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You Are What You Eat

You Are What You EatTufts' Dr. Nevin Scrimshaw, an international nutrition expert, says that a consistent low-fat diet and regular exercise keep him going strong at age 90.

Boston [02.01.08] Today, the medical community recognizes how important nutrition is to overall health, but Dr. Nevin Scrimshaw, a visiting professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, recalls a time in his long life when nutrition was not taken quite as seriously. As a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Rochester in 1949, Scrimshaw was actually discouraged from pursuing his interest in the field.

"My professors thought I was throwing my career away," he told The Boston Globe. "Even my wife said, 'If you do this, you know you're going to be identified with nutrition for now on.'"

Scrimshaw, who is 90, was undeterred. He headed for Guatemala, where he founded the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama. That decision helped shape Scrimshaw's professional life, which has been dedicated to the study of various nutrition-related topics, including infection, protein-deficiency and malnutrition.

At the Institute, Scrimshaw spent more than a decade conducting "groundbreaking research on the connection between nutrition and infection," according to the Globe. In 1961, he was lured back to the United States by an offer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to become a professor. Now an MIT Institute Professor Emeritus, he founded its Department of Nutrition and Food Science.

Scrimshaw was a contemporary of Dr. Jean Mayer, the renowned nutritionist and 10th president of Tufts University who founded the Friedman School as the first graduate school of nutrition in the United States.

Three decades later, Scrimshaw received the World Food Prize, a prestigious international award honoring people who have improved the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.

Scrimshaw told the Globe that since he began his career as a nutrition scientist, the field has "exploded."

"Diabetes and heart disease are overwhelming our health system," he told the newspaper. "And that makes nutrition something more than academic."

Scrimshaw, who celebrated his 90th birthday on Jan. 20, speaks from experience. Since undergoing triple bypass surgery 25 years ago, nutrition has been a personal focus as well as a professional pursuit.

"I hadn't taken optimal care of myself, and decided I wasn't going to let that happen again," he told the Globe. According to the newspaper, Scrimshaw now follows "a serious diet" that is low-fat and includes fruits, vegetables, fish and poultry.

Besides a healthy diet, Scrimshaw told the Globe that there are other secrets to his success.

"I'm physically and mentally active," Scrimshaw told the newspaper. After skiing or hiking each morning, he typically writes or edits for five or six hours, according to the Globe. With ongoing research projects in Syria and Bangladesh, he also travels often, the newspaper reported.

And Scrimshaw told the Globe that he doesn't plan to stop any time soon.

"I intend to keep this lifestyle as long as I can," he said. "I lead a very stress-free life. I have a wonderful marriage, the children and grandchildren are doing well, and I've received all the professional recognition that anybody could ask for. I'm very satisfied."

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