52 ODES TO JOY: The Fun S.U.N.S. Longevity Diet

(Photo from Foodnetwork.com)

                                                                      ODE TO A FUN, HEALTHY DIET

                                                                          Try as I might,

                                                                          A fun, healthy diet

                                                                          Seems an oxymoron in daylight

                                                                          And a darker mystery at night.

What if eating well could be all fun and games? Play with your food? Eat a seriously, good-for-you, healthy diet but not make it so deadly dull serious? I’m one of those grab-the-gusto types who, when confronted with something that isn’t fun, simply chooses not to do it.

The aim with these “25 Fun, S.U.N.S. (Smile-Making, Uniting, Neighboring, Spellbinding) Diet Tips” I’ve selected from my 40 years as a gerontologist is to share helpful ideas nutritionists, gastroenterologists and others suggest to create some healthy eating habits and have a joyful, long life with:

                                                       “THE FUN S.U.N.S. LONGEVITY DIET”

A healthy diet that’s fun? Yeah, you’re wishing me good, “fooding” luck with that, right? It’s somewhat Mediterranean, somewhat plants-centric, but since it’s S.U.N.S., it’s totally about savoring the joy of pleasurable eating.

Though I’m a fan of both, my two, favorite food stars of the last 40 years are not Julia Child and my Uncle Ben, they are: Michael Pollan and Rachel Flax. Pollen famously wrote the brilliant mealtime mantra: “Eat food, less of it, mostly plants” in a treatise titled, “In Defense of Food Now.” Having food fun, yet? Yeah, I know, but what he proposed is succinctly wise for Joy & Gerontology.

And, what’s the shoop-shoop, foodie scoop on Rachel Flax? She’s the madcap mom character played by fun and ever-youthful Cher in the film, “Mermaids.” If we could turn back time and mash up the no-nonsense, health-wizardry of Michael Pollan and the lots-of-nonsense Rachel Flax into one, delish sandwich they would be a tasty menu option for “THE FUN S.U.N.S. LONGEVITY DIET.”

The only scene I remember from the super-lite, family comedy, “Mermaids,” besides “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)” sing-along, is Cher making fun sandwiches with a cookie cutter as her killjoy, teen daughter, played by Winona Ryder, throws some eye-rolling shade. The audience was rooting for the fun mom and hoping for fish, sunburst or puppy-shaped snacks in the lobby.

Sifting through hundreds of ideas for upping your food joy and potential for enhanced longevity, here, with all the disciplined order of a fresh-from-the-microwave bag of Orville Redenbacher popping corn, are:

                                         “25 Fun, Food Tips from THE FUN S.U.N.S. LONGEVITY DIET”

