Donya Currie is the editor of The Free Lance-Star's Healthy Life section and Healthy Life Virginia newsletter.

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Tried and true health advice

A Caroline County woman, Maggie James, just died at the age of 112.  Her grandaughter told my colleague Portsia Smith that the key to James’ long life was sticking to a diet her doctor recommended in the 1930s, after she was diagnosed with high blood pressure.

The doctor’s order: Don’t eat pork, and eat very little salt. James stuck with that advice and ate mostly fish and chicken for the rest of her life, Smith reported.

“‘Her health was pretty good ever since then,” her granddaughter, Vernessa Ware said.

The story got me thinking about how often people complain about the shifting nature of health advice. How can you know whether to eat butter or margarine, eat beef or go vegetarian, drink a nightly glass of wine or not, when old advice keeps getting shoved aside by new research?

It’s true that it can be tough to keep up with new reports on individual foods and nutrients. But some advice really doesn’t get shoved aside, does it?

In the 1930s, Maggie James’ doctor told her to limit her salt intake; doctors advise the same thing now, pointing out that most Americans consume far more than the recommended amount of sodium, which can contribute to high blood pressure and up the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

In the 1930s, James was told to stop eating pork and shifted to a diet of mostly chicken and fish. It apparently served her well, and today, many doctors still recommended eating lots of fish and poultry — the popular Mediterranean diet features both.

I’m convinced the cornerstones of good health are firmly rooted. Eat lots of fresh foods, especially fruits and veggies. Exercise. Don’t smoke. Limit your alcohol consumption. Get a good night’s sleep. Try not to get too worked up about things. Be socially connected, as James was.

And laugh. When asked the secret to her longevity, James reportedly joked that God had forgotten about her. You can read more about her here:

To learn more about wise dietary choices, check out the transcript of a nutrition chat Dr. Chris Lillis and dietitian Jennifer Motl did recently on

To read more about how and why nutrition advice seems to change a lot, check out the link below to a story that concludes with a basic health message: “Fortunately, while individual studies may give different data about a particular nutrient, the value of a healthy diet is not in doubt.”