- People in this village live longer than anywhere else on Earth. Scientists have finally realised why
- If you want to live forever, move to this Italian town
- Tips from the world’s oldest residents
- Advice From Italian Women: Chill Out About Carbs Already
- Italy’s city that revolutionised pasta
- Is Pasta Good For You?
- What are the pros and cons of eating pasta?
- Is wholewheat pasta more nutritious than white pasta?
- How does pasta differ nutritionally from other common carbs rice, bread and potatoes?
People in this village live longer than anywhere else on Earth. Scientists have finally realised why
Acciaroli in south west Italy is no ordinary place. It is home to an extraordinarily high number of centenarians.
More than one in 10 of the population of 700 is over 100 years old, and the hamlet has been the focus of a study to discover the factors that contribute to its residents’ longevity.
After spending six months in the area, researchers from Rome’s Sapineza University and the Sandiego School of Medicine found that elderly people in the region have unusually good blood circulation for their age.
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The research team analysed blood samples from more than 80 residents, and discovered extraordinarily low levels of adrenomedullin, a hormone that widens blood vessels.
The levels of adrenomedullin were similar to those you would normally find in people in their 20s and 30s, the researchers said.
High levels of the hormone can cause blood vessels to contract, causing circulatory problems which can lead to other serious health conditions.
The scientists found the hormone “in a much reduced quantity in the subjects studied and seems to act as a powerful protecting factor, helping the optimal development of microcirculation”, or capillary circulation.
The research team is yet to discover the cause of the phenomenon, but believe it is closely related to diet and exercise.
People in Acciaroli tend to eat locally caught fish, home-reared rabbits and chickens as well as olive oil and home-grown vegetables and fruit.
The study also notes that the locals all eat rosemary, which is thought to help improve brain function, and local varieties of the herb are set to be studied in a broader examination into longevity in the region.
Created with Sketch. Created with Sketch.
The combination of flexible and vegetarian. This diet is all about adding things to your diet, not taking them away. By adding more tofu, beans, fruits, veggies, eggs, whole grains and seeds to your diet you should feel full on fewer calories.
Ranked at number one, the DASH diet was developed to prevent and lower high blood pressure by reducing salt intake. Created to cut high cholesterol and endorsed by the American Heart Association. Focuses on everything you were told to eat as a child: whole grains, fruit and vegetables.
Eat as the Mediterranean people do: A diet low in red meat, sugar and saturated fats but high in produce and nuts. And lots of olives. Works with a points system where healthy foods have fewer points. Group meetings offer emotional support and encouragement, meaning it has been a successful program since 1963.
Works on the idea that people eat roughly the same amount every day, regardless of the calories. So this diet is all about the approach to eating rather than a structured diet. It divides food into four groups depending on their energy density. For example, more veggies on top of pasta instead of cheese.
For encouragement, on this diet you get a meal plan and a counselling session every week with a consultant. You get three meals a day, including French toast, but unfortunately you can’t really go out for meals. Eat regular meals with whole grains, fruit, vegetables and lean protein, get more exercise and keep a food journal.
Fairly simple. Developed by Dean Ornish in his 2007 book “The Spectrum”. He categorizes food in to five groups from most (1) to least (5) healthy. He pinpoints emotional support as a powerful tool for weight loss.
“When we tested it, we found a dozen different compounds in there. Scientific studies have shown that acids help the function of the brain,” Dr Alan Maisel, a cardiologist from the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego, told The Telegraph.
In addition, those living in the region suffer from fewer diseases than those living in other western countries.
“We found that they don’t have the sort of chronic diseases that we see in the US such as heart disease, obesity and Alzheimer’s,” Dr Maisel said.
“We noticed that they don’t suffer from cataracts. Most people in the US, if you are over 80, you have cataracts. We saw none,” he said.
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But perhaps there is another important factor in locals’ long lives.
“Sexual activity among the elderly appears to be rampant,” Dr Maisel said. “Maybe living long has something to do with that. It’s probably the good air and the joie de vivre.”
