Foods which will help you live longer is not a fairy tales, the world’s oldest siblings – the nine Melis siblings of Sardinia, who boast a combined age of nearly 820 – recently revealed the secret of their incredible longevity. It is down, said 100-year-old Claudina, to hard work, being surrounded by family (the nine boast 150 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren between them) and minestrone soup. “You just keep working and you eat minestrone, beans and potatoes,” said the sprightly centurion. And she’s not the first record-breaking pensioner to attribute great age to great food (and drink). Here are the foods the oldest people in the world eat, and why it might contribute to their long and active lives.
Eggs and sausage
The diet of Edna Parker, a former Indiana schoolteacher who was certified as the world’s oldest person until her death – aged 115 – in 2008, would also have had nutritionists shaking their heads in disgust. According to reports, Parker especially enjoyed eggs, sausage, bacon and fried chicken. Perhaps some people can get away with high fat diets if they work hard. As a farmer’s wife Parker rose at 4am every day. At 100, she was still living on the family farm, alone, and still climbing ladders.
The oldest documented person ever to have lived was Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122 in Arles, France. Most of us know olive oil is healthy, and Calment would pour it onto all her food and even rub it into her skin, a habit she considered responsible for her youthful good looks (at the age of 110 or so). But Calment also lived life to the full, and part of that was enjoying wine and chocolate every day. These may seem like vices, but in moderation – and if the wine was red and the chocolate dark – both can actually be good for you.
When Kimura died the title of the world’s oldest living person passed to fellow Japanese national Misao Okawa, a 115-year-old Osaka woman who already held the title of the world’s oldest living woman. Okawa says she’s not fussy when it comes to food but has a particular fondness for pickled mackerel. Mackerel is an oily fish and packed with heart-healthy omega-3s and the antioxidant mineral selenium. But as Okawa is not a fussy eater, the Japanese diet as a whole may have played a part in her long life. The traditional Japanese diet includes plenty of pulses, vegetables, fresh fish and seaweed, and smaller portions – compared with what we are used to in the west – are very much the norm.
Porridge and soup
The oldest man ever to have lived died in June at the grand old age of 116. Jiroemon Kimura was born when Queen Victoria was on the British throne and lived through the reigns of four Japanese emperors. Kimura was the oldest person on the planet when he died, and the oldest man ever to have lived. He put his great age down to waking early, reading the newspaper and eating rice porridge and miso soup. Genetics helped Kimura live so long (he was from a long living family) but diet may have played a part. Miso soup is an excellent source of dietary fibre and protein, as well as a good source of minerals. It’s also high in vitamin K. But miso is rarely eaten by itself. Common additives like tofu, vegetables and fish stock add a further nutritional punch.