What is a ‘Blue Zone’ Diet?

WE all aspire to live a long, happy and healthy life but how do we achieve that when we’re bombarded with so much conflicting advice and information about what we should eat? The answers may lie in the lessons we can learn from the diets of those people who have achieved it…

First published at bodyandsoul.com.au in October 2016

this end, researchers have identified a handful of locations around the world, known as ‘Blue Zones’, where the inhabitants are three times more likely to live to 100 than anywhere else on the planet.

And, after analysing the dietary patterns and lifestyles of people who live in these ‘longevity hotspots’, scientists have discovered some surprising similarities that may well prove to be the key to long life.

Where are the world’s ‘Blue Zones’?

Dan Buettner is a National Geographic Fellow, bestselling author and one of the key researchers involved in identifying the world’s ‘Blue Zones’:

1. Sardinia, Italy

A diet and lifestyle has evolved on this Mediterranean Island since the time of Christ and its mountain villages have produced more male centenarians than anywhere else on Earth.

Diet: The long-living residents of Sardinia enjoy a variation of what we commonly know as the Mediterranean Diet, which includes a range of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, goat’s milk, sheep’s cheese and olive oils. Meat is consumed on special occasions and carbs such as breads are consumed only moderately. A glass or two of local red wine is commonly enjoyed daily with food, too!

Sardinia, Italy

Eat like a Sardinian and try this Sardinian Minestrone.

2. Okinawa, Japan

Home to the world’s longest-lived women, these Japanese islands offer three distinct foods that have to potential to help us all live longer, too.

Diet: Okinawans who live long, happy lives enjoy a plant-based diet, lots of soy (tofu, miso) and eat small amounts of meat only on special occasions. They practice of eating something from the land and the sea every day. And while this has changed a bit since WW2 with the introduction of rice, milk and meat, they never over-indulge and are physically active every day.

Okinawa, Japan

Eat like an Okinawan and try this Tofu in Black Bean Sauce recipe.

3. Nicoya, Costa Rica

Inhabitants in this Central American region are more than twice as likely than the rest of us to reach the age of 90.

Diet: Similarly to other Blue Zone inhabitants, people from Nicoya never over-indulge – they eat light and what they do eat is simple and locally produced. They also drink a lot of water, which, in this region, is ‘hard’ meaning it has a lot of calcium. Their diet generally consists of rice and beans, cheese, squash, corn, fruit and eggs.

Nicoya, Costa Rica

Eat like you’re from Nicoya and try this Blue Zones chilli

4. Ikaria, Greece

Residents on this small Aegean island live an average of eight years longer than the rest of us, experience 20 percent less cancer diagnoses, almost no dementia and half the rate of heart disease.

Diet: Similar to their Sardinian neighbours, the long-living residents of Ikaria eat lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, potatoes and olive oil. They also drink goat’s milk as opposed to cow’s milk and lots of herbal teas. Their Christian religion dictates they also fast regularly and they only drink locally-produced wine moderately and with food. And what don’t they eat that is common in other parts of Greece? Lamb!

Ikaria, Greece

Eat like an Ikarian and enjoy this Simple Greek bruschetta recipe

5. Loma Linda, California, USA

This Adventist community, situated in California, on average outlive other American residents by a whole decade.

Diet: Adventists inhabitants who enjoy a long life in this community consume a ‘biblical diet’ and eat lots of nuts, whole grains, fruit and vegetables and drink plenty of fresh water. While many are pesco-vegetarian (meaning they eat fish sometimes) and abstain from alcohol, these long-living people also eat only sparingly and exercise regularly.

5. Loma Linda, California, USA

Eat like you’re from Loma Linda and try this Chickpea veggie burger recipe

What do they all have in common?

Dan Buettner and National Geographic took teams of scientists to each of the five ‘Blue Zone’ locations to identify the diet and lifestyle characteristics that might explain their collective longevity.

And while their diets differ according to their geography and culture, they share some pretty telling similarities – they drink lots of water, don’t over-indulge, enjoy plenty of locally grown fruit, vegetables and whole grains and eat meat sparingly.

What the researchers discovered was that, despite a few dietary differences, all share nine distinct similarities:

Blue Zone inhabitants enjoy moderate, regular physical activity; have purpose in their lives; prioritise a reduction in stress; moderate their calories intake; consume a predominantly plant-based diet; drink alcohol moderately (especially wine); have faith in spirituality or religion; are involved in family life; and enjoy an active social life.

How do you adopt a Blue Zone diet?

Ultimately, what these long-lived people all had in common were simple, social and sustainable lives that resulted in improved mental and physical satisfaction and consequent longevity.

If this research is anything to go by, there’s really nothing complicated about eating for longevity. By applying these simple dietary changes, you too can eat your way to living a long, healthy and happy life:

1. Eat more whole grains, fruit, vegetables and legumes

2. Increase your water intake

3. Don’t over-indulge in food – stop eating before you’re full

5. Get active and move your body every day

6. If you choose to indulge in the occasional glass of wine, drink slowly and in moderation

7. Reduce your consumption of meat

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