A Fond Farewell to Jack LaLanne

January 28, 2011 in Blog Recipes, Fitness, Health by Mary Ireland

I just loved Jack LaLanne. He was so enthusiastic about health. His energy, vivaciousness, and his “can do spirit” was contagious. We was a leader – a man who opened his first fitness spa when the conventional medical wisdom of the day said that lifting weights could result in a heart attack and a lowered libido. He was ahead of his time regarding nutrition. On clips from his show, you see him constantly touting fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains.

His message was always that you can do it, no matter how old you are or how bad of shape you are in; you can turn your life around through nutritious diet and exercise. Helping people believe that they could change their lives was a major component of Jack LaLanne’s teaching. Jack was right: studies have shown a direct correlation between self-efficacy – a person’s belief in their capability – and how well people perform and how resilient they are when they don’t perform well. Today we can use technology to become inspired by a posting of before and after pictures or a video of the hottest new exercise. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, there were precious few resources other than Jack’s show.

In his talks to his “students,” Jack used a variety of methods to get his watchers to change their lifestyles. In Supermarket Smarts he used the example that most women are excellent shoppers, skilled at identifying quality and finding bargains when shopping for clothes and accessories. LaLanne explained how they could apply their clothes shopping skills to supermarket shopping – reading labels and getting the most healthful food for their dollar – giving a quick nutrition lesson in the process. Another segment appealed to their patriotism, by suggesting that by becoming fat and flabby we were wasting the “great thought, the lives lost, the toil, and the fitness” that went into making our country great. Maybe the patriot approach would work in today’s political climate.

In his clip on the Mind/Body Connection, Jack talks about how people think that they can buy their way to health in the doctor’s office. This mentality is part of typical human behavior: we want to see how much we can get by with, without having to “pay the piper” for our actions. The really sad thing is that “Big Pharma” has capitalized on that mentality, marketing health in a pill. They are so much as saying, “don’t worry: you don’t need to eat right and exercise, we have pills for anything that ails you." In Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine (P.S.), John Abramson talks about how the pharmaceutical companies are corrupting science, misleading doctors and threatening your health. He states, “Whether the products actually improve our health is irrelevant." Jack’s mindset of personal responsibility and acting in accord with nature are some of the best defenses against self-serving pill pushers who pander to our laziness and encourage our lack of initiative.

Jack used his own life as a testament. Based on his own description, at age 15 he was addicted to sugar and junk food – a sugarholic – who was very depressed. (I’ve seen some stories in which he was described as a juvenile delinquent.). When he was 15, his mother made him attend a seminar on health. The seminar changed Jack’s life forever. When Jack was 95, he celebrated 80 years of being sugar free. Pretty darn amazing. He didn’t make exceptions to his sugar free lifestyle, not even one of his many birthday cakes. (By the way, Dr. Oz also has a good segment on sugar in which he talks about new research that may link sugar consumption to high blood pressure. )

Jack was quoted as saying that exercise was not a favorite pastime, candidly calling it "a pain in the gluties.” And said, “But you gotta do it. Dying is easy. Living is tough. I hate working out. Hate it. But I like the results." You only have to look at the a video from Jack's 90th birthday and another from his 95th birthday to see the results of his healthful lifestyle. He was still mentally alert and physically active. Not like the pictures you see of most 95-year olds – people who are frail, can hardly get around, and don’t seem to have all of their wits about them. At age 95, he published his book, Live Young Forever: 12 Steps to Optimum Health, Fitness and Longevity. From the video clips of his 90th and 95th birthdays, you can tell that Jack was still living young; he still worked out with weights for 2 hours a day.

Many studies have confirmed what Jack believed – that the combination of exercise and nutrition help us to stay young. In one study, investigators looked at the relationship of physical activity and Alzheimer’s disease. They found that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease was 35 to 40 percent lower in those who exercised for at least 15 minutes 3 or more times a week than in those who exercised fewer than 3 times a week. Modern science is proving today what Jack LaLanne learned from his own experience. Jack may not have succeeded as much as he had hoped in saving America from inactivity and obesity, but he made an impact. The task is now left to those of us who were inspired by him.

Jack would definitely approve of the Curried Eggplant dish below. It really is yummy!

Savory Curry Eggplant Casserole

If you or your family need animal protein to consider a recipe a main dish, you may add cubed cooked chicken or turkey to this dish. Don’t forget that eggplant, onions, wheat berries and Parmesan cheese all are sources of protein.


6 – 8 cups eggplant, cut to ½ inch cubes (about 1 large eggplant)
1 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ cup cooked wheat berries
2 medium Roma tomatoes, diced
1 teaspoon turmeric, ground
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
2 teaspoons curry power
½ teaspoon red chili powder
Salt, as desired
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, if desired
3 tablespoons Greek Yogurt, per serving.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Saute eggplant, cumin seeds and onion in oil until the onion becomes clear and the eggplant is beginning to soften. Stir in the cooked wheat berries, tomatoes, and spice. Pour into a greased 9” X 13” baking dish. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if desired. Bake for 25 minutes, until the top is crusty. Serve with a dollop of Greek Yogurt.

Chop onion and cube eggplant.

Heat skillet with olive oil; add onions, eggplant and cumin seeds; cook until onions are tender.

Add tomatoes and spices and mix together.

Put into 13" x 9" casserole dish and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Bake at 375 F for 25 minutes.

Serve with Greek yogurt.