Allow me to introduce you to my spitfire of a grandmother, Giovannina Giuseppina Salvetrica Sylvia Scoma. What a mouthful—for our purposes let’s call her “Grannie.” Grannie is almost 101 years young, and you may have already seen her beautiful face on my Uncle Jim’s (Uncle Jim is a neuroscientist better known as Jim Fallon) Ted Talk. And if not, you are in for a fun-filled family secret.
I am not quite at Ted Talk status (yet), but I’m a functional medicine practitioner, registered dietitian, and entrepreneur—which is all relevant to the story. I had the privilege of interviewing Grannie about her longevity, specifically her nutrition and lifestyle habits.
I wanted to know how to stay young at heart and beautiful in spirit, just like Grannie.
Nature versus nurture is a topic we could discuss for hours in Grannie’s case, but genetics aside, this 100-year-old fiery woman has some topical things to say about food, community, and lifestyle. Talking to her really reinforced for me how significant the “nurture” part is.
Katie: As someone who has seen many diet trends over the last 100 years, is there one food you stay away from regularly?
Grannie: Candy…and bourbon. Well, mostly don’t marry someone who drinks a lot of bourbon.
Katie: Is there one food that has appeared almost every day in your diet over the last 100 years?
Grannie: Coffee with half and half and sugar and high-fat Breyer’s ice cream in my adult years.
The functional medicine nutritionist within me was thinking, “You are KILLING me, Grandma,” but I continued with the questions anyway, knowing there was some deeper insight.
Katie: If you had to pick a few health and lifestyle habits over the last century that helped you live such a long and healthy life, what would they be?
1. I have always moved physically and then the second I stop moving, that’s when I got crazy.
2. I have always stayed intellectually stimulated with academic discussions, politics, asking about people, nightly Scrabble, and bridge.
3. I pray every day.
4. Every day I made it a point to interact with family.
I’d like to note she did not say exercise; she said physically moving. I lived with my Grandma when she was 93 and 94. She was still living alone and has managed to keep her marbles intact. Prayer, meditation, spirituality, whatever you want to call it—connecting to something bigger to yourself daily is a powerful and beneficial practice. And of course, the community. Then, I had a lightbulb moment. Did Grandma just preach the core of functional medicine to her functional medicine granddaughter? Does Grandma even know what functional medicine is? The key to longevity and healthful aging was just reiterated to me as the core of what I tell my patients.
Stress over food—something many of us struggle with now, thanks to information overload—was not “a thing” during her time. My grandmother grew up learning to garden and forage berries, dandelions, and herbs and fishing. She was cooking for eight people at all times. Every week she went to the farmers market and Sicilian market to load up on cases of fresh produce that she would keep on the porch and proceed to use for every meal.
Everything in moderation and never lie.
My neuroscientist uncle chimed in and agreed. He said people end up feeling worse about their decisions because of the charge and anxiety around them. Grandma didn’t follow rules, he said; she went straight to the source, found joy in cooking and connecting, and went with her intuition. He reminisced about simpler times. “We ate a lot of pomegranate, prickly pear, artichokes, broccoli rabe, and other funky cruciferous veggies. We were never told as kids that this is the ‘healthy food’ to eat; it was all just very matter of fact that this is what you eat.” Amen.
When Grannie turned 100 last year, we FaceTimed my brother into the birthday lunch, and he asked her about her best advice for him. She responded with “Everything in moderation and never lie.”
She’s a woman after my own heart.
Grannie is one individual, but she’s got a point. Perhaps we can find and enjoy our own equivalents of full-fat ice cream and half and half without too much guilt—in moderation, per her advice. Maybe we can savor our food and have a sense of self-trust deep enough to avoid stress. Maybe we should all start to pick berries on the weekends, start our own herb gardens, frequent farmers markets, and share community meals. I hope you all enjoyed this food for thought (pun intended) from Grannie!