Quick Recipes and Easy

Can Homemade Meals Help You Live Longer?

Have you ever seen the yogurt commercials showing strong, vibrant 100-year-ancient men and women smiling as they eat their cup of strawberry yogurt and sipping bottled water? Are these commercials just advertising gimmicks? Are those really the Himalaya Mountains in the background of the Pakistani village where the median lifespan is purported to be in the high nineties, or was it all shot in front of a blue screen at a New York City studio?

I don’t know. Common sense tells me not to believe much of what I see in advertising. But I also know not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Many medical studies have tracked populations over decades now, and the results confirm what our eyes have been telling us for a long time.

Orientals suffer a much lower rate of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease than Americans do. Dietary factors have long been known to be a primary factor in the high rate of heart disease in the United States and low rates in most Asian countries. Oriental people eat a diet rich in carbohydrates from rice, and rich in proteins from soy. Americans, on the other hand, have traditionally eaten a diet high in saturated stout and cholesterol—a recipe for heart disease and cancer.

People in Mediterranean countries also have lower rates of heart disease than Americans. This is due in large part to their consumption of foods and beverages rich in excellent (HDL) cholesterol—especially olive oil and red wine. I spent a year on the Greek island of Samos, where I had the privilege of helping villagers harvest olives. When we took our sacks of olives to the olive press, the women of the village brought a feast to celebrate the harvest. As the oil came out of the press, the whole village was there to feast on feta (homemade cheese made from goat’s milk), homemade red wine, and homemade bread.

We poured the still-warm olive oil on the cheese and bread. There was a lot of excellent cholesterol going around that day, and I will cherish forever the sense of community that accompanied that unforgettable feast of home cooking. Many of the villagers were in their nineties. I had seen many of them climb the mountains to work their terraced olive groves, and I had worked beside them.

The Italians say it best: Al tavolo no se invecchia mai—One never ages at the table. The combination of excellent cholesterol, excellent company, and excellent will is what keeps those Greek villagers healthy and strong into their nineties. I never worked another olive harvest. The work was hard. But my eating and cooking habits were changed forever by the year I spent in Greece. I am healthier and more pleased because of it.

Rachael Lemaire website on

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