Mediterranean Lifestyle, Not Just Diet, May Greatly Improve Health

Laura Williamson wrote . . . . . . . . .

Much is known about the heart-health benefits of adopting a Mediterranean-style diet, with its heavy focus on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish and healthy oils. But what about the rest of the Mediterranean lifestyle?

Short of lounging on the beaches of southern Italy or an island in Greece, could adopting the focus on relaxed, familial dining, afternoon naps and strong communal bonds also improve health?

A group of researchers explored what would happen if middle-aged and older British adults – who live about 1,500 miles northwest of the Mediterranean Sea and its convivial way of life – adopted not just the dietary but also the physical activity and social habits of their southern neighbors. And they found that the more they adhered to this lifestyle, the lower their risk of dying from cancer, cardiovascular disease and other health conditions.

The findings, presented Tuesday at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health conference in Boston, are considered preliminary until full results are published in a peer-reviewed journal.

“This study suggests that adopting a Mediterranean lifestyle adapted to the local characteristics of non-Mediterranean populations is possible and can be part of a healthy lifestyle,” said the study’s senior researcher, Mercedes Sotos-Prieto, an assistant professor in the department of preventive medicine and public health at the Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain. She also is an adjunct professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

Prior research has shown the Mediterranean-style eating pattern helps protect against cardiovascular disease, lowering the risk for heart attacks and strokes. In this latest study, researchers analyzed the impact of other Mediterranean lifestyle factors – including physical activity, rest, social habits and conviviality – on 110,799 middle-aged and older adults living in England, Scotland and Wales.

Participants were drawn from the UK Biobank, a multi-center, population-based study of people ages 40 to 75 who were free of cancer and cardiovascular disease when they enrolled between 2009 and 2012. They were followed until 2021.

A 25-point MEDLIFE index was used to score their adherence to the Mediterranean lifestyle. The index was broken down into three blocks: Mediterranean food consumption (12 points), which looked at what people ate; Mediterranean dietary habits (7 points), which looked at additional factors such as whether they snacked, added salt to their meals or preferred whole grains to refined grains; and other lifestyle factors (6 points).

The last block included questions on whether people ate meals with family and friends (conviviality); engaged in physical activity with others, for example by going on walks together; how often they met with family and friends (social habits); and how much sleep they got, both at night and through naps (rest).

After a median follow-up time of 9.4 years, death records were used to compare death rates for cancer, cardiovascular disease and all other causes between those with higher and lower MEDLIFE index scores. The analysis showed the more people adhered to the Mediterranean lifestyle, the lower their risk of dying from cancer or from any cause.

Specifically, compared to those with the lowest MEDLIFE index scores, adults with the highest adherence to the Mediterranean lifestyle had a 29% lower risk of dying from any cause and a 28% lower risk of dying from cancer. Higher scores for each of the three blocks of the MEDLIFE index were associated with lower cancer and all-cause death risks. Higher scores for the third block, related to lifestyle activities, also were associated with lower cardiovascular death risks.

The study highlights the important roles community and social engagement play in good health, said Marie-Pierre St-Onge, an associate professor of medicine and director of the Center of Excellence for Sleep and Circadian Research at Columbia University in New York City.

“The Mediterranean lifestyle involves interactions with others,” she said, a component that is particularly important for people as they age. Studies have shown social isolation may increase a person’s risk of having or dying from a heart attack or stroke.

The findings emphasize why “we should be paying attention to other aspects of lifestyle, beyond just physical activity,” said St-Onge, who was not involved in the study. “Maybe we need to look at more and more of these social factors.”

One thing the study did not explore and would be of interest in future studies is the impact of stress, she said. “When you think about the Mediterranean lifestyle, you think about living at a slower pace, but this study does not seem to capture that.”

Source: American Heart Association






The Breakfast Ties That Bind

Wang Jiawei wrote . . . . . . . . .

Zhu Tong never forgets the mist that gushes out when the steamer opens. As the breakfast joint owner scoops out glistening grains into a bowl, he tops it with sprinkles of fried dough and a generous ladle of broth made with mushroom and minced pork. Zhu would use a stain-less steel spoon to thoroughly scrape down every inch of his bowl.

