To Age Better, Eat Better

Liz Mineo wrote . . . . . . .

A habitually healthy eater, Frank Hu stocks his refrigerator with fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, and chicken. His pantry holds brown rice, whole grains, and legumes, and his snack cabinet has nuts and seeds. He eats red meat only occasionally, rarely buys white bread, soda, bacon, or other processed meats. He’ll purchase chips and beer, but only now and then, mostly when entertaining friends.

When it comes to eating smartly in ways that can help us keep fit and live longer, Hu knows best.

Hu took over the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in January. His eating habits are greatly informed by his research on what constitutes a healthy diet. While he knows they’re not for everyone, he says people can nonetheless move toward eating patterns that both appeal to them and help them stay well.

“There is no single, fit-for-all diet for everyone,” said Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “People should adopt healthy dietary patterns according to their food and cultural preferences and health conditions. I don’t have a rigid regimen, but I always emphasize healthy components in all my meals.”

And so, according to considerable research, can all those who want to reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and other chronic illnesses, and increase both longevity and quality of life in old age.

We become what we eat

To some extent, when it comes to healthy aging, we become what we eat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four deaths results from heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. Among the top risk factors are obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and poor diet — with the first three often tied to the last. The rise in obesity has hit the United States hard. More than a third of adults and one-fifth of children and adolescents age 2 to 19 are obese.

Research shows that sustained, thoughtful changes in diet can make the difference between health and illness, and sometimes between life and death. For more than 50 years, researchers who have studied the link between diet and health have extolled the virtues of the Mediterranean diet, with its emphasis on vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains, olive oil, and fish, and its de-emphasis on red meat and dairy.

Pioneering studies, such as one led by nutrition expert Ancel Keys in the late 1950s, helped establish the Mediterranean diet as the benchmark. Keys’ landmark Seven Countries Study, which promoted diets low in saturated fats (beef, pork, butter, cream) and high in mono-unsaturated fats (avocados, olive oil), showed decidedly lower risks of cardiovascular disease.

Research by renowned Harvard nutritionist Walter Willett, who chaired the Nutrition Department for 25 years until this past January, has confirmed the pronounced benefits of the Mediterranean diet. In his 2000 book “Eat, Drink and Be Healthy,” Willett wrote that the “main elements of the Mediterranean lifestyle are connected with lower risks of many diseases.”

Using data from Harvard’s Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), a long-term epidemiological probe into women’s health, Willett also concluded that “heart diseases could be reduced by at least 80 percent by diet and lifestyle changes.”

Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Nurses’ Health Study was established by Frank Speizer in 1976 to examine the long-term consequences of oral contraceptives. In 1989, Willett established NHS II to study diet and lifestyle risk factors. The results of that study have heavily influenced national dietary guidelines and the way Americans think about how they should eat.

“The picture that has emerged is that the traditional Mediterranean diet promotes health and well-being,” said Willett, the Fredrick John Stare Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology. “The elements of a healthy diet were readily available in the Mediterranean, where people had to eat local fruits, vegetables, and fish. Back then, most people didn’t have much choice in what to eat.”

Researchers also generally approve of both the vegetarian diet and the Asian diet because they also help increase longevity and decrease the risk of chronic disease. But the Mediterranean reigns supreme, because the Asian diet has salt and starch, and the vegetarian lacks important nutrients.

A design for healthy eating

To publicize everyday ways to eat better, researchers at the Harvard Chan School came up with the Healthy Eating Plate. It suggests eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean poultry, and olive oil, and asks people to limit refined grains, trans fats, red meat, sugary drinks, and processed foods. In addition, it touts staying active.

Harvard’s plate was a response to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) MyPlate, which, a comparison by Harvard nutrition experts suggested, could have gone further in detailing information about which foods to favor or limit.

A 2012 Harvard study found that eating red meat led to increased cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality, and that substituting healthier proteins lowered mortality. As for milk, a source of calcium, Willett said there is no evidence that drinking more of it prevents bone fractures as much as physical activity does. Yogurt, because of its positive effects on the intestinal system, proves even more beneficial than milk.

“Most populations along the world don’t drink any milk as adults,” said Willett. “Interestingly enough, they have the lowest fractures. And the highest bone-fracture rates are in milk-drinking countries such as northern Europe and the United States. Calcium is important all through life, but the amount of calcium that we need is probably overstated.”

What is hard to overstate is the importance of eating healthily and mindfully through life, but the good news is that benefits begin as soon as the improved diet does. “If you’re still alive, it’s never too late to make a change in our diet,” said Willett.

Recent studies have found that a healthy diet can also boost the brain and slow cellular aging. Researchers are examining the role of coffee and berries in improving cognitive function and reducing the risks of neurodegenerative diseases. At the same time, researchers keep circling back to the Mediterranean diet as a model of healthy eating.

