While there's certainly no such thing as a fountain of youth or singular secret to becoming a centenarian, those who are interested in longevity can definitely learn a thing or two from Sister André—once the oldest living person in the world—especially when it comes to the whole concept of "everything in moderation." Sister André, a nun and the world's oldest COVID-19 survivor, died in France on Tuesday at the age of 118. She had previously revealed her love of chocolate and wine in an interview with CNN.
Much like all of us, Sister André told the reporter that she “enjoys chocolate and wine—and drinks a glass every day at her nursing home” at Résidence Catherine Labouré in Toulon. This of course leads us to wonder: Were her food and beverage preferences and astounding longevity purely coincidental? To get to the bottom of it, we spoke with a registered dietitian to determine if there is any correlation between her eating habits and living a longer, healthier life. We can of course all be consuming these two delights, but there is a bit of a (you guessed it) balancing act to keep in mind when doing so.
The well-balanced lifestyle of Sister André
According to the Guinness World Records, Sister André, formerly known as Lucile Randon, was born in France on February 11, 1904. During her younger years, she worked as a teacher, a governess, and took care of children during World War II. In 1944, Randon took her new name, Sister André, when she became a nun. She then spent 28 years working with orphans and the elderly at a hospital in Vichy, France.
Sister André assumed the title of the world’s oldest living person after her predecessor, Kane Tanaka, died in April 2022. (The oldest living person is now Maria Branyas Morera of Spain at 115 years old.) Tanaka’s loved ones attributed her longevity—she lived to be 119 years old—to focusing on the present moment rather than dwelling on the past, and maintaining a strong sense of purpose. According to her family members, she did math, calligraphy, and remained curious about the nuances of life until the day she passed away.
Although Tanaka and Sister André had these values—chiefly, the importance of maintaining purpose in life and valuing opportunities to grow their knowledge and relationships at any age—in common, their daily habits and routines obviously differed. When asked about her food preferences, David Tavella, the activity leader at Sister André's nursing home, said that “she likes everything…she has very simple tastes.” Tavella went on to explain that she particularly loved sweets, calling chocolate her “guilty pleasure.” Along with noshing on chocolate, Sister André also sipped on a daily glass of red wine that Tavella credited as “perhaps her longevity secret.”
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Chocolate can indeed contribute to longevity
“It is no surprise that one of Sister André's go-to snacks that helps her thrive is chocolate, as this food is jam-packed with antioxidants and minerals that can help support our overall health,” registered dietitian Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, CLEC, says. “The antioxidants found in cacao can help combat oxidative stress that may be caused by factors like stress [and] our environment. Too much oxidative stress can cause unsavory health outcomes and inflammation in our bodies, including our brains, which can ultimately affect our quality of life.”
When looking at any of the health benefits related to chocolate, keep in mind that it is specifically the cocoa in chocolate that is linked to positive outcomes—the higher the percentage of cocoa, the more active compounds that are present to provide health benefits. This comes as particularly great news for dark chocolate aficionados. “Data suggests that dark chocolate has more antioxidant activity than milk chocolate because is has a higher percentage of cacao. The flavonols found in dark chocolate can help support healthy blood pressure, and eating dark chocolate in moderation has also been linked to a reduced risk of developing heart disease and improved cognitive health,” says Manaker.
One study actually showed that people who consumed any type of chocolate two or more times per week were 32 percent less like to have calcification of their arteries than were those who never ate chocolate. But keep that whole moderation-is-key mantra top of mind, as it's important to note that 32 percent figure decreased as individuals consumed more chocolate. Manaker also recommends snacking on dark chocolate with a cacao percentage of 70 percent or higher and looking for cacao-rich treats with a lower sugar content, such UNREAL's dark chocolate snacks (they have up to 51 percent less sugar than other leading brands).
Wine is a staple of the longest-living people in the world
When it comes to wine, maintaining moderation is also important. “People who drink a little bit, up to two drinks a day, actually have a lower chance of dying than people who don't drink at all,” Dan Buettner, a National Geographic reporter, longevity expert, and founder of the Blue Zones, previously told Well+Good. Studies have shown that the high antioxidant content of wine may help protect against cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and even some forms of cancer when consumed in small amounts.
Buettner, who has conducted extensive research on the routines, values, and lifestyles of the longest-living people worldwide, says that in the Blue Zone region of Sardinia, Italy, “[Residents] are famous for their daily consumption of a robust, regional red wine called cannonau,” which has higher levels of antioxidants compared to other types of red wine. Buettner also emphasizes that wine consumption in the Blue Zones often occurs in social settings, surrounded by loved ones, which can also have beneficial health outcomes in the short- and long-term.
To reap the most benefits of this drink, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming one, five-ounce drink per day (and of course, if you don't consume alcohol already, none of the above is not a reason to start). That being said, as Sister André does, here's a cheers to unwinding and snacking on some of the things we love most!
Learn more about why the Mediterranean diet is linked to longevity by checking out this video:
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