The hamlet, 85 miles south from Naples on the Cilento coast, is in the area where US nutritionist Ancel Keys cited the highest concentration of centenarians in the world in 1950, as he sought to establish evidence that a “Mediterranean diet” contributed to longevity.
He moved to the region with his wife, and lived to be 100 years old.
If you want to live forever, move to this Italian town
Alan Maisel, a cardiologist and professor at the University of California at San Diego, had long believed a moderate diet, exercise and refraining from smoking were the keys to a long and healthy life. So the first time he went on vacation to Acciaroli — a small village on the southern end of Italy’s Amalfi Coast — in August 2012, he got a bit of a shock.
“I was at the beach, and I saw all these leathernecked, tanned people in their 90s and 100s who looked nine months pregnant and were smoking cigarettes,” the doctor tells The Post.
Intrigued, he began asking questions, and soon found out that the town was home to an extraordinary number of elders. The mayor bragged that they had more 100-year-old residents than any other place in the world.
“Things didn’t seem to add up: [They were] smoking and fat, but so relaxed and unstressed … At first, I asked if it was the Mediterranean diet, but they do that all over Italy.”
A researcher has launched a study to learn why many of Acciaroli’s citizens (above and below) live into their 100s.Splash NewsSplash News
Had Maisel stumbled upon the Fountain of Youth? Acciaroli has a population of only 2,000, yet the village boasts some 300 elders who have reached the age of 100 — and about 20 percent of those centenarians have reached 110. Furthermore, the area has low rates of Alzheimer’s and heart disease — despite a diet filled with cigarettes and wine.
Now Maisel and researchers at UC San Diego have teamed up with the Sapienza University of Rome to figure out why Acciaroli’s residents live so long.
“This place has never been studied before,” says Maisel. “It’s never been infiltrated or expatriated, so we’re planning on looking at their gene pool, doing blood tests, observing their habits — seeing what’s what.”
While the study just launched in March, Maisel has already gleaned some clues from the village’s elders and their way of life. One secret: “Everybody eats rosemary — they all grow it, they use it as a garnish, they use it in oils,” says Maisel.
The herb, which home cooks use to garnish pastas and marinate seafood, has long been linked to preventing diseases such as Alzheimer’s and improving brain function and memory.
It releases a chemical compound that’s shown to increase blood flow to the brain and head, boosting concentration.
Another diet staple that improves their health? Anchovies, which appear in almost every meal in Acciaroli. sardines and mackerel, the oily fish is full of antioxidants, keeps cholesterol down, “smoothes out” the arteries and cuts down on inflammation, which, Maisel says, is “helpful in the aging process.”
It also helps that these Italians happen to live in an almost magical, untouched utopia. “There isn’t a lot of industry here, so the air they breathe is unpolluted,” says Maisel, adding that many studies have shown that people who live in polluted places tend to live shorter lives than those who get to breathe in fresh air.
Spending time outdoors — this Acciaroli resident enjoying wine al fresco — could be a path to longer life.Splash News
Plus, the gorgeous weather — mild temperatures, Mediterranean breezes and lots of sunshine — means that villagers here spend lots of time outdoors and keeping their bodies, if not exactly trim, then pretty spry.
“There’s the beach and these hilly mountains, so there’s a lot of activity,” says Maisel, “even if they don’t take exercise classes or swim laps or do yoga.”
Researchers for the study plan to collect blood samples and distribute questionnaires to the group over the next six months to see what role genes play in keeping these folks alive.
Maisel hopes to start a university-run longevity clinic in the area to see how they can put their findings into action.
But even more important than genes and anchovies is that village residents both young and old don’t sweat the small stuff.
“They sit around a lot and drink coffee, which turns into wine in the evening,” says the doctor. “It’s a stress-free life. There’s a joie de vivre.”
Tips from the world’s oldest residents
Want to imitate that Acciaroli lifestyle — and live into your triple digits? Here are three ways you can add years and boost health.
Breathe some fresh air: You won’t find that Mediterranean breeze in NYC, but it’s always good to spend time outdoors. “New York has some of the [most pristine] parks in the world,” Maisel says.
