Can you really eat your way to longevity? National Geographic journalist and explorer Dan Buettner is a leading expert on “Blue Zones” — places around the world where people live the longest. In his book The Blue Zones Solution, he outlines how we can eat and live like “the world’s healthiest people.”
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What defines a blue zone?
Blue Zones are geographic areas which have the highest concentration of centenarians — meaning people in these places live the healthiest for the longest. These areas also tend to have lower rates of common diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
How many blue zones are there?
There are five recognized Blue Zones around the world:
- Ikaria, Greece
- Okinawa, Japan
- Ogliastra Region, Sardinia, Italy
- Loma Linda, California, USA
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
What do the blue zones have in common?
When it comes to lifestyle, people living in Blue Zones share several similarities:
Inhabitants make moving their bodies a priority. Physical activity is an ingrained part of their daily lifestyles.
People in these areas have a clear sense of life purpose, and are not as riddled by existential stress.
The pace of life is slower in these places. People are less stressed because they don’t work as much, and take more time off.
Social connection comes before technological connection. People live in close proximity to one another and maintain close-knit social networks that hinge around family, or a shared sense of spirituality or religion.
People living in Blue Zones tend to get at least 70% of their dietary intake from plants. They eat animal protein very sparingly, if at all.
What is the blue zone diet?
The Blue Zone diet consists of a few basic principles:
Eat a largely plant-based diet
Greens, whole grains, beans, and nuts make up the majority of the diet. 95% of the Blue Zone dietary intake comes from low or non-processed foods. Meat is consumed occasionally, and in small portions no more than five times a month. Fish is eaten less than twice a week, if at all.
Eat until 80% full
They stop eating when they are 80% full. This means they avoid overeating. They also tend to eat the smallest meal of the day in the late afternoon or evening to facilitate better digestion at night.
Drink alcohol in moderation
Surprisingly, alcohol is consumed regularly but in moderation. On average one glass of red wine per day. Typically people tend to primarily drink water, tea, and a little coffee.
Each geographic place has specific ‘longevity foods’ which are local to the area and nutritionally dense.
For example, in Okinawa they drink antioxidant-packed green tea, in Costa Rica they eat peach palms (a fruit very high in Vitamins A and C), and in Greece they opt for medicinal herbs such as sage and marjoram in their tea.
The bottom line
When it comes to eating for longevity, plant-based diets reign supreme. Unless you have an allergy or other condition, most of us should be eating greens, wholegrains, beans, and nuts every day. Optimizing beyond this of course is deeply individual.