Howard S. Friedman Ph.D.

Secrets of Longevity

Do Eating Eggs and Dumping Your Man Keep You Healthy?

Emma credits her long, happy life to raw eggs and staying single. Is she right?

Posted Apr 03, 2015

Emma Morano, who lives in Italy and was born in 1899, is the world’s fourth oldest living person. She's an interesting character. She married in her 20s and had a child, but she did not much like her troublesome husband and threw him out soon after, in 1938.

Emma credits her long life to staying single (for the past eight decades) and to eating three raw eggs every day. Should we argue with a supercentenarian (someone who is over 110 years old)? Yes, we should be skeptical: Living to an old age does not mean understanding why you thrived. When I talked to a pair of 100-year-old twins, they said that salad was their secret. But we know that although green salad is nutritious, it is not the fountain of youth.

Nevertheless, Emma is partly correct. In the Longevity Project, we have been studying over 1,500 bright American men and women who were first examined as children by Lewis Terman in the 1920s. They were followed for their whole lives, and we have evaluated how well they aged and how long they lived. We ask: Who lives long, healthy, and thriving lives, and why? This is the proper way to study such matters, because we can tease apart the pathways to good health. That is, using this method and complementary studies, we can reveal the sequences of steps, decade-by-decade, that lead to better or poorer outcomes.

Many of the participants do indeed live very long, happy, healthy lives. And it turns out that for women, getting out of a bad relationship is very good for health and longevity. For men, getting and staying divorced is a huge risk; but newly single women usually find female friends and networks and develop all the associated health benefits of social ties and social integration.

I wanted, though, to focus here on Emma’s eating of three raw eggs daily. These days, many health-conscious people focus on and even obsess about diet. Although there is no doubt that some foods are healthier than others, there is no evidence that it is wise to obsess about every morsel that enters your mouth. It is clear that we need to eat nutritious food to stay healthy but it is much less clear that we need to avoid all sorts of "unhealthy" foods, especially if they are eaten in moderation and obesity does not become an issue.

I am not recommending that everyone should drop their eggs and run out for shakes, fries, and bacon cheeseburgers. But if it makes your blood pressure rise just hearing me say that always avoiding all unhealthy foods should not be your main focus or the best road to good mental and physical health, then perhaps you are one of the food worriers who is obsessing her way to poor health. Lots of other things matter much more.

At various times during the past century, eggs were recommended by the health care establishment, then shunned, then recommended again. My sense of the scientific literature is that it is fine and healthy to eat eggs (raw only if you are sure they are not contaminated), but it is really not going to matter that much if you eat eggs or don't eat eggs, except perhaps it may matter to chickens. Of course if you have a wonderful partner or twin who brings you kale, broccoli and spinach salads when you return from your long walks together, and if you love the partner and the salad, then go ahead, dig in and thrive.

If you are interested, The Longevity Project, which explains the long-term pathways to thriving, was published in paperback edition by Plume (see http://www.howardsfriedman.com/longevityproject/  ) and is also available on Kindle and Nook. The book also contains self-assessment quizzes to help you figure your current trajectory. Copyright © 2015 Howard S. Friedman, all rights reserved. Photo by Emilian Robert Vicol from Com. Balanesti, Romania - Chicken Eggs [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.