Emma Morano is a remarkable 115 years old and lives, alone, in Verbania, northwest Italy. Emma has lived by herself since she left her husband in 1938 because of domestic abuse. Her niece comes by twice a day.
After what is described as a ‘sickly’ childhood, her doctor recommended she eat two raw eggs a day, a regime she’s stuck to ever since. She added the 150 grams of steak after about of anemia. Unusually, she eats little fruit or vegetables which leads her current doctor, Carlo Bava, to observe: “Emma sees to go against everything that could be considered the guidelines for correct nutrition… But she’s gotten this far.”
Another unusual element to her diet is the biscuits and chocolates that her niece leaves out every night and which, by the morning, are always gone. Not bad for a woman whose movements are now limited, whose eyesight is bad and hearing weak.
This nocturnal roaming may be one illustration of Emma’s positive outlook on live, a factor that Dr Bava believes has contributed to her longevity. Indeed when a journalist visited her she burst out into verses of a 1930s Italian love song, lamenting only at the end: “Ahh, I don’t have my voice anymore”.
Dr Bava also believes that genes have played a role in Emma’s longevity, a theory supported by the fact that Emma’s sister lived until 97.
We’ll save our discussion of genes and a positive outlook for another day. And we’ve covered chocolate here. But what about the eggs? Could they have had an effect?
Plausibility rating: 4 out of 10. Eggs have had a chequered history when it comes to health advice. On the one hand, as EggInfo (the website of the British Egg Information Service) tell us, they are full of nutrients: protein, vitamins D, A, B2, B12, folate and iodine. On the other, for many years we were advised to limit intake to two a week because of fears about cholesterol and heart disease. On that basis, Emma would have been virtually killing herself for nearly a century.
Now however there is no suggested limit on the number of eggs you eat and heart disease is blamed much more on saturated fat than on cholesterol. However before you decide to go out and buy some hens, there are a couple of good reasons for thinking that eggs might not be such an aid to longevity.
There is limited research on eggs and longevity but the main piece isn’t positive. A long-term study of Harvard physicians found that eating up to six eggs a week was fine but more than that increased the risk of death by nearly a quarter.
And In the UK the elderly are still advised to avoid raw or runny eggs because of the risk of salmonella (in truth the risk is minimal if you stick to pasteurised eggs).
On the whole then, while the health concerns about eggs have declined, there’s little to suggest that they are a secret aid to longevity, and too many of them might perhaps have the opposite effect.
All in all, given that we’ve already said bacon isn’t the secret of a long life either, that’s most of the great British breakfast ruled out. Porridge anyone?