Avoid stress: Stress wipes out your immune system. “It eats at your brain cells,” says Maisel. Decompress by opting for an evening stroll or a yoga class after a hectic day at the office.
Eat good food: The Mediterranean diet is touted for a reason. Maisel recommends eating veggies and other plants, such as rosemary [below], which makes an appearance at nearly every Acciaroli meal.
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Advice From Italian Women: Chill Out About Carbs Already
Photo: Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche/Getty Images
Why do Italians love pasta unconditionally while we New Yorkers only love it if we’ve taken a double spin class and plan to juice all day tomorrow? We sat down with Antonella Rana — daughter-in-law of Italy’s molto famoso godfather-of-pasta Giovanni Rana and the (Nigella-) face of Rana restaurant in Chelsea Market — to talk about the inherently different approach American and Italian women have toward pasta. Here, over a truly mouthwatering meal of cacio e pepe and squid-ink linguine (and yes, a big dollop of guilt), Antonella explains why Italian women will never turn on carbs and why we SoulCyclers need to calm down about about them.
Living in Rome, I couldn’t comprehend how my beautiful, fashionable Italian friends ate pasta, every single day, without any issues whatsoever!
Listen, my grandma made fresh pasta, from scratch, every day.
My mother ate pasta every day. I eat pasta every day. Pasta is a friend. It is a daily pleasure. It is something very, very natural to an Italian. It’s inside of our lives; we do not think about it.
It’s not a choice; it’s our natural being.
So there’s NO sense of this “pasta equals weight gain” philosophy? The way Jennifer Aniston recently said, “My body doesn’t love carbs …”
There is a small group of women now who perhaps prefer pastas made with whole wheat, camote, spelt, or farro. You can play with the ingredients inside the pasta, and the texture, but it is always an ally, never an enemy.
When American customers come to the restaurant — especially here in the Meatpacking District — and they have all our usual neuroses around carbs, what do you want to tell us?
Be brave. Change your habit. Pasta, if it’s your whole meal, and you skip the appetizers and secondi, can be so light and healthy. It does not have to be so rich and creamy and decadent every time!
We do have a “go big or go home” mentality around pasta, don’t we …
Absolutely. Pasta for Italian women is a daily habit; for Americans, it’s a party. It’s a choice that means losing control and breaking rules, so Americans order sauces that are complex and rich and heavy. They think if they’re going to do it, they’re really going to do it!
Photo: Courtesy of Antonella Parterno Rana Colori
Has it been hard developing a clientele in New York?
No, it’s been a pleasure! Italians are so traditional.
If we put out a chocolate ravioli in Italy, people would say, “Are you crazy? It’s not Carnival!” In New York, we have the freedom to be creative. , we do a curry pappardelle here, which would never exist in Italy.
It’s all about sharing ideas, sharing cultures, sharing food. And by the way, God doesn’t say pasta must be al dente, it’s just Italians who say pasta should be al dente.
While we gorge on our extra-creamy penne alla vodka, what would a civilized Italian woman order?
Me, for example, I’d get fresh ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta: an iconic and simple dish. But it’s about so much more to us …
What’s it about?
Italian women use the food as a tool to pull together the family. In New York, food is secondary to life, work, and the demands of the city. Food is just food.
Italian women still think it’s more. It’s not Italian, but the movie Water for Chocolate explains the Italian woman.
We know in our hearts that a table is not made just to eat, it’s made to [keep people] together.
Will Italian women ever turn on pasta?
Never. That would mean changing centuries of heritage. Pasta is in our blood; no one can change.
Italian Lady’s Advice: Relax About Carbs Already
Italy’s city that revolutionised pasta
As a sea breeze blew in from the Gulf of Naples, small, gold-coloured dust-devils slowly sprouted along the factory rooftop, spiralling their way east toward Mount Vesuvius with the precision of ballerinas pirouetting across a stage floor.
In Gragnano, a town of 29,000 inhabitants located 30km south-east of Naples in Italy’s Campania region, the wind strikes a bell toll, rhythmically throughout the day. Residents initially thought the breeze was ‘Le Mistral’, a cool, dry wind that blows through Provence into the Mediterranean.
