Raise your hand if you’d like to live a long life—and enjoy good health while you’re at it. At age 118, Catholic nun Sister André of France seems to be doing just that. This inspiring supercentenarian has recently been named the oldest person on earth!
In multiple interviews, Sister André has been asked about the secrets to her longevity. Although she hasn’t given a detailed account of her daily diet, it seems her eating habits have played a role in helping her reach her advanced age. (Find out which beverage she drinks every day.)
We could all take a lesson from Sister André’s life of piety and service to others, as well as the dietary principles she has followed throughout her long life. Check out these four ways to eat like the world’s oldest woman.
Science has plenty to say about the benefits of sitting down to meals with family and friends. Research from Oxford University reveals that the more often people eat with others, the more happy and satisfied they’re likely to feel. A 2013 study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior also found that, across the lifespan, eating with others was associated with a healthier diet.
Enjoying food with others is a core principle of the Mediterranean diet, too. (The French are especially famous for their leisurely communal meals.) Among its many health benefits, a Mediterranean diet has been shown to improve the gut microbiome in older people, reducing frailty and boosting overall health.
You might be surprised by Sister André’s most-cited dietary choices. The nun has told reporters of her “guilty secret” of enjoying chocolate and wine on a regular basis. (Find out what happens when you eat chocolate every day.)
Though these pleasures may seem “guilty,” there’s a lot to be said for the power of food enjoyment. Savoring food can boost mood and relieve stress—two important pieces of the longevity puzzle. After all, happiness is associated with a longer life! One study showed that people with better moods were 35% less likely to die over the course of five years.
Interestingly, Sister André isn’t the first oldest person on the planet to credit chocolate and wine for her longevity. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the oldest person ever, fellow Frenchwoman Jeanne Louise Calment, also believed chocolate and port were essential to her long life.
Despite Sister André’s confession of imbibing alcohol, she states that she drinks just one glass of wine per day. This falls in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines for “moderate” drinking for women.
The science is mixed on alcohol’s effects on longevity, but some research suggests that moderate drinking could promote a longer life. A Dutch study of over 5,000 people found that moderate wine intake was positively associated with longevity, especially in women. (Binge drinking, on the other hand, reduced the lifespan.) The sweet spot for reaching age 90 or older appeared to be 5-15 grams of alcohol per day. For reference, a standard drink of five ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol.
Back to chocolate and wine (we didn’t think you’d mind). Sister André’s two favorite foods aren’t just delicious—they happen to be loaded with antioxidants. Red wine contains the antioxidant resveratrol, which might support heart health by warding off blood vessel damage, reducing harmful LDL cholesterol, and preventing blood clots. Chocolate—especially the dark variety—has numerous antioxidants that might also reduce the risk of heart disease.
In general, for a longer life, you can’t go wrong choosing nutrient-dense, high-antioxidant foods. (Learn why antioxidants are so helpful for extending your life.) Chocolate and wine aren’t the only ones! Fruits like berries and citrus, vegetables like leafy greens and artichokes, and plant-based proteins like nuts and beans all pack a major antioxidant punch. As antioxidants dial down inflammation throughout the body, they help reduce the risk of age-related diseases. Sounds like a delicious formula for a long and healthy life.