  1. CEREAL VALET—Don’t go down the deadly grocery aisle of sugary, seductively boxed, Satan-inspired cereals. Ask your grocer to help you retrieve a box of any of these four, healthy-ish corporate cereals: Kashi 7 Whole Grain Nuggets, Post Foods Grape Nuts, Bob’s Red Mill Paleo-Style Muesli, Love Grown Original Power O’s. (A better choice for cereals would be homemade oats or homemade (less sugar) granola.
  2. SAW 2” OFF YOUR AMERICAN, DINING TABLE LEGS—Europeans, traditionally slimmer and more diet-savvy than Americans, eat at 27” tall tables rather than our country’s 29” tall standard. Rather than gobble a plateful of food and scoot, we need to learn to “linger longer” and unite in conversation and togetherness with our dining companions. No meal should last less than 20 minutes.
  3. ENJOY A MULTI-COUNTY, GARDEN PARTY—Two years ago, the Alabama Press Association awarded me “Best Feature Story” for a food adventure series titled “The 67-County, Alabama Garden Party.” In that delectable, year-long ramble, my creative cook/friend, Laurie Johnson and I explored where “plants + people” UNITE throughout the state. We discovered a bushel and a peck of interesting new plants to add to food choices. Do this in your state. Support your farmers. I thought I knew everything about having a good time with food, but Alabama mushroom growers really taught me to be a “fungi.”
  4. MAKE YOUR PANTRY A “PLANTRY”—Study your food storage. Canned beans (rinse to remove salt) are a great, inexpensive source of plant protein. Also, I just added a small tub of flax seeds from Publix to my “plantry.”
  5. DRINK A GLASS OF WATER BEFORE EVERY MEAL—Yes, even choke down a glass of tap water before breakfast (breaking the fast). Much of hunger is really dehydration and thirst. This habit took me a while to adopt, especially at breakfast, because I sometimes feel like W.C. Fields did about drinking water. (Even I know this fun quote is not fit to print in a family publication–many now googling.)
  6. PUT HEALTHY FOODS WHERE YOU CAN SEE THEM—This could be eye-level on your “plantry” shelves.
  7. TRASH YOUR TRASH FOODS—Just get rid of anything that is “empty calories” and don’t allow it in your grocery cart. Ban anything that has 5 or more carbs per serving.
  8. GROW A PEAR—or, at least some parsley. Foods you plant, nurture and gather will be more valued. Be selective about foods you grow—no fields of sugarcane please.
  9. FREEZE YOUR BERRIES OFF—Frozen blueberries, strawberries, cherries and such have just as much nutritional value as farmers’ market ones and besides being available all year are generally much cheaper.
  10. TRISKETS, SCHMISKETS—Hi. I’m Ben. I’m a Triscuit addict. I over-indulge thinking the wheat content sounds healthy and savor the salt until my fingers puff up and I can’t get my ring off. My brain and ears love the crunch. So, I’ve devalued this addictive-for-me cracker by calling them “Schmiskets” like Yiddish-American funster, Mel Brooks, might. How about schlamming your junk food nemesis—“Krispy Schkremes?” “Schmit Schmat” bars?
  11. HUM A HAPPY HUMMUS TUNE—Ground chickpeas as a dip for carrots and celery is an easy way to add plant protein. I do this every night at bourbon-thirty. (Don’t judge, bourbon is made from healthy corn. Just don’t overdo this corn product.)
  12. “TASTES TOO GOOD TO BE VEGAN”—This is a quote from a 2021 “New Yorker Magazine” restaurant review about a traditional Vietnamese soup, pho, made meat-less. You don’t have to be a culinary magician, simply google “tastes like meat” recipes.
  13. PUT SOME SKIN IN—The most nutritious part of an apple or potato and most other fruits and vegetables is right under the skin. Look for healthy plant-based recipes that don’t scalp the nutrients off.
  14. JASON MOMOA’S MUSCLES ARE MOSTLY WATER as are most showy muscles—Wanna look more pumped? Well–that’s a deep subject. Drink more water.
  15. THE LEAN, GREEN INNARDS CLEAN—Raw kale, broccoli, chard, spinach help keep your digestive system clean-running and junk-purging.
  16. PUT A LOCK ON YOUR “SUGAR SAFE”—In 19th century America when sugar was a pricey luxury, “sugar safes” were common and the homeowner kept the key. Create a “lock box” for your sugary ingest-ables and you will be less likely to ingest them.
  17. AMUSE-BOUCHE—is French for “entertain the mouth” and are those beautiful little bites that chefs often offer to delight as tastes treats. You are encouraged to surprise your tastebuds a bit.
  18. FRIENDS DON’T GIVE FRIENDS FAKE FOOD—I’ve been regularly guilty of buying cookies and candy as “Thank you” gifts. Now, I’m trying to remember to give thoughtful gifts of locally grown, real food. “Thank you, you’re a good egg. Thanks for being a sweet patooty.”
  19. COLOR ME BEAUTIFUL FOODS—darkly seductive, emerald broccoli, kale, celery greens and jewel-toned beets, tomatoes and cherry reds like the wall color of Venetian orgy rooms are what you desire. The darker the berry the more delicious the sensation.
  20. UNITE WITH A “FUN, S.U.N.S. DIET DISCIPLINARIAN”—When you’re tempted to go rogue off your diet, text a diet-respecting friend and let them help you regain your healthy priorities. Return the kindness.
  21. TAKE A FRUIT TO WORKDAY is more fun and frequently healthier than taking a child with you to work.
  22. CALM YOUR HINEY DOWN WITH CLASSICAL MUSIC before you’re tempted to tear into a sugary snack. Enjoy some calming calcium like a few morsels of low-fat cheese instead.
  23. DON’T LOAD YOUR JEEP WITH JUNK—I keep a re-sealable bag of whole, unsalted, unroasted almonds in my Jeep for times I want to nosh on the run.
  24. LIFE-CHANGING FRUITS and VEGETABLES RE-ALIGN GENETICS AT ANY AGE—I found this on page 50 of a great little book called, “Eat, Move, Sleep,” by Tom Rath. Quit blaming your parents for your “diet challenges.” You, yes, YOU, can make some healthy changes starting today.
  25. IF AN ASSORTMENT OF PIES is on the menu, get that. Seriously, you can still have pie, cake, dessert treats on “THE FUN S.U.N.S. LONGEVITY DIET.” The first couple of bites is where the flavor resides, bites after that are just unthinking, blissed-out brain on automatic. Ask the wait staff for a slice of pie and a few forks for friends. If you’re dining alone, take a couple of bites of dessert and then destroy the temptation by moving the dessert beyond your grasp and/or using the table shaker to salt it like a slug.