In a 2015 study in Spain, seniors who ate a Mediterranean diet, supplemented with olive oil and nuts, showed improved cognitive function compared with a control group. Rich in antioxidants and polyphenols, chemicals that help avert the harm of “free radicals” in the body, the Mediterranean diet may even help prevent some degenerative diseases that, to some degree, are caused by vascular aging and chronic inflammation, Hu said.

“Healthy, plant-based foods can improve vascular health, not just in the heart but in the brain,” he said. “And that can slow down the aging of the brain and cellular aging, and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.”

As of now, science says the best prescription to slow the effects of aging is a mix of factors, from regular exercising to a healthy diet to maintaining a healthy body weight. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Clues on biomarkers of aging

The research shows promising paths ahead. In a 2014 study, Hu found a correlation between the Mediterranean diet and telomere length, a biomarker of aging. Telomeres — caps at the end of chromosomes that protect them from deterioration — may hold a key to longevity. Their lengthening slows the effects of aging, and their shortening is linked to increased risks of cancer and decreased longevity.

As of now, science says the best prescription to slow the effects of aging is a mix of factors, from regular exercising to a healthy diet to maintaining a healthy body weight.

“Maintaining a healthy diet for a long period of time is more important than having a yo-yo diet,” said Hu. “The evidence is very encouraging because, even among old people, when they improve their diet quality, the risks of getting chronic diseases and mortality can be reduced, and longevity can be improved.”

Hu said his own diet is a fusion of the Mediterranean, Asian, and vegetarian models, and he tries to combine the healthiest elements of each. In general, he avoids the problematic components of the Western diet: sugary foods, processed meats with high amounts of preservatives, sodium, and saturated fats.

Yet he reminds even healthy eaters that it’s fine to indulge in treats occasionally. After all, a long life should be worth living, and food is one of its joys.


Bread – The Dish of the Year

Kate Krader wrote . . . . . .

At the fine dining temple L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas, where the 16-course tasting menu goes for $425, an unlikely product is coveted by high rollers: bread. “All the billionaires who come to play request bread for their private jets on the way home,” says Robuchon, who has amassed 31 Michelin stars over his career for dishes that go far beyond the bakery.

In the fall, Robuchon brought those loaves to New York, when he and his head baker of 20 years, Tetsuya Yamaguchi, opened a L’Atelier in Chelsea. Robuchon thinks this might be the best bread in his empire. “The water in New York City is the best,” the chef notes. Among the selections in the basket on tables are mini-baguettes, cheese bread, and branch-shaped epi loaf. Yamaguchi’s breads are exquisite, airy and sturdy with an unusually intense flavor of fresh wheat.

It’s a momentous time for bread in America. That’s especially satisfying, given the years it spent as a bad word in our diet vocabulary: High carb! High gluten! Unhealthy! Sure, plenty of foods are reaching new heights these days: From coffee to chocolate and butter, the country’s level of culinary connoisseurship continues to rise, as does the amount of money people are willing to pay for them. Yet it’s bread that’s standing out right now. Compare it to the best fried chicken, the best bowl of noodles you’ve had recently. Great bread is truly everywhere.

For one thing, more chefs have stopped outsourcing bread. One of the big restaurant headlines this year was the reopening of Union Square Café. Along with a new address, the Union Square Hospitality team added a café, Daily Provisions, where they sell the loaves called sprezzatura that they bake in a 600-foot space. The bread is also served at Union Square, where, for the first time, customers routinely ask for seconds. Their bread has a toasty brown, tantalizingly moist center, with a contrastingly crisp crust; it’s on my shortlist of best breads in New York.

“Freshly milled flour has been on the rise for the last five years. Put raw flour on your tongue and taste it alongside commercial flour and note the difference,” says USC chef Carmen Quagliata. Now the chef is figuring out how to make enough bread to sell to restaurants who have asked him to supply it.

There’s also been an expansion of notable bakeries across the country. San Francisco-based Tartine announced it’s launching a 38,500-square-foot bakery/food hall in Los Angeles that will open in the coming spring; the bakery alone has more than 8,000 square feet and includes a grain mill to meet expected demand. Sullivan Street Bakery, which introduced artisanal bread to New York in 1994, discerned a need for its product in Miami and opened a wholesale operation there earlier this year; a retail component is coming and the company plans to expand to other cities.

