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What Is the ‘Blue Zone’ Diet? A Nutritionist Explains the Eating Plan That May Help You Live Longer and Healthier

Want to live the longest, healthiest life possible? There are five areas in the world where people do just that, and a big factor they have in common is how they eat. Deemed Blue Zones by Dan Buettner, who studies these locales, the populations in these pockets of the planet have an extremely high percentage of nonagenarians and centenarians—people who live to be over 90 and 100, respectively. They also have low rates of chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and obesity.

The regions include: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California. While these are very different parts of the world, folks in these areas share lifestyle commonalities, one being the consumption of a similar dietary pattern.

Here’s a closer look at how Blue Zone residents eat, and takeaway tips for how to adopt their longevity habits, regardless of where you reside.

RELATED: The Longevity Diet: What to Eat So You Live Longer and Healthier

Eat 95% plants

People in four of the five Blue Zones consume some meat, but they do so sparingly. Meat is eaten on average five times per month, in portions that are about two ounces or less (think half of a deck of cards). Rather than occupying the center of the plate, meat is a small side; it’s thought of as a celebratory food or a way to flavor primarily plant-based dishes.

Blue Zone residents eat a wide variety of vegetables, in addition to pulses (beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas), fruit, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. At least half a cup of cooked beans and two ounces of nuts are consumed daily throughout the Blue Zones. In addition, the focus is on naturally nutrient dense whole foods, not processed products.

Takeaway tip: Make some simple swaps. Replace meat with beans in a Mexican bowl, chili, soup, or stew. Trade a processed snack for a small handful of nuts, paired with fresh fruit.

Rethink your drink

With very few exceptions, people in Blue Zones consume just four beverages: water, coffee, tea, and wine. In all five Blue Zones, tea is sipped daily, and in most, one to three small glasses of red wine are consumed per day.

Takeaway tip: Ditch regular or diet soda in favor of H2O or unsweetened tea. Upgrade from carb-heavy beer or sugary mixed drinks to antioxidant-rich red wine, enjoyed as part of a healthy meal.

RELATED: 6 Ways to Make Your Morning Coffee Even Healthier

Reduce dairy and eggs

In four of the five Blue Zones, cow’s milk products are not included in significant amounts. Folks in Ikaria and Sardinia consume goat and sheep milk products. And people in all of the Blue Zones eat eggs about two to four times per week, usually one at a time and incorporated into a dish, rather than as a main protein source.

Takeaway tip: Consider plant-based dairy free alternatives, like plant “milk” or “yogurt,” and nut-based “cheeses.” Think of eggs as an accent to a meal, or consider omitting them.

Limit fish (if you eat it)

In most Blue Zones, people eat up to three small servings of fish each week. However, they are typically middle-of-the-food-chain species (like sardines, anchovies, and cod) that are not exposed to high levels of mercury or other harmful chemicals. Blue Zone societies also don’t overfish their waters, and they focus on food sustainability.

Takeaway tip: If you eat seafood, take advantage of a resource like the Environmental Working Group’s seafood guide. The free chart they provide rates seafood options using a green, yellow, and red system, based on mercury content and sustainability. Stick with green choices for the greatest benefits, in three ounce portions, up to three times a week.

RELATED: 9 Ways to Quit Sugar for Good

Curb sugar

People in Blue Zones consume about a fifth of the added sugar intake per day as North Americans do. The amounts are similar to the guidelines laid out by the American Heart Association, which caps added sugar at six daily teaspoons for women and nine for men. Blue Zone citizens also enjoy sugar intentionally as a treat. It’s not hidden in processed foods or consumed out of habit.

Takeaway tip: Eat more whole, unprocessed foods to skirt concealed sugar. Select some favorite can’t-live-without sweet treats, and enjoy them mindfully on occasion.

Don’t overeat

Okinawans follow the 80% rule, which they call hara hachi bu. This means they stop eating when they feel 80% full. Overall, Blue Zone residents don’t overeat. They also primarily eat home-cooked meals, with breakfast as the largest meal and dinner being the smallest.

