Live Longer With The Right Foods
Many people turn to a nutritionist when they want an eating plan that will help them improve their overall health. Now, when people want to see the outcome of healthy eating, they can visit “Blue Zones,” where residents frequently live to be 100 or beyond.
The term “Blue Zones” was first used by Dan Buettner, a bestselling author and explorer, who identified five areas around the world where residents’ diets had become the gold standard for healthy living. The places where Buettner found people lived the longest and healthiest are:
- Okinawa, Japan
- Sardinia, Italy
- Nicoya, Costa Rica
- Ikaria, Greece
- Loma Linda, California
Buettner discovered that the people in these regions ate fruits and vegetables that are typically found in a Mediterranean diet and only a small amount of meat. During his research, Buettner, author of the bestseller, The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons For Living Longer, found that residents in Blue Zones had four eating habits in common. The residents:
1. Eat a cup of beans, peas, or lentils every day.
Beans provide protein and fiber, both of which contribute to building muscle and maintaining steady blood sugar. Beans also contain folate (vitamin B-9) and magnesium, which are essential for healthy cell growth and muscle growth. Buettner pointed out that one cup of beans provides about half of your daily fiber recommendation, and he advocates for eating them every day. Beans “reign supreme in the blue zones and are the cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world,” Buettner wrote in his latest book, The Blue Zones American Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100.
2. Eat a handful of nuts every day.
Almonds, pistachios, walnuts, and cashews, are among the most healthy nuts. These tree nuts contain protein and fiber. Some studies suggest that nuts may lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease and inflammation.
A study in JAMA Internal Medicine that followed 31,000 Seventh Day Adventists found that participants who ate nuts more than four times per week were 51 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack and 48 percent less likely to die of heart disease than those who ate nuts no more than once per week.
3. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.
By this, Buettner means that people in these areas eat most of their calories at breakfast and lunch and fewer calories for dinner—if they eat dinner at all. In conducting his research, Buettner said he came across Seventh Day Adventists who would eat a big breakfast at 10 a.m., a moderate lunch at 4 p.m., and then they’re done eating for the day. However, when he studied people in all of the Blue Zones, he noticed that they usually ate dinner in the late afternoon or early evening. And, when they ate, they did not eat a lot.
4. Eat meals with their family.
It’s common for families in Blue Zones to eat at least one daily meal together, typically their midday meal or their last meal of the day. “Families that eat together tend to eat much more nutritiously, they eat slower, and there’s good research that children have fewer issues with disordered eating if they’re eating socially,” Buettner said in an interview.
There are also studies that show married couples who practice having routine in-home family meals have higher levels of marital satisfaction. What’s more, parents and their children also eat more fruits and vegetables, and the children are less likely to develop obesity.
There are other healthy foods Buettner noted that people in the Blue Zones often eat:
1. Whole fruits and leafy greens
“People in the blue zones eat an impressive variety of garden vegetables and leafy greens (especially spinach, kale, beet and turnip tops, chard, and collards) when they are in season; they pickle or dry the surplus to enjoy during the off-season,” Buettner writes in his book.
2. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are rich sources of vitamins and good for strengthening the gut microbiome, which helps with digestion and strengthens the immune system. Not only are sweet potatoes healthy, but Buettner says they are also cheap and accessible.
The colorful spice has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and has been used to treat digestive issues, liver problems, and wounds. What’s more, turmeric contributes to the reduction of chronic stress, which can lead to heart problems.
Food Isn’t the Only Factor in Longevity
Eating healthy food is just one factor that contributes to a long life for people in general and residents in Blue Zones in particular. Scientific studies are ongoing regarding what factors contribute to longevity. A primary factor researchers have discovered is genetics. Some studies suggest that genetics contribute to about 25 percent of an individual’s life span, while diet, environment, exercise, and other factors make up the rest.
Buettner discovered other factors in his research of Blue Zones. For instance, Buettner observed that residents have:
- A strong connection to friends and family.
- A sense of purpose
- A positive outlook on life.
- High levels of physical activity. For example, many often get around primarily by walking and spending time gardening and farming.
Buettner wrote in his new book, The Blue Zones American Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100, that these people’s lives are rooted in community and socialization and “underpinned with purpose.”
On average, people living in Blue Zones live up to a decade longer than people in the United States, have fewer chronic health conditions, and spend less on health-related costs, according to Buettner. When it comes to the eating habits of Americans, Buettner says, “What we’re eating as a country is killing us.”
To motivate Americans to adopt healthy eating habits, Buettner conducted research on traditional but healthy foods passed down from generation to generation in certain regions and cultures in the United States. His new book contains recipes that replicate these foods.
“If you can afford a Crock-Pot, or a pressure cooker, or an Instant Pot, or even a pot to put on your stove, most of [the recipes] you can assemble in under a half-hour for under $2 a serving,” Buettner told Fortune Well.
Buettner says his new book is not just a list of recipes “so much as a guidebook built on research for eating toward longevity.”