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SECRETS OF LONG LIFE: ARE COOKIES OKAY AFTER ALL?

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As I paged through the second edition of Dan Buettner's "The Blue Zones," pondering the benefits of goat's milk, beans, garden vegetables and the like, I suddenly noticed a sentence with the word "cookies" in it! His personal interviews with the centenarians from the Sardinian mountain regions were most revealing and interesting. Before heading off to visit the family mountaintop pasture, Dan "downed a dozen cookies with a few glasses of wine" with Tonino, the 75-year-old son of a centenarian. It turns out that "papassini," Sardinian cookies made with raisins, almonds, and jam from cooked red wine (saba), are very popular, especially at festivals and during holiday seasons. So right before Thanksgiving and the Christmas/New Year season, I learn that cookies may be okay after all! The recipe for papassini includes almonds (or walnuts), golden raisins, flour, eggs, vanilla powder, vegetable shortening, plus whole milk.

So do Sardinians live a long life despite eating cookies or are cookies actually part of the magic formula for life beyond 100 years?  Maybe, if they didn't eat cookies they could live to be 150 years? At this point, I am thinking that 100 years seem fine.  But, as I focused in on the individual stories of centenarians from "The Blue Zones" in Sardinia, Okinawa, California, Costa Rica, and the island of Ikaria in Greece, I appreciated the great diversity in factors contributing to long life. With regard to food, there are both similarities and differences. The major common feature is reliance upon a lean, plant-based diet. Herbal and medicinal teas are common. Red wine (Cannonau or Grenache) high in flavonoids is popular in Sardinia and Ikaria.  Fresh goat's milk and grass-fed sheep cheeses are also popular in both these blue zones. The high omega-3 fatty acids in these products may be especially important since fish is eaten, but is not a consistent staple across the blue zones.  There is liberal use of olive oil as well as frequent use of pork lard in cooking.  Of note, eggs often accompany beans, rice, and tortillas. Breads are whole grain.  Both sweet and traditional potatoes are used.  Meat-eating is definitely low, and is restricted mainly to pork, with less frequent beef reserved for holidays and festivals.

But it turns out that many key features of blue zones are not food related.  It is important to realize that "The Blue Zones" are not idyllic paradises with individuals focused on their "best diet."  These centenarians, by and large, have endured many hardships in their lives and eaten what is available: often not enough.  Even when they have enough food in Okinawa, the centenarians stop eating when they are 80% full.  These are tough, decisive people doing their best to survive. There is an underlying faith that "God will provide" despite precarious circumstances. There is freedom from the financial and social pressures of modern society.  Elders are revered within the family and community. These are not "me" societies: it is all about the extended family. Time and deadlines are not important. Naps are okay and part of the pattern of life.

Dan Buettner and his diverse collection of experts have tried very hard to sort out the dietary, genetic, and social factors that can lead to long life. In Costa Rica, the centenarians are closely linked to the Chorotega Indians, but there may still be genetic diversity and strength from what locals call "mixed blood" in this blue zone.  Ultimately, the causes of longevity are clearly multifactorial.

And so, I came back to my starting question: what about the cookies? As I turned to page 238, I spotted another sentence with cookies in it: this time anisette cookies.  It turns out that, in Ikaria, they also love cookies, in this case, anisette cookies, which are remarkably similar to "papassini," using almond extract instead of crushed almonds.

So my final take-away is to rely on what Dan Buettner's team calls "Vitamin S" as a magic ingredient.  In this case, S is for Smile!  Centenarians and the rest of us, if we want to be like them, need to be happy, sociable, welcoming people always ready with a smile. If that smile, from time to time, combines with cookies and red wine, this can be a good thing!

13 Comments

The flavonoid that Dr. D is referring to is Resveratrol, a magic substance in red wine and skin of red grapes!! Lot of research has been done on Resveratrol!!
Mr. Antonio Todde, a centenarian from Sardinia attributed his longevity secret to a glass of red wine and he says "Just love your brother and drink a glass of good wine everyday!!"

Dr. Durie - love this post, especially Vitamin "S". I was called "Pepsodent Girl" as a child, and I'll keep smiling. Who remembers that brand of toothpaste? Thanks for the wonderful post.

Everything should be taken in moderation. Too much of something is bad enough. Thanks for your continued quest for answers regarding long life and cookies. A good diet can only succeed with a good client.

I am a caretaker of my husband with M Myeloma...it is very hard, and we don't seem to have support in my area. We are big on eating very well, taking good supplements and just hanging in there. I was wondering if anyone has licked this disease, ever....and what did they do in their diet? I think about taking him down the road of Macrobiotic Diet...I have done it in the past, but not with this disease. I so want to help kick this disease....and feel so helpless some days, and think if I could only feed him the right foods. Please, someone help me think that I can make a difference. Thank you.

Hi Judith,
You can make a difference! I have MM as well. Upon my diagniosis I started doing a lot of research! I learned about RAW food and becoming vegan. I cut out all meat, dairy, and sugar! I was told to watch the documentaries on NETFLICKS they are " forks over knives". "Fat, sick and nearly dead" " engine 2 diet" these will lead you to many other documentaries to learn, but those taught me enought to move forward in a new diet.
My blood work is doing great since I have changed. I hope your doctor has your husband on vitamins as mine did? there are many reasons you might or might not be on vitamins so ask. My Oncologiest is very happy with me and my amazing blood work. This is a lot of work but you already know what that is as a caregiver. If there are any questions you have I would be more than happy to help you, just let me know.
Best wishes,
Toni

Toniray@Toniray.net

My uncle just passed away at 103. Being that we are of Italian decent I asked him at his 100th birthday party how much wine he drinks daily and his answer was a shocker.'

He said that he never liked wine and only drinks it as a toast or at a family gathering and does not drink much if any any alcohol at all.

So let this one go. :D

My Sicilian mother would be proud that you chose this very Sicilian cookie called CUCIDATI

The traditional Cucidati is a fig filled cookie with three different nuts, pistachio's, almonds and walnuts, chopped dried and soaked figs in red wine, raisins and apricots, orange and lemon peel and many more amazing ingredients.

I suspect that many mediterranean cultures like the Greeks and the arabs have a very similar cookie.

Thanks for reminding me! :D

I would guess that Dr. Durie will live to be 100, because he is one of the most cheerful, optomistic, welcoming individuals I have ever met, working tirelessly on behalf of a dreadful disease. Thank you, Dr. Durie!

Dr Durie--Thank you so much for continuing your research on "cookies!" I love that your investigations into Myeloma include not only a focus on longevity but also on "living the good life." With a smile, I raise my glass to you--
Salute!

It is interesting to see that red wine drinking is possibly one of the commonalities contributing to longevity. Had read that was true in earlier studies. Too bad one can't drink alcoholic beverages while being treated with any number of myeloma drugs (Revlimid, dex, and Velcade, to name the ones in my experience). Guess that means I'll only live to 99 if I move to Sadinia or Ikaria and adopt the lifestyle?

Where is the data that you can't drink any alcohol with Rev, Dex, etc.? I have never been told this, have never seen it anywhere, and often have a glass of red wine with dinner.

My doctor says it's ok to drink red wine on Rev. We think my CBC'S have always been so good even during transplant was because of the glass of red wine every night.

Tea and crumpets or wine and cookies. Moderation always. Lots of exercise and connection with family and community. Then - a nap. I like it!

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