper10.010.01.00
Iceberg lettuce7.018.02.57
Cabbage, green12.040.03.33
Pumpkin 12.021.01.75
Mushrooms, white9.03.00.33
Squash, spaghetti11.021.01.91
Palm hearts10.018.01.80
Loose leaf (green leaf) lettuce13.036.02.77
Mean28.967.62.56

Table 8. Calcium and magnesium content in fruits [72,73]

FruitMg/100gCa/100gCa/Mg
Cactus figs85.056.00.66
Lemon12.061.05.08
Blackberries20.029.01.45
Raspberries22.025.01.14
Mulberries18.039.02.17
Strawberries13.016.01.23
Casaba melon11.011.01.00
Guava22.018.00.82
Cantaloupe12.09.00.75
Loganberries12.09.00.75
Watermelon10.07.00.70
Star fruit10.03.00.30
Boysenberries16.027.01.69
Banana27.05.00.19
Plantain37.03.00.08
Passion fruit29.012.00.41
Kumquats20.062.03.10
Kiwi fruit17.034.02.00
Honeydew melon10.06.00.60
Payaya21.020.00.95
Breadfruit25.020.00.95
Pineapple12.013.01.08
Peach9.06.00.87
Cherimoya17.010.00.59
Gooseberries10.025.02.50
Grapefruit9.022.02.44
Orange10.040.04.00
Nectarine9.06.30.67
Lime6.033.05.50
Tangerine12.037.03.08
Sweet cherry11.013.01.18
Avocado29.013.00.45
Chockecherries27.060.02.22
Mango10.011.01.1
Lychees10.05.00.5
Plum7.06.00.86
Pomegranate12.010.00.83
Quince8.011.01.38
Cranberries6.08.01.33
Persimmons9.08.00.89
Pear7.09.01.29
Blueberries6.06.01.0
Apple5.06.01.0
Grapes (red or green)7.010.01.43
Elderberries5.038.07.6
Salmon berries15.013.10.87
Oheloberries6.07.01.17
Chayote12.017.01.41
Mean10.614.01.5
The Importance of the Calcium-to-Magnesium Ratio
By Trevor Connor, M.S.

Ahead of Their Time

Both Norman Walker and Jay Kordich lived extraordinary long and healthful lives. They were both health pioneers who followed their dietary recommendations for increased fruit and vegetable juice consumption. Neither of these men were scientists or biologists who fully understood the evolutionary and physiological basis for their diet-based health recommendations.

Nevertheless, their ideas about diet and health have stood the test of time. As we move objectively into the 21st century, comprehending our humble evolutionary background from anaerobic bacteria to more complex eukaryotic life forms with nuclei and mitochondria, it is clear that the basic longevity lessons, unknown scientifically to Walker and Kordich, are now compelling objective truths.

Acknowledgements

For Anthony (Tony) Sebastian M.D., a gentle soul and a mastermind of certain data contained within this manuscript.

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