In an earlier newsletter I told you about the Okinawan Diet as being both heart healthy and longevity increasing. Okinawa, Japan is a region that belongs to what researchers are calling “Blue Zones” – areas and cities around the world where the inhabitants have unusually long life- spans. There are several Blue Zones around the world and one is right here in the United States.
In Loma Linda, Calif., a community of Seventh Day Adventists has a life expectancy that’s nine to 11 years greater than that of other Americans. Another Blue Zone is Sardinia, Italy. The Sardinian’s credit three very interesting food staples to good health and a longer life.
Can The Sardinian Diet Increase Your Lifespan?
If I tell you about cannonau, cazu marzu, pecorino sardo or carta musica, and how they could extend your lifespan by 6, maybe even 10, years, would you know what I was talking about? Not likely, unless you’re a Sardinian who’s familiar with the typical diet eaten in this Italian-island culture off the western coast of Italy.
Let me tell you what these 3 items are. Cazu marzu and pecorino sardo are both – cheese! And cannonau is what the Sardinians call “black wine” because it is such a dark, dark red that it looks black in your glass. First let’s look at the amazing health-boosting properties of these cheeses first…
One of them, cazu marzu, is an interesting cheese that is kind of “alive” when you eat it. It’s actually an illegal delicacy in Sardinia today and you may need a little intestinal fortitude to get it past your lips. Yet, Sardinian men have been eating it for centuries. Blue Zones’ research shows that they are amongst the longest-lived men (people) in the world. What’s so healthy about this cheese? Well, you see, cazu marzu is infested with live maggots when you eat it!
Researchers have surmised that the reason the people who eat cazu marzu live longer may be because the maggots in it delivers an amazing boost to your immune system. I know, it’s a little repulsive, but the maggots apparently contribute “live” beneficial bacteria to your gut. And, recent research shows these live, good bacteria scavenge free radicals, and other-disease causing agents, from your gut. There’s a reason why pathologists say that “death begins in the colon” – an unhealthy gut is full of retained toxins that causes a suppressed immune system. As a result, you’re unable to fight off life-threatening diseases. If the thought of eating live maggots in your cheese is not very appealing, you might find it interesting to know that maggots are being used more and more in treating life-threatening, antibiotic resistant, infections. They’re made into a medicinal paste and applied directly to wounds. They scavenge all the bad bacteria and help the wound to heal. Besides, they die as soon as they hit your stomach acid.
Now, the other cheese, pecorino sard is pretty tame in comparison. In fact, it’s more commonly eaten than cazu marzu. Pecorino is made from the milk of grass-fed sheep and contains very high amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids. As mentioned in other newsletters, Omega-3 fatty acids work to decrease inflammation – a killer precursor to disease. It also helps dissolve arterial plaque buildup that can cause heart attack or stroke. That feature alone can help you live longer.
That brings us to cannonau – or what the Italians call “vino nero” – black wine. It’s also known as Grenache noir – its French name. The Aragons brought the particular grape that is used to make the wine to Sardinia in the 14th century when they conquered Sardinia. Cannonau is consumed with every meal, so that means drinking at least 2-3 glasses a day, or more. Researchers have found that cannonau contains the world’s highest amount of antioxidants – namely resveratrol and other health-boosting polyphenols. Resveratrol has been research-proven to boost sirtuins – longevity extending proteins in your body.
Last but certainly not least, is carta musica – a pretty name for Sardinian parchment bread, a thin, leavened whole wheat bread that is very high in Vitamin D as well as fiber. Vitamin D has been proven to be an immune system booster and fiber keeps your colon healthy.
Several other foods in the Sardinian diet also contribute to good health. They include:
1. Nuts – like almonds and hazelnuts, for their beneficial Omega-3’s and 7’s fatty acids.
2. Fava beans – take the place of animal proteins, contributes L-arginine a health/lifespan increasing amino acid, fiber and beneficial B vitamins.
3. Fruits and vegetables – contribute needed antioxidants and a variety of vitamins.
The Sardinian diet only makes use of fish or red meat sparingly. Red meat to the Sardinians is considered kind of like we might consider birthday cake – a treat eaten once in a while. Fish is also not eaten that much. The protein in the Sardinian diet comes mainly from the cheese, nuts and fava beans. So, it’s basically a vegetarian diet that allows dairy.
You don’t have to live in a Blue Zone region to reap their secrets of health and longevity. All you have to do is add many of their foods to your diet. Now, I know eating maggot-filled cheese may not be your cup of tea, but taking a good, high-live culture probiotic every day can keep your gut and immune system healthy too. You can also buy pecorino sardo at better health food outlets and/or several venues online. Cannonau di sardegna (or Grenache) is available at many wine retailers and online. Fava beans, almonds and hazelnuts are pretty easy to find in your local grocery store. You might also want to check out the recipe for carta musica on this site too. As the Italians say, “Saluta buona longa vita”! (Good health, long life!).
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.