Comedian and actress Betty White will celebrate 96 years of good health – and arguably better humor – and a supposedly ‘bad’ diet of french fries, hot dogs and vodka next week.
The last several years have seen a fevered interest in health, and especially healthy diets, as the obesity epidemic claims more and more lives each year.
Betty’s favorite foods would make most nutritionists cringe, but there is evidence she’s not the only one that thinks happy eating (and drinking) might have the advantage over healthy eating (and non-alcoholic drinking).
We break down what seems wrong with Betty’s habits, and why they are so right.
Actress and comedian Betty White has made it to 95 on a diet of french fries and hot dogs
Meal times? More like meals when she has time
Science says: Never skip breakfast, have a hearty, balanced lunch, don’t overdo dinner
Betty says: ‘I’m not a big breakfast eater,’ she wrote in her 2014 Harper’s Bazaar article.
The first meal of the day got a lot of attention last year when the American Heart Association made a declaration that people that skipped breakfast were more likely to be obese and had a 27 percent risk of heart disease.
But Betty wasn’t listening, and doesn’t seem to be any worse for it. At 95, she has never suffered a heart attack, nor have there been any reports of other cardiovascular trouble for the Hot In Cleveland icon.
However, intermittent fasting has made headlines, too, as a new way to diet. Betty’s breakfast-skipping certainly isn’t an intentional fast, but perhaps it’s working the same way for her.
At lunch time, Betty has written that she will have a sandwich, a choice most dietitians would support.
But her reasons for doing so may be what really makes her lunch menu healthy.
Betty White is a busy lady. She is still acting – as she has for over 70 years – and when she isn’t acting she is volunteering with her beloved animals at the Los Angeles Zoo.
So it’s unlikely that she has time for much more than a sandwich, and research has shown that continuing to work and stay busy is linked to a longer life. One study from Oregon University found that those that worked even one year past their 65th birthdays were 11 percent less likely to meet an early death.
When White turned 92, she celebrated with three cakes and a champagne toast alongside Kathie Lee Gifford (left) and Hoda Kotb (right) on the Today show in 2012
The (fast) foods that fuel Betty White might not be so bad
Nutritionists say: Eat leafy greens, fresh fruits, low-carb and no processed foods or sugary beverages
Betty says: Pass the fries, hand me the hot dogs and a Diet Coke to wash it all down
Last year an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that eating fried potatoes – specifically, fried ones like fries or chips, and not other potatoes – on a weekly basis was linked to double the risk of premature death.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization declared red or processed meats – like hot dogs – to be possible carcinogens, and numerous studies have diet drinks to health problems like type 2 diabetes and metabolic issues.
But in his book, The Bad Food Bible, pediatrics professor and nutritional rebel Dr Aaron Carroll points out that studies do not necessarily bear out such broad statements.
He references a study of more than 50,000 women that compared the effects of ‘healthy’ diets chocked full of fruits and vegetables to ones that still included more red meats on colorectal cancer risks. There was no noteworthy difference.
Betty strikes a pose in her younger years. The ageless beauty has not changed much, and neither have her habits
‘If researchers can’t find a difference in tens of thousands of people over eight years, it may be time to admit that even if there is a relationship between processed or red meat consumption and cancer, it must be pretty small,’ Dr Carroll wrote.
As for fries and Diet Coke, Dr Carroll says the evidence against them does not hold much water.
Though he suggests that we prepare meals at home as often as possible, Dr Carroll also writes that ‘things like salt and fat aren’t the enemy. They are often necessary in the preparation of tasty, satisfying food.’
For most people, moderation is helpful to avoid weight-gain, but everyone’s dietary needs are different, Dr Carroll notes.
‘Ultimately, we need to just try to eat fresh food in a balanced way. That involves cutting out processes that humans created to make it easier to consume foods,’ Dr Carroll told Daily Mail Online in a recent interview.
Betty eschews overly-restrictive diets, telling Bon Appetit in 2014 that, while she thought a grapefruit-only diet she’d heard of was absurd, ‘I love grapefruit, but I also love other things.’
Overall, ‘eating is one of the great joys of life. Don’t let people use misinformation to deprive you of the pleasure of good food,’ Dr Carroll writes.
Betty certainly doesn’t.
Betty enjoys her nightly vodka on the rocks with lemon with her Hot In Cleveland co-stars
One (stiff) drink a day keeps the doctor away
The CDC says: Women can have one drink a day, and red wine may even be good for heart health
Betty says: Make it a vodka, on the rocks (perhaps with a lemon)
Betty has talked openly about her nightly cocktail ritual, which she often shares with her beloved golden retriever, Pontiac, as she told Harper’s Bazaar.
The Golden Girls Star admits that she will occasionally indulge in a second drink when out with friends but told Bon Appetit: ‘I don’t really like to feel it.’
Drinking moderately, as Betty does, has been frequently linked to lower risks of heart and circulatory system diseases and may help fend of type 2 diabetes and gall bladder stones.
Red wine is often cited as the best drink for lowering health risks, but Betty’s drink of choice has its benefits too.
While evidence that there is much difference in the health benefits of different alcoholic drinks is shaky, vodka has no carbohydrates, making it a healthier fit for Betty, who keeps a trim figure.
Betty takes a bite of a cupcake while admiring her enormous animal themed cake at her 92nd birthday celebration at the Los Angeles Zoo in 2012
Centenarians’ secrets: Betty White’s ways are not far off from other over-100s
Centenarians say: Have a daily drink, stay optimistic, don’t retire
Betty says: Same!
There are about 72,000 people over 100 in the US, and Betty looks to be set to become one of them in a few years.
Scientists studying longevity often look to the habits and traits of centenarians for evidence of the secrets to living longer.
Betty gives the camera attitude while in character as Rose Nylund for the first season of Golden Girls in 1985
Some of this research looks at so-called ‘blue zones’ such as Okinawa, Japan, Loma Linda in California, and the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, where there are unusually high concentrations of very old people.
These people had moderate drinking, staying active and social, having a purpose and low stress levels in common.
Centenarians interviewed last year for an infographic echoed those sentiments, attributed their good health to things like a daily shot of cognac, an optimistic outlook and refusing to retire.
By these standards, Betty is doing it all right, hot dogs and all.
Betty has said that she keeps working to fund her tireless support of animal nonprofits, and is ever the optimist.
‘I know it sounds corny,’ she told Parade, ‘but I try to see the funny side and the upside, not the downside. I get bored with people who complain about this or that, it’s such a waste of time.’
The health benefits of optimism have been documented over and over, and one 2016 study of female nurses found that the optimistic ones had a 27 percent lower risk of dying.
Betty’s well-being practices may not conform to most what we think healthy living looks like, but there’s plenty of science – and evidence from White’s own life- to suggest that the spunky nonagenarian should keep doing things her way.