They were half right. While the north-westerly wind goes by the same name – and is just as defining a feature in southern Italy as southern France – this Mistral (or Marino, as locals call it) blows the opposite way, bringing humidity and minerals from the sea into the streets of Gragnano.
“You could produce and dry pasta every day because of the predictability of this wind blowing inside the village into the valley,” said Giuseppe Di Martino, CEO and third-generation pastaio, or pasta maker, at Pastificio Di Martino, one of three major pasta factories in Gragnano.
Known as the ‘Città della Pasta’ (City of Pasta), Gragnano became famous for its ‘white gold’, or macaroni, when it switched from primarily making silk in the late 1700s when silkworms suddenly started dying of a pest invasion.
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The city’s dried pasta-making tradition dates back much further, though, according to professor and historian Giuseppe Di Massa, president of the Centro di Cultura e Storia di Gragnano e Monti Lattari Alfonso Maria Di Nola (Centre for Culture and History of Gragnano and the Lattari Mountains), who cites documents dating to the 1200s that speak of the production of seccata, or dried pasta. Around this same time, the personal doctor of King William II of Sicily, Giovanni Ferrario, who was also a professor at a medical school in Salerno, Italy, proclaimed the benefits of Gragnano’s dry pasta, advising patients with typhoid fever to eat al dente vermiculos, the predecessor to vermicelli, a long pasta slightly thicker than spaghetti.
Fresh pasta, a simple blend of wheat flour and water bound together by eggs, is more common in the regions of Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto, where the dough is pressed through rollers to form tagliatelle or tortellini.
Dry pasta, meanwhile, only requires two ingredients: water and durum wheat semolina, which is extruded through traditional bronze dies that provide a coarse texture to the final product, giving the pasta the capacity to soak up more sauce.
“Here, in Gragnano, we are much more addicted to dry pasta,” explained Nunzia Riccio, food technologist and quality control manager at Pastificio Di Martino, as we toured the factory.
From the 360-degree vantage point on the top of the Pastificio Di Martino building, where semolina dust slips up from the vents forming the dust devils darting across the floor, it’s easy to see how Gragnano is positioned to be a natural pasta-making factory.
The city is encased by mountains on three sides and the sea on the other, creating a rain shadow effect ideal for drying pasta slowly in the street over days as marine breezes blow in from the coast.
The buildings are staggered in a way so that the moist wind, which blows in several times a day, provides natural ventilation by forming a tunnel along the town’s ancient main thoroughfare, Via Roma, where the majority of factories were built.
If it wasn’t for the faint semolina powder rising into the air, you wouldn’t guess this sleepy coastal town was once one of the richest in the region in terms of pasta production.
“In the past, almost every family in Gragnano produced pasta,” Riccio said. “This has been an ancient tradition for over 250 years, with ‘white gold’ serving as the economy of the city.”
In the past, almost every family in Gragnano produced pasta
In the 19th Century, Gragnano was one of the famous stopovers on the Grand Tour, when wealthy Europeans would complete their cultural education with a trip to study Europe’s ancient civilisations in Greece and Italy, checking off sites the Parthenon and Pompeii the same way a college backpacker does today. “When European nobles came to Gragnano, in order to prove they had done part of the Grand Tour, they would bring pasta back to say they’ve been to Gragnano,” Di Martino said.
Tableaux painted by French artists Prosper Barbot and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (six of which hang in the Louvre in Paris) depict life in Gragnano during the height of its pasta production.
Painters arrived with their easels in the Valle dei Mulini (Valley of the Mills), where 40 watermills ground fresh wheat from nearby Puglia with spring water streaming in from the Monti Lattari (the Lattari Mountains); or along the ancient, lava rock-lined Via Roma, where carts waited with crates to transport goods to market. Nearly 70% of Gragnano’s population at that time was involved in the pasta sector, and 100,000kg of pasta were produced each day. When King Ferdinand II of Naples visited the city in the mid-1800s, he was so impressed that he chose Gragnano’s pasta makers as his official suppliers for summer court at Quisisana, the former royal residence outside Castellammare di Stabia, 5km from Gragnano.