Also big in 2017, literally, was the five-volume, 2,642 page Modernist Bread (Cooking Lab, October 2017) compendium by Microsoft tech guru Nathan Myhrvold and chef Francisco Migoya. Myhrvold wanted to show just how deep you could go on one of the world’s most basic foods. “We know more about grains now, we have better technology (equipment) to make great bread than ever before, and more and more people are interested in not just eating good bread but how to make it,” he says. One of Myhrvold’s favorite recipes is that for chocolate cherry sourdough, an unconventional example of what to do with flavor and the ubiquitous tangy loaf.

For those less technical in their bread obsessions, food blogger Alexandra Stafford also published her book Bread Toast Crumbs (Clarkson Potter, April . 2017), based on a wildly popular and simple recipe for peasant bread she posted to her blog Alexandra’s Kitchen a few years ago. The book takes that easy, anyone-can-do-it loaf and adds layers of recipes on top of it, for sandwiches, toasts, and other creative, bread-based confections.

One quarter that takes bread especially seriously is Brooklyn, N.Y. It’s the home of She Wolf Bakery, a place where $20 loaves fly off the shelves. At Four Horsemen, a funky Williamsburg spot, chef Nick Curtola has gained acclaim for the crusty mini-loaves he serves torn into irregular pieces. “Bread baked in-house shows how serious a restaurant you are,” Curtola notes. He also sees it as the embodiment of communal dining. “A loaf of warm bread encourages sharing, which is what everyone wants in a restaurant.”

Yet, in my opinion, the best bread in New York is hiding in a beer bar in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint. From a tiny kitchen in the back of Tørst, Max Blachman-Gentile turns out phenomenal loaves, from a dark Russian rye to pumpkin porridge made with kabocha squash. My favorite is the Greenpoint Sour, a loaf true to its name, with an exceptionally tangy, chewy center marked by good-sized air pockets and a flavorful, charred crust. It’s invariably part of a $9 bread plate on a menu that also includes beer-friendly hot dogs and burgers. Blachman-Gentile credits the general switch from white flour to grains (sourcing his from small, Northeast farms) and from commercial, supermarket yeast to natural leavening from wild yeast mixed with flour and water.

I recommend a bread crawl and urge that you make your last stop here; the Greenpoint Sour is excellent with Evil Twin’s Limits of My Language Are the Limits of My World IPA.

Source: Bloomberg

French Toast with Orange Cream


1/4 cup light cream
2 egg yolks
freshly grated zest of 1/2 unwaxed orange
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon butter
2 thick slices of panettone, cut in half
icing sugar, to dust orange zest, to decorate

Orange Cream

3 tablespoons sour cream or heavy cream
1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon orange juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice


  1. To make the orange cream, put the sour cream, sugar, and orange and lemon juices in a bowl and stir until smooth and creamy. Set aside.
  2. Put the light cream, egg yolks, orange zest and juice, and sugar in a wide, shallow dish and beat well.
  3. Heat the butter in a large, nonstick skillet. Dip each slice of panettone in the custard mixture, coating each side well, then carefully arrange in the skillet. Spoon any remaining custard mixture over the toasts, and saute for about 2 minutes until golden underneath.
  4. Very carefully, flip the toasts over and cook for a further 1-2 minutes until golden.
  5. Put 2 slices of French toast on each plate, then dust with confectioners’ sugar, drizzle over the orange cream, and top with strips of orange zest.

Makes 2 servings.

Source: On Toast

In Pictures: Cheese Toasts

Air Pollution Can Be Deadly for Seniors

Even levels of air pollution deemed “safe” by U.S. government standards may shorten the life spans of seniors, new research suggests.

In fact, hundreds of older Americans may die prematurely each year due to the effects of dirty air, the study found.

The finding stems from a computer prediction analysis that correlated fine particle and ozone pollution levels between 2000 and 2012 with death rates on roughly 93 percent of all Americans who were covered by Medicare at the time.

“This is the most comprehensive study of short-term exposure to pollution and mortality to date,” said senior study author Francesca Dominici, co-director of the Harvard Data Science Initiative in Boston.

“We found that the mortality rate increases almost linearly as air pollution increases. Any level of air pollution, no matter how low, is harmful to human health,” Dominici said in a Harvard news release.

During the study period, 22 million people covered by the investigation died.

While the study only found an association, the investigators found that for every tiny incremental increase in either particulate pollution or ozone levels, the daily death rate bumped up between roughly 0.5 and 1 percent.

Though the figures may seem small, Dominici and her colleagues pointed out that it adds up when multiplied across the entire population of American seniors, amounting to more than 7,100 premature deaths over the study period.

What’s more, the research team noted that some groups of seniors are even more vulnerable to such exposure, with low-income seniors facing a three times higher risk than more well-off seniors.

In a similar vein, women were found to face a 25 percent greater premature death risk following pollution and ozone exposure compared with men. The same was true of nonwhite Americans, relative to their white peers.

The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Source: HealthDay

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