Kitchen Shrink: Stay young at heart with longevity foods: Part 1

Black garlic is ordinary garlic that has been fermented under high heat until cloves turn black. The heat brings out natural sugars for what some consider a sweeter taste.
(Photo by Catharine Kaufman)


“Everybody wants to live forever, but nobody wants to grow old.” — Jonathan Swift

Last week, I spoke to my aunt, wishing her a very happy 103rd birthday; her brother will be turning 101 this summer. A remarkably active centenarian, my dear uncle played tennis, slalomed down ski slopes, and walked five miles daily until recently — all fueled by a moderate diet of grains, greens and lean proteins. Alas, my mom, the baby of the brood, was not blessed with the longevity of her siblings, perhaps because of her less healthful diet.

We do have some powerful self-protective weapons at our disposal — food selection and handling being the most effective. Ancient cultures relied on that for their health; even before old Hippocrates advised using food as medicine. So, while you arm yourself with tools provided by personal trainers, meditation gurus and other healers, I’ll provide the edible components of your healthy lifestyle to keep you vibrant for years to come.

Shangri-la Sips: The best way to amp up your health during the long haul is to swap out sugary sodas and juices for simple water. Stay well-hydrated with six to eight glasses a day to decrease the risk of blood clots, migraines and a foggy brain;, minimize wrinkles; and flush impurities from your body. For a more palatable swig, add a splash of pomegranate juice, or float cucumber slices on top.

For a cup of comfort, choose green tea au naturel that packs potent antioxidants known as catechins. A Purdue University study has shown that a squirt of lemon or other citrus juice added to the tea ups the ante to not only reduce cancer risks, but boost heart and brain functions.

If joe is your beau, there’s good news about its preventive powers and health benefits. Recent studies have shown coffee to curb the risks of developing Parkinson’s disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, assorted cancers and cognitive decline like dementia. Coffee has also been found to dial up friendly gut flora to boost the immune system, and create a sense of well-being. Standing advice: Lay off fatty creamers, sugars and cloying syrups, and choose robust dark roast and organic as conventional beans are heavily sprayed with pesticides.

At last, red wine made from dark varieties of grapes boasts many health benefits with a load of bioflavonoids for an anti-cancer punch, and potent quercetin for an anti-inflammatory oomph reducing the risk of heart disease.

The grape skin, in particular, has a rich store of resveratrol that has been linked to longevity by the activation of three anti-aging genes. I’ll drink to that — but no more than one glass a day as excessive amounts have been found to increase breast cancer risk.

Methuselah Mushrooms: For thousands of years, traditional Chinese healers brewed certain mushroom species as a tonic to alleviate everything from pounding migraines to scratchy throats. These mighty “immuno-modulators” can help regulate the immune system, balance metabolism for weight loss, put the skids on high blood pressure, prevent DNA damage, and reduce breast cancer risk from compounds in button and Portobellos to temper estrogen production.

They’re anti-fungal, antioxidant, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammators, and anti-microbial packed with potassium to maintain a healthy heart rhythm, stress-busting B Vitamins, selenium, and Vitamin C, another companion immune-booster.

There’s more. Mushrooms, like people, when exposed to sunlight manufacture Vitamin D, so load up on these divine delicacies to replenish your cancer fighting warriors. Mushroom warning: Some species (like Morels) should not be eaten raw as they contain agaritine, a cancerous agent that is weakened during cooking.

Great Grand Garlic: Garlic is just as fabulous a shield against viruses, bacteria, inflammation, hypertension (it’s a natural blood-thinner), breast cancer cells and perhaps even the occasional vampire. Raw garlic has a rich store of allicin, a potent sulfur compound that provides the acerbic bite along with intense immune boosting properties.

While exotic, fermented black garlic, according to Taoism mythology, has the power to endow immortality with sweet, soft ebony cloves. Black garlic not only has twice the antioxidants as its raw cousin, but is also packed with a cancer preventive compound called S-Allycysteine. Its delicate nuances of balsamic vinegar and tamarind complement dishes of all manners without overpowering them or causing pesky bad breath.

— Reflecting the longevity theme, the long list will be continued in next week’s column.

Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: and see more recipes at