By the mid-19th Century, the city's dry pasta was so popular that the municipality of Gragnano started tearing down old buildings to make way for dozens of family-run factories that dried pasta on river reeds dangling weeping willow branches outside their front door.
“The municipality allowed pasta factories to occupy the space out front with the spasa (pasta on the reeds), and, playing their part, pasta factories guaranteed the street’s cleanliness, since they didn’t want their pasta to be contaminated by dust,” Di Massa explained. “The way Gragnano pasta was dried was a real art, improved over centuries and passed down as a family secret generation after generation. Since no preservatives or antibacterials existed at that time, the conservation [of pasta] depended upon slow drying.”
Buildings were positioned so they didn’t cast a shadow on neighbours and Via Roma was widened to make it easier for pasta makers to receive raw materials from the Valle dei Mulini, according to Di Martino.
Gragnano was redesigned industrially to be ‘the pasta town’, since factories were exporting an enormous amount of pasta to the United States to the Italians who emigrated before the Wall Street Crash of 1929,” he said.
“At the time, Gragnano’s pasta was more popular outside of Italy.”
At the beginning of the 1900s, Gragnano counted nearly 120 pasta factories.
The industrial boom, however, replaced the traditional method of al-fresco drying with mechanised motions in ventilated rooms, reducing the number of factories to 42. Factories grew in size but not in number.
And while they were exporting pasta to new markets, mechanical tools replaced people, driving up unemployment. This was the catalyst that led many labourers to migrate to the US in search of work.
“The economic recovery was slow, and large industrial complexes were born in other parts of Italy, which forced many Gragnano pasta factories to close,” Di Massa said. “The surviving pasta factories rolled up their sleeves and realised that it was not possible to compete with the big pasta companies in terms of production and sales prices, so they all focused on the quality of their pasta.”
The way Gragnano pasta was dried was a real art
When exportation to the US was banned during World War One as part of the government’s plan for economic defence, the Italians in the US who had once imported the ‘white gold’ recreated the slow drying process with the help of machines to produce Italian-style pasta for the American market.
One thing they couldn’t replicate, however, was the taste. The reason Gragnano’s pasta travelled so well – particularly on the six-week trip to the US – was the ingredients.
“The water features low levels of minerals that doesn’t modify the flavour and taste of pasta, when compared to other areas,” Riccio explained, and the Italian durum wheat only travels three hours to Gragnano from Puglia, “so the semolina is fresh, and there is no time for mould or toxins to develop”.
A little over a decade ago, Di Martino, the former president of Gragnano’s consortium of pasta makers, Consorzio Gragnano Città della Pasta, was at London’s Borough Market for a conference hosted by the Canadian Wheat Board.
“They felt there was no future in biodiversity and local production, and the only way forward was globalisation,” he said. Packages of Canadian wheat could be sold five or six times before landing on England's shores, which made him reflect on Gragnano's prime locale near Puglia.
On the taxi ride to lunch, he started thinking of ways to preserve Gragnano’s ‘white gold’ with farmers in the fields of Gravina, who supply wheat to the town’s 14 factories – which account for 14% of the dry pasta exported Italy.
“What I wanted was to have better quality of wheat that was connected to the land, to the people, and preserve this heritage,” he said.
Gragnano’s first emblem was a bundle of wheat, a hand later added clutching the stems spaghetti, which, according to Di Massa, symbolises the correlation between the earth and manual labour.
“When you’re linked to a place, you’re transferring value back to the farmers,” Di Martino said in his opening speech at the 10th anniversary of the Festa del raccolto, Puglia’s annual pasta harvest festival, in June 2018.
“Growing up in Gragnano around the factory, pasta becomes your toys, workers are your friends.”
Wheat here is referred to in vintages, similar to wine, and millers refer to themselves as famers – less mechanical, more terroir-driven.