This is how Wenzhou sticky rice, a breakfast staple of Zhu’s hometown of Wenzhou in southern Zhejiang province, was consumed in the family-run shops by the entrance of his village. But for the first 26 years of Zhu’s life, he experienced such delightful memories barely once or twice a year, when his parents took him back home for a visit.

Born in Wenzhou’s Yueqing Town in 1988, Zhu was raised in Qinhuangdao, Hebei province, some 1,600 kilometers north. Zhu’s father is a veteran Wenzhou businessman who, starting in the 1980s, traveled widely and distributed electric appliances made by the city’s burgeoning manufacturing industry all across northern China. The work was hectic and distances long, so the family rarely returned to their hometown, which made the taste of sticky rice especially precious to Zhu since childhood. “Each year, I went back to relive the same flavors from the year before,” Zhu recalls.

Following the successful economic reform experiments in Guangdong and Fujian, in 1984, China’s leaders selected Wenzhou among 14 coastal cities to “open up” to foreign investment. This launched the coastal city, already with a rich history of commerce and handicrafts, into a period of rapid economic development. Small family-run factories mushroomed around the area to churn out shoes, clothes, lighters, and other “small commodities,” which were then distributed by local businesspeople, who’ve left their footprints all around China and even the world as they search for greater opportunities. For members of the Wenzhou diaspora, like Zhu, a bowl of steaming sticky rice connects them to their memories of home and bonds them to each other.

To make sticky rice, Wenzhou cooks always soak glutinous rice for about five hours, or until the grains become transparent and break at the poke of a finger. The rice is then placed in a gauze-wrapped wooden steamer and steam-cooked for 20 minutes. In the local dialect, this procedure is known as chui.

Although sticky rice is enjoyed all over China, the dough bits and broth bring out the distinctive soul of Wenzhou’s rendition. Each grain of rice absorbs the savory taste from the thick dark broth, and the aroma of pork and shiitake mushrooms slowly rises along with the mist of the heated rice. When the fresh-out-of-bed breakfasters take a bite, the crunch of the crispy dough fritter, the salty aroma of the broth, and the faint sweetness of the rice immediately gets them ready for a new day.

At a typical breakfast establishment in Wenzhou, a bowl usually costs six to 10 yuan ($1.50), and most patrons enjoy it with a bowl of soy milk on the side. Retired elders, white-collar workers wearing suits, college students with their backpacks, and diners of all ages gather around the same table to eat.

Wenzhou sticky rice, however, is not well-known to people outside the city. In China, the stereotype of Wenzhou is a city full of business cunning and people always on the go (plus a devilishly difficult dialect). Starting in the early 2000s, people in many cities across the country have even complained about “Wenzhou property speculation groups”” — businesspeople from the city who allegedly arrived in droves to buy properties and flipped them for profit, causing housing prices to rise for locals. But for the descendants of Wenzhou, wherever and in whatever circumstances they find themselves, sticky rice still glues them together.

At a breakfast joint near a middle school in Wenzhou, 48-year-old Xiao Zhi does brisk business every morning, and says she has been selling sticky rice for 26 years. She says there’s no special reason why the city’s people are fond of this food — rather, eating it is like second nature to her. “I have eaten sticky rice for as long as I remember,” she tells TWOC.

But for Zhu, who did not grow up in Wenzhou, a bowl of sticky rice became the emblem of his adolescent pining for his hometown until the end of 2014. That year, at age 26, he opened a restaurant called “Sticky House,” specializing in Wenzhou sticky rice in Hong Kong, where which he had called home since 2007.

Following the completion of his bachelor’s degree in public policy and management at Hong Kong City University, Zhu stayed to work for a state-owned finance company. But both the “nostalgia for the flavors of home” and the “‘never settle’ attitude ingrained in the bones of Wenzhou people,” he says, led him to quit his respectable, stable job and devote himself to Sticky House.

Zhu’s parents didn’t understand his career choices. “The older generation thinks the food industry is tough work,” he explains. “But they didn’t object either.”

Zhu swiftly found four business partners through the Wenzhou Youth Association in Hong Kong. The team even spent a month in Wenzhou to study how to chui sticky rice with an old local cook. “For the broth, the cook only told us the general recipe, and we had to experiment the details by ourselves,” Zhu says. After they arrived at the perfect recipe, “we weighed all ingredients on a scale.”

