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As for bread, Mama had a certain way of eating that too. First of all, she didn't eat much of it. And she didn't eat the soft white insides, except rarely, when the bread was toasted. It was the hard crust of Italian loaves that she loved to chew on, and that she recommended to all.

"Always eat the hard crust of the bread," she'd say, "the insides sit on your stomach."

At least one other centenarian had the same idea about bread. In the late seventies, I was editor of a newspaper in central New Jersey. One day, the city editor sent a reporter to write a story about a local woman, of Italian ancestry, who had just turned one hundred. When the reporter returned, she said she had asked the woman the obligatory question: how do you live so long? To which the woman told the reporter that, when eating bread, one ought to eat only the crust.

As I was writing this account of Mama's habits, I came across a recommendation from Prevention magazine headlined "Ask for the Heel." It said, "Bread crust has up to eight times more pronyl -lysine—an antioxidant that fights cancer—than what's in the center." I smiled, imagining what Mama would have said about those big words confirming what her own instincts had told her.