What makes “The Fun S.U.N.S. Longevity Diet” different is about combining a playful, fun attitude and nutrition science while being health-conscious for a joyful, long life. SMILE-MAKING is important as you choose tasty foods that bring you particular pleasure. UNITING is crucial for long-term commitment to a healthy lifestyle. Birds of a joyful, healthy feather flock together. NEIGHBORING, others-centeredness while dieting, means valuing who produces your food and also living a bit more simply so through sharing, others may simply—live. SPELLBINDING with a joy-filled lifestyle is important because the S.U.N.S. diet is not a fad, it’s a lifestyle for the rest of your one precious life of ever-vigilant choices. Things like drinking a glass of water before every meal or eating an apple slathered with nut butter for every breakfast require you to be focused and “in the zone.” Are all these small eating changes really all that important? As joy-making, American funster, Groucho Marx, would say—“YOU BET YOUR LIFE!”


March 19—Moms Mabley

March 20—Fred Rogers

March 21—Solomon Burke

March 22—Stephen Sondheim

March 23—Fannie Farmer

March 24—Harry “MR. SPELLBINDING” Houdini

March 25—Aretha Franklin


“I’m trying the Bourbon Diet and so far, I’ve lost seven days.”

“S.U.N.S. DIET Day 1: Remove all the sweet food from the fridge. Testimonial: I did this, and it was delicious.”

“My friend, Joe, went on the Dolly Parton Diet and now…Joe lean…Joe lean…Joe lean…Joe leeeeeean!”

“I’m on the Egg Diet and can have eggs any style. So far, Cadbury’s is my favorite.”

“Don’t do the Tropical Fruit Diet. It can make a mango crazy.”

“Also, don’t do the Squirrel Diet. It’s just nuts.”

“I wanted to start “THE FUN, S.U.N.S. LONGEVITY DIET” today but I have way too much on my plate right now.”

                                          DELAWARE LIMA BEAN-TAHINI VEGETABLE DIP

                                                       (Source: FoodNetwork.com)

Each week, Joy & Gerontology shares a recipe saluting a healthy food produced in America. The delicious and nutritious collection is called “The S.U.N.S. USA Longevity Cookbook” and highlights vitamin B-3 (niacin) which many research gerontologists believe holds the promise for a long, healthy, joyful life.


2 cups frozen lima beans

4 cups baby spinach

½ cup tahini

½ cup fresh cilantro

¼ cup fresh dill, plus chopped dill for topping

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, plus ¼ cup fresh lemon juice

1 clove garlic, grated

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Crumbled feta cheese for topping

Crudites for serving


  1. Bring 1 cup water to simmer in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the lima beans and cook until softened 8 minutes. Stir in the spinach until wilted.
  2. Transfer the vegetables and liquid to a food processor along with tahini, cilantro, ½ cup water, the dill, with salt and pepper. Puree until mostly smooth, adding more water if needed.
  3. Transfer the dip to a bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Top with feta and dill. Serve with crudites.


251. A steady diet of laughter.

252. “Stars Fell on Alabama” by Guy Lombardo Orchestra.

253. “A Sunday Kind of Love” by Dinah Washington of my hometown, Tuscaloosa, AL.

254. Sack races.

255. “Don’t make me put on my Jesus socks!”

256. Rothko divinity in the East Building of the National Gallery of Art.

257. The spellbinding, smile-making fun of fun-house mirrors.

258. The spellbinding, smile-making fun of the Hall of Mirrors (Versailles, France).

259. Tumbling tumbleweeds.

260. The movie, “Best of Show.”

261. The smell of a cedar closet.

262. My reoccurring dream of a big, happy dog chauffeuring me in a turquoise convertible.

263. Sewing jingly bells on some shaking clothing.

264. Owls hooting.

265. “Sing-A-Long with Mitch.”

266. Aretha Franklin singing opera—or, really anything.

267. Refrigerator cold, leftover pizza.

268. Bette Midler’s gentle ode to Alzheimer’s, “Hello, In There.”

269. THE SECRET HISTORY, novel by Donna Tartt.

270. Knowing a dog in South Carolina understood 1,200+ words.

271. Having a dog or child who finally learns the word—“No.”

272. How delicious food tastes while dieting.



Ben South