Since opening, many seniors who had migrated from Wenzhou to Hong Kong have frequented Sticky House for a taste of home, even though some of them have forgotten how to speak the Wenzhou dialect. Curious Hong Kong locals have also come for a try.

Outside China, Wenzhou people also ventured out across the world, their footprints covering 131 countries and regions in five continents, according to official statistics from the city in 2016. In Italy alone, according to Wenzhou News, there were about 300,000 people of Wenzhou descent in 2011. Many of them arrived young without knowing how to speak any foreign language. They started out painting houses, washing dishes, or making clothes, but finally returned home having made their fortune.

In 2012, state broadcaster CCTV released a TV series called Family on the Go, which tells the story of a family that left Wenzhou in the early 1980s. Zhou Ayu, the protagonist, was sent to Prato, Italy, at the age of 13 by her parents, who sold their ancestral house in order to pay her costs. She works and studies hard to start her own clothing brand, while the family back in China also strugglesd to start their own business.

As children of Wenzhou set down new roots in lands far away from home, they have brought sticky rice with them. Some set up Chinese supermarkets or online shops offering vacuum-sealed packages of the dish ready to be steamed to restore its original flavor.

In Milan, where the Italy Milan Wenzhou Chamber of Commerce (the first such organization in Italy, which facilitates business and social connections for the local Wenzhou diaspora) was founded in 1999, there are now several breakfast joints in the city’s Chinatown serving Wenzhou sticky rice among the steamed buns and other more common Chinese breakfast offerings. Many Wenzhou natives who now call Milan home shrewdly compare the ingredients and prices of each store before choosing an establishment to patronize.

Zhu’s Sticky House only stuck around for about half a year, and in 2019, he moved back to Hebei to join his father’s venture. But Zhu still idolizes the flavors that haunted his childhood and youth. Once, during a family trip to Venice, he stumbled upon a restaurant selling Wenzhou sticky rice. After a quick bite, however, he left without finishing the food. “Maybe it was the ingredients in Europe… [It] was just not authentic enough,” he laments.

Source: SixthTone





Hong Kong Emigres Seek Milk Tea in Craving for Taste of Home

Kanis Leung wrote . . . . . . . . .

In London, Wong Wai-yi misses the taste of home.

A year ago, the 31-year-old musician was in Hong Kong, earning a good living composing for TV and movies and teaching piano. Today, she makes about half as much in London working part-time as a server alongside her musical pursuits. She chose the job in part because staff meals allow her to save money on food.

It’s a difficult adjustment. And Wong, who left Hong Kong with her boyfriend in January, has turned to a beloved hometown staple to keep her grounded: milk tea. She brings the beverage to parties with Hong Kong friends and gives bottles to co-workers as gifts.

“It’s like reminding myself I am a Hong Konger. It will be fine as long as we are willing to endure the hardships and work hard,” said Wong, who left as part of an exodus that began after Beijing passed a law in 2020 that curtailed civil liberties.

As tens of thousands leave Hong Kong for new lives abroad, many are craving a flavor from childhood that’s become a symbol of the city’s culture: the sweet, heavy tea with evaporated milk that’s served both hot and cold at diner-like restaurants called cha chaan tengs. Workshops are popping up to teach professionals to brew tea like short-order cooks, and milk tea businesses are expanding beyond Chinatowns in Britain.

In Hong Kong, milk tea is an unassuming beverage, something you use to wash down sweet French toast off a plastic plate. It’s so beloved that members of Hong Kong’s protest movement have called themselves part of a “Milk Tea Alliance” with activists from Taiwan, Thailand, and Myanmar, who drink similar beverages.

Following a law that silenced or jailed most political opposition, over 133,000 residents have secured a special visa that allows them to live and work in the U.K. and apply for British citizenship after six years. Official figures have not been released on how many have gone but most recipients are expected to do so, given the visa’s cost.

The pathway was introduced last year in response to China’s 2020 enactment of the National Security Law, which the U.K. called “a clear breach” of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. The declaration included a promise to retain the former British colony’s rights and freedoms for 50 years after it was returned to China’s rule in 1997.

Exiled activist Lee Ka-wai said that immersing himself at a Hong Kong-style cafe in London with a cup of milk tea was a “luxury.”

