Secret no.39 A fried breakfast

3627037828_cd296af6c2_oAt 105, Kathleen Hilton has earned the right to eat what she wants for breakfast. And what she wants is bacon, sausage, tomatoes, eggs and beans – the ‘full English’.

Her son David told eager national newspapers: “Kath loves her weekly breakfast. It must be the fry ups which are giving her the long lease of life. That and good genes.”

Born in Grimsby, Kathleen left school at 15 to work as a bookkeeper in the docks, met her husband Matt in the town and married him at the Old Clee church there (wearing blue rather than white in recognition of the tragic death of a brother, Leslie). Matt died in 1984 but Kathleen continued to lived alone and independent until the age of 100. She is now a resident at Homefield House care home. Angela Dannett, who works there, confirms Kathleen’s fondness for a full English: “She loves it. If she could have a cooked breakfast every day, she would.”

So could the full English be a factor in Kathleen’s long life?

Plausibility rating: 5 out of 10. We’ve grown up with the advice of US nutritionist Adele King ringing in our ears: ‘Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dine like a pauper‘. Unfortunately there’s really no definitive evidence to support it. While some studies do suggest that breakfast is good for you, the weight of evidence really doesn’t demonstrate any benefit to eating your biggest meal in the morning*.

Nor is a cooked breakfast the best breakfast you can eat. While tomatoes are good, eggs are fine (again in moderation) and baked beans are great (if a bit heavy on sugar), altogether they’re laden with calories (upwards of 800), fat and salt. And the sausage and bacon  are prime examples of the processed meat we’re encouraged to eat in moderation because of an association with cancer.

All of which is probably why Kathleen doesn’t have it every day. In a bit of the story that’s all too easily overlooked, her son David told the local newspaper that, while she has the full-English every Saturday morning, ‘she has porridge throughout the week’.

Now that’s more like it as a real longevity secret. It might not have grabbed the attention and made it into the national newspapers though and Kathleen would have missed her brief bit of fame. Let’s home she enjoyed it as much as her weekly fry-up.

* Despite this the very enthusiastic Mr Breakfast website (‘All breakfast, all the time’) lists every piece of positive research about breakfast that’s been published, as well as a database of all 1,528 cereals every made, from Addams Family Cereal to Zoe’s O’s.

I am grateful to Christine Miller at Independent Age for finding this longevity secret for me. Thanks Christine!

photo credit: The Full English via photopin (license)

STORY SO FAR: top-rated ways to live to 100

Twenty entries in to our ‘101 ways to live to 100′ and already one or two trends are emerging. Alcohol and religion both turn up in quite a few of our centenarians’ secrets to longevity, as does chocolate. So far, no one has mentioned genetics (though a few have mentioned ‘family’). And our surprise leader is mountaineering.

Our league table below is surely the only time these words have ever appeared in a list together:

9/10: Mountaineering
8/10: A loving family; Be happy and enjoy life;
7/10: A good doctor; praising God
6/10: One meal a day; sleep; hard work
5/10: ChocolateMonogamy; Guinness; Yoga; a lot of booze
4/10: Two raw eggs;
3/10: Work less overtime;
2/10: Bacon
1/10: Water from a wishing well
0/10: Pearls
No score: Good food; stem cells

Back soon with: Does a sense of humour help you live longer?

Secret no.10 Two raw eggs

3870440483_edab3789d8_oEmma 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?

photo credit: two eggs via photopin (license)