There's a little Italian resort town where approximately 15 percent of the population of 2,000 lives into the second century of life, and an impressive 20 percent of that part of the populace lives to be at least 110 years old. The centenarians live healthy, happy and active lives, and their natural longevity has attracted the attention of cardiologists and longevity researchers who are attempting to discover the secret to their older youth.
Found on Italy's Amalfi coastline, the town called Acciaroli is a popular tourist destination and longtime fishing village. The setting is so serene and beautiful that even Ernest Hemingway made his home there when he visited Italy. Like most of the people living in the Mediterranean, they dine on cereals, vegetables, fruit, pulse, culinary and medicinal herbs, fish, meat (mainly poultry and rabbit), oil and wine, which are all ingredients in the popular Mediterranean diet known for lowering heart attack and stroke risk.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes:
--Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts.
--Replacing butter with healthy fats, such as olive oil.
--Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods.
--Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month.
--Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week.
--Drinking red wine in moderation (optional).
The populace of Acciaroli is still unique in the number of people living past 100 years old despite many residents being both obese and heavy smokers. After a visit to the town, Alan Maisel, a cardiologist and professor at the University of California, began looking into the science behind the extraordinary longevity. Researchers have discovered that many of the centenarians also ingest rosemary and anchovies regularly.
Rosemary is a fragrant herb used in flavoring chicken, lamb, pork, salmon and tuna dishes, as well as many soups and sauces. Rosemary stimulates the immune system, increases circulation and improves digestion. The increased circulation to the head and brain bolsters concentration and helps slow the advance of Alzheimer's disease. Rosemary's anti-inflammatory compounds are also known to reduce the severity of asthma attacks. The herb is also a good source of vitamin A, which helps the skin and mucous membranes repel bacteria and viruses and helps to strengthen bones.
Rosemary can be grown in sunny gardens with good drainage, but it is susceptible to damage from frost. It is an aromatic evergreen shrub that has the added benefit of pest control. The plant is ornamental and drought-tolerant.
Anchovies, similar to sardines and mackerel, are a small, oily fish with abundant flavor and are used to add salty flavor to salads, sauces, pasta and pizza. They also have essential fatty acids, protein and other nutrients. A serving (about five fillets) is only 26 calories and provides 4 grams of protein; the average adult should get 46 to 56 grams of protein daily. Anchovies also provide healthy unsaturated fats, which reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease; eating just two servings of oily fish weekly can reduce the risk of dying of a heart attack by 36 percent. Fresh anchovy fillets add magnesium, calcium and phosphorus to the diet, all minerals necessary for strong bones. In addition, these little fish help to lower blood pressure, support circulation and are a good source of iron.
Though some people like anchovies straight out of the tin, the canned version is usually packed in brine, and the salt can be overwhelming. There are ways to cut the strong salt flavoring. You can rinse the canned fish, eat it on bread with tomato and basil, or toss it into scrambled breakfast eggs.
Maisel noted that though the local diet may be a major contributor to the good health and longevity of the Acciaroli people, there is also the consideration that the area is very low in pollution and mountainous, so there is a lot of physical activity. In addition to following the Acciaroli diet, he offered the following advice: Spend time outside and get a lot of fresh air, and because stress can destroy your immune system, it's important to destress after a hectic day with long evening strolls or yoga classes.