The 26-year-old fled Hong Kong in March last year out of fear of being arrested. He is wanted by the city’s anti-graft body for allegedly inciting others to boycott the legislative election in December 2021. As an asylum seeker in Britain, he is not allowed to work and is living on savings.

Even if the taste is right, he said, the feel of a cha chaan teng and the sounds of customers chatting in Cantonese cannot be replicated.

“It’s strange because I can feel a sense of home overseas. But it also has another meaning — there’s something that cannot be replaced,” he said. “What we long for most is to go home and see a better Hong Kong. But we can’t.”

Some emigrants, like Eric Tam, a 41-year-old manager at an insurance company, enroll in milk tea lessons before leaving. Visiting Hong Kong this month, he stocked up on a milk tea blend, a recipe that evolved from British teas in the colonial era.

While tea is easy to find in England, he said, the taste isn’t the same: “British milk tea is just watery milk,” said Tam.

Before moving to Liverpool with his wife and two younger daughters in June, Tam signed up for lessons at the Institution of Hong Kong Milk Tea. The two-year-old organization teaches students skills like pouring tea back and forth between a kettle and a plastic container to enhance its flavor before mixing it with evaporated milk.

Yan Chan, the school’s founder, estimated that about 40% of the 2,000 people who have studied with her were planning to emigrate.

Milk tea only began to emerge as a symbol of the Hong Kong identity over the last 15 years, said Veronica Mak, associate professor at the sociology department of Hong Kong Shue Yan University.

Mak said that many young people began to think about Hong Kong identity after the government removed Queen’s Pier, a landmark from the city’s colonial past, in 2007. Childhood memories, marketing and a fashion for localism came together to make milk tea a totem of Hong Kong culture.

“When you ask young people what kind of milk tea they like to drink, they will tell you it’s the bubble milk tea,” she said, referring to a drink from Taiwan. “But when you come to the identity part … they will not say the bubble tea but the local style milk tea.”

Most milk tea lovers interviewed told the Associated Press that milk tea isn’t political. But Tam said it’s a form of silent resistance.

“We can choose to preserve the culture that we want to keep. It cannot be destroyed even if other people try,” he said.

Contemporary Asian tea culture is catching on globally. Outside Chinatowns, at least five Hong Kong-style milk tea brands have emerged over the past two years in Britain. One set up a pop-up cafe in the trendy London neighborhood of Shoreditch in September, attracting Londoners and tourists as well as Hong Kong emigres.

Eric Wong, a tea wholesaler, began selling bottled milk tea in 2021 after moving to the UK, and offers milk tea workshops. He said he’s making 500 to 1,000 bottles of milk tea a week, and his south London business broke even after about six months. His Trini Hong Kong Style Milk Tea products are available online and at major Asian supermarkets.

The taste of home can provoke strong emotions. A young woman from Hong Kong once shed tears after tasting his tea, Wong said.

Between people planning to leave and growing interest in local culture, Chan is busy. On Nov. 3, nine people attended her class, none of whom had plans to emigrate.

Cooking enthusiast Dennis Cheng had a class with her in late September and practiced the signature pouring while preparing to leave Hong Kong with his wife and children.

He said the taste will help remind him of Hong Kong and friends back home.

“This may help me feel emigrating overseas isn’t really that sad,” he said. “It’s just that I need more time to adapt to it.”

Source : AP

How Cooking Food and Gathering for Feasts Made Us Human

Maddie Burakoff wrote . . . . . . . . .

If you’re cooking a meal for Thanksgiving or just showing up to feast, you’re part of a long human history — one that’s older than our own species.

Some scientists estimate our early human cousins may have been using fire to cook their food almost 2 million years ago, long before Homo sapiens showed up.

And a recent study found what could be the earliest known evidence of this rudimentary cooking: the leftovers of a roasted carp dinner from 780,000 years ago.

Cooking food marked more than just a lifestyle change for our ancestors. It helped fuel our evolution, give us bigger brains — and later down the line, would become the centerpiece of the feasting rituals that brought communities together.

“The story of human evolution has appeared to be the story of what we eat,” said Matt Sponheimer, an anthropologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder who has studied the diets of early human ancestors.

The new study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, is based on material from Gesher Benot Ya’aqov in Israel — a watery site on the shores of an ancient lake.

