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Draper Journal

The Secret To A Long Life? Oatmeal

Aug 06, 2015 09:47AM ● By Bryan Scott

Hans Lundgren, 87

By Linnea Lundgren                                                                                                                                        

Draper - What is it with oatmeal and longevity? When I thought about my grandpa, who ate a huge bowl of oats every morning until his death at age 93, or my 87-year-old father who finishes off a bowl before venturing on his daily hike near his Draper home, I began to wonder: is such a simple grain an elixir to longevity? 

Sure, I could consult nutritional studies for information, but I decided instead to ask some locals who have eaten oatmeal for decades and are living proof.   

I found 95-year-old Sandy resident Affra Nelson at the Draper pool doing push-ups off the side.  She recently broke her hip but is back at the pool enjoying the outdoor water aerobic classes. 

“It has my endorsement,” said Affra, who has eaten and loved oatmeal since her childhood in a tiny Utah mining town. But, she also added, “exercise, whole wheat bread and fresh produce” to that endorsement. Eating oatmeal has contributed to her healthy heart and a life free from digestive complaints. “And, I enjoy the warmth,” she added.  

Growing up, Affra was served oatmeal twice a week. It wasn’t until she married after World War II that she started to consume more. “The American Heart Association came out with an ad campaign that advertised oatmeal as the thing to do (to help your heart).”  So, she brought out the double boiler—the best way to prevent scorching—and cooked oats several times a week. 

For years white sugar was her only oatmeal embellishment, but she switched to dark brown sugar for health reasons. Sometimes, she’ll treat herself and adorn the oats with peaches—many of which she canned herself—or other fresh fruit.  

For others, such as my father Hans Lundgren, childhood and oatmeal bring back mixed memories. He recalls his Swedish mother frying up leftover, hardened oatmeal. “I didn’t mind the oatmeal, but I hated the fried oatmeal,” he said. “I still remember how much I hated it. But we had to eat it. Nothing was thrown in the garbage like today.” 

Prior to breakfast, he chopped wood, filled the stove, lit it and waited. “In those days oatmeal wasn’t crushed like it is today, so it took a long time — almost an hour — to cook.” Every morning he’d enjoy oatmeal with a little sugar, except on Sundays when his father prepared a Swedish smorgasbord.  

“There is no question oatmeal has contributed to my long life,” Lundgren asserts. “I don’t eat all of that processed foods. I try to maintain eating well.” Today, he tops his oatmeal with strawberry jam or lingonberries, a cousin of the cranberry and a staple in Scandinavian cuisine. 

Another long-lived oatmeal eater is Draper resident Nancy Bateman, a 79-year-old artist and friend of Affra who also participates in water exercise. She began eating oatmeal with raisins during The Great Depression. “We didn’t have breakfast cereals back then and it always seemed like winter,” she recalls of her Ohio childhood home. “It was nice to have a pot of oats cooking on the stove.” 

Nancy said that her cupboard has never been without oatmeal and is fond of stocking it with Coach’s Oats from California. “They are heavier than normal oats and toasted.” If unavailable, she enjoys Quaker Old Fashioned Oats, but never the oats in those “little packets.” She adds fresh berries, a drop of stevia and some cinnamon. At holiday time she buys fresh cranberries and mixes them into the oatmeal. “Absolutely delicious,” she said, but warned, “Stock up on the fresh cranberries because once they’re gone, they’re gone for the year.” 

As far as oatmeal being a source of her longevity, she doesn’t give it much thought, but she likes the youthful benefits. Just recently at the doctor’s office, the nurse asked if Nancy had started menopause yet. Nancy looked quizzically at the nurse and asked, “Are you serious?” The nurse looked at her, then looked at her age on the chart. “Oh my!” exclaimed the nurse,  “I thought you were in your 50s.”

“That,” Nancy laughed, “was the best compliment I’ve ever had.”