Provenance is more important than packaging in Gragnano, ensuring pasta is produced according to a set of strict regulations (which Di Martino helped draft in 2013 when the pasta was designated a Protected Geographical Indication by the EU) that all pastai must adhere to for their pasta to be considered ‘Pasta di Gragnano’, just as a winemaker follows certain codes in Champagne.
Gragnano’s pasta may now be dried in sealed production lines, but the air blowing on the engines is the same that once dried the strands dangling along the city’s streets.
As a way to pay homage to the city's pasta heritage, Gragnano’s pasta makers still set up stands and cook in the street each September during the Festa della Pasta di Gragnano, a festival that first kicked off after World War Two as a way to revive Gragnano's traditional pasta production and “act as an awareness tactic, so people knew what was happening behind closed factory doors,” Riccio said.
If you say Parma to an Italian, they’ll think Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or ham; if you mention Gragnano, they’ll think pasta
The city swells to five times its size as 100,000 people stream into town for the two-day event which sells nearly 5,000 plates of pasta per day. Big-name chefs set up live-cooking demos in the centre of town where the pasta historically hung in curtain- strands along either side of the street.
“I love it, it’s the whole town turns into a theatre,” Di Martino said, adding that the event is part of what helps keep Gragnano’s reputation as the city of ‘white gold’ alive today. “If you say Parma to an Italian, they’ll think Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or ham; if you mention Gragnano, they’ll think pasta.”
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Is Pasta Good For You?
Let’s deal with the elephant in the room. The one major problem with pasta when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet. The problem being that it's very easy to go overboard on pasta. Very easy to power through an entire plate of the stuff, drenched in creamy sauce and hiding underneath mounds of grated cheese, and then go back for more.
If that’s you, or ever has been you, you might find that reducing the amount of pasta you eat results in you losing weight. And that could well be a good thing, but it’s not necessarily fair to blame the pasta for the weight being there in the first place.
In fact, a lot of the flak pasta and other carbs get these days seems undeserved. Carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet and if you’re an active person they’re vital to providing the energy you need. There are nutritional benefits beyond that energy too, especially if you opt for wholewheat pasta, more on which in due course.
In short, however, it’s fair to say that if you can keep your pasta portions in hand (a fist-sized portion is a good rule of thumb, now go back enjoy the “in hand” joke) it can be a staple of a balanced diet.
To discuss the health benefits and possible downsides of pasta, we spoke to dietitian Chloe Hall of the British Dietetic Association.
What are the pros and cons of eating pasta?
Let’s dive right into the good stuff: pasta is great source of energy, hence all those pre-marathon carb-loading pasta parties.
“Pasta has a low glycaemic index which means that the carbohydrate is slowly released in the body,” says Hall. “This helps keep blood sugar levels steady, and there’s evidence this may help with appetite control.”
“It is a rich source of complex carbohydrates and functions as fuel for activity such as running.
“Wholegrain varieties also provide fibre, which is important for a healthy digestive system.”
When it comes to the cons, it’s worth noting that pasta takes a lot of criticism that could be better directed elsewhere on your plate.
“People often attribute weight gain to pasta but it is usually the large portion sizes or the creamy sauces we add that are to blame,” says Hall.
“Pasta in itself is not going that filling. Pair it with a protein source such as lean meat, prawns or pulses, and lots of vegetables for a balanced meal.”
Is wholewheat pasta more nutritious than white pasta?
The extra fibre isn’t the only reason to go wholewheat.
“Wholewheat pasta contains approximately double the amount of fibre, magnesium and potassium,” says Hall.
“Fibre is needed for a healthy gut, magnesium for energy production and potassium for heart health. Eating wholegrains – as opposed to the refined kind – has also been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.”
Wholewheat pasta also contains other essential minerals copper (for energy and tissue strength), selenium (for immune function), manganese (for bone production) and B vitamins.
How does pasta differ nutritionally from other common carbs rice, bread and potatoes?
“All of these differ slightly in how they release energy into the bloodstream,” says Hall.
“Potatoes also contain vitamin C, which pasta doesn’t. They are all good sources of carbohydrate – but you get more of the added benefits with the wholewheat versions.”