Artifacts from the area suggest it was home to a community of Homo erectus, an extinct species of early humans that walked upright, explained lead author Irit Zohar of Tel Aviv University.

Over years of “digging in mud” at the site, researchers examined a curious catch of fish remains, especially teeth, said Naama Goren-Inbar, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who led the excavations.

Many were from a couple of species of big carp, and they were clustered around certain spots at the site — places where researchers also found signs of fire. Testing revealed the teeth had been exposed to temperatures that were hot, but not super-hot. This suggests the fish were cooked low and slow, rather than tossed right onto a fire, Zohar explained.

With all of this evidence together, the authors concluded that these human cousins had harnessed fire for cooking more than three quarters of a million years ago. That’s much earlier than the next oldest evidence for cooking, which showed Stone Age humans ate charred roots in South Africa.

The researchers — like many of their colleagues — believe cooking started long before this, though physical evidence has been hard to come by.

“I am sure that in the near future an earlier case will be reported,” study author Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University said in an email.

That’s in part because harnessing fire for food was a key step for human evolution.

Cooking food makes it easier for the body to digest and get nutrients, explained David Braun, an archaeologist at George Washington University who was not involved with the study. So, when early humans figured out how to cook, they got access to more energy, which they could use to fuel bigger brains.

Based on how human ancestors’ brains and bodies developed, scientists estimate that cooking skills would have had to emerge nearly 2 million years ago.

“If we’re out there eating raw items, it is very difficult to make it as a large-bodied primate,” Braun said.

Those first cooked meals were a far cry from today’s turkey dinners. And in the many, many years in between, humans started not just eating for fuel, but for community.

In a 2010 study, researchers described the earliest evidence of a feast — a specially prepared meal that brought people together for an occasion 12,000 years ago in a cave in Israel.

The cave, which served as a burial site, included the remains of one special woman who seemed to be a shaman for her community, said Natalie Munro, a University of Connecticut anthropologist who led the study.

It seems her people held a feast to honor her death. Munro and her team found large numbers of animal remains at the site — including enough tortoises and wild cattle to create a hearty spread.

This “first feast” came from another important transition point in human history, right as hunter-gatherers were starting to settle into more permanent living situations, Munro said. Gathering for special meals may have been a way to build community and smooth tensions now that people were more or less stuck with each other, she said.

And while the typical feast may no longer involve munching on tortoise meat in burial caves, Munro said she still sees a lot of the same roles — exchanging information, making connections, vying for status — happening at our modern gatherings.

“This is something that’s just quintessentially human,” Munro said. “And to see the first evidence of it is exciting.”

Source: AP





Sedentary Lifestyle and Sugary Diet More Detrimental to Men

A new study from the University of Missouri School of Medicine is the first evidence in humans that short-term lifestyle changes can disrupt the response to insulin of blood vessels. It’s also the first study to show men and women react differently to these changes.

Vascular insulin resistance is a feature of obesity and type 2 diabetes that contributes to vascular disease. Researchers examined vascular insulin resistance in 36 young and healthy men and women by exposing them to 10 days of reduced physical activity, cutting their step count from 10,000 to 5,000 steps per day. The participants also increased their sugary beverage intake to six cans of soda per day.

“We know that incidence of insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease is lower in premenopausal women compared to men, but we wanted to see how men and women reacted to reduced physical activity and increased sugar in their diet over a short period of time,” said Camila Manrique-Acevedo, MD, associate professor of medicine.

The results showed that only in men did the sedentary lifestyle and high sugar intake cause decreased insulin-stimulated leg blood flow and a drop in a protein called adropin, which regulates insulin sensitivity and is an important biomarker for cardiovascular disease.

“These findings underscore a sex-related difference in the development of vascular insulin resistance induced by adopting a lifestyle high in sugar and low on exercise,” said Manrique-Acevedo. “To our knowledge, this is the first evidence in humans that vascular insulin resistance can be provoked by short-term adverse lifestyle changes, and it’s the first documentation of sex-related differences in the development of vascular insulin resistance in association with changes in adropin levels.”

Manrique-Acevedo said she would next like to examine how long it takes to reverse these vascular and metabolic changes and more fully assess the impact of the role of sex in the development of vascular insulin resistance.

Their study was recently published in the journal Endocrinology.

Source: University of Missouri