Takeaway tip: Eat slower. Put your utensil down between bites, pay attention to your inner fullness meter, and stop when you feel just full enough. Also, “front load” your eating pattern by shifting the bulk of your intake to earlier in the day, when you’re more active. Opt for a larger breakfast, like a scramble made with veggies, beans, and avocado, with a side of fresh fruit, and then a lighter dinner, like a salad dressed with an extra virgin olive oil vinaigrette and cup of lentil soup.

Overall, the Blue Zones diet is very similar to other contemporary diets aimed at reducing chronic disease and improving overall health, including the Planetary Diet, and The OMD Plan, which Oprah recently featured on her SuperSoul Sunday. It’s also science-backed, and it supports healthy, sustainable weight management, in addition to optimal wellness.

If adopting the Blue Zones way of eating feels overwhelming, focus on one goal at a time, and gradually work toward the other changes. Even a few simple shifts to your usual eating routine can snowball into significant health health rewards over time.

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams.

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Move over seven wonders of the world! We’re obsessed with the five Blue Zones, the mysterious regions where people statistically live the longest.

These five locales, Sardinia, Italy; the islands of Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California; don’t appear to have too much in common at first glance. They’re all relatively warm year-round, fairly small, remote and close to the ocean.

But the cultural differences far outweigh these broadly shared attributes, and it’s safe to say that a person from Loma Linda would experience a bit of culture shock if suddenly transplanted to Okinawa (and vice versa).

The beauty of the Blue Zones is not one or two big things, but a constellation of little things that add up.

So what’s the secret? Why do people in these places, despite their striking cultural differences, share the likelihood of sailing into their 90s and beyond, often eluding heart disease and even cancer?

We spoke with Dan Buettner, the author, educator and explorer who discovered the Blue Zones (and coined the term) to learn what makes these areas and their residents so special, and how we can bring some Blue Zone magic into our own lives.

A plant-based diet that incorporates beans is essential

Your average menu in Okinawa may not have feature the same dishes as that from an eatery in a Sardinian village, but you will discover parallels among core ingredients — just as you will in any of the other Blue Zones.

“In all five places, the common denominators include mostly a plant-based diet,” Buettner tells NBC News Better. “There’s five pillars to every Blue Zone diet: whole grains, greens, tuberous (sweet potatoes or potatoes), nuts and beans. The most important one is beans. A cup of beans a day could add two to three years to your life.”

As for what type of bean to consume, you really can’t go wrong with any, but for your own palette (and to get a full variety of nutrients) you should mix up the types of beans you consume, and though canned beans are okay, Buettner recommends using dried beans when possible, if only “to not toss another can into the world.”

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Low on beef and dairy, big on tea and red wine

Beef and cow dairy are “not significant” in these Blue Zone diets, Buettner notes, though you’ll find some sheep and goat’s milk. Additionally, “no more than three eggs are consumed per week.”

As for beverages, Blue Zones are heavy on water and tea.

“They’re drinking herbal tea all day long,” says Buettner. “In Okinawa it’s often green tea, while in Ikaria it’s usually a tea made with oregano, rosemary or mint. They drink no more than two glasses of wine a day.”

The wine choices depend, but Buettner recommends a garnet red variety called Cannonau. “It’s filled with artery scrubbing antioxidants.”

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Coffee is also embraced in the morning, though it should be noted that in Loma Linda, California, the only American destination on this list, the Blue Zone effect is attributed to the predominance of Seventh Day Adventists who tend to abstain from caffeine, do not drink alcohol and lean heavily toward vegetarianism.

Loneliness can shave eight years off your life; community and purpose are paramount

Buettner stresses that the beauty of the Blue Zones is not one or two big things, but a “constellation of little things that add up.” Diet is just one part of the picture, while social activity, community and a strong sense of one’s purpose are other integral factors.

The option to be lonely shaves eight years off life expectancy here , but that does not exist in Blue Zones.

“People aren’t waking up in the morning rudderless. They’re driven by life meaning and purpose,” Buettner says. “They’re investing in family, keeping their minds engaged and there’s no existential stress of being worthless in life like so many Americans. The option to be lonely shaves eight years off life expectancy here but that does not exist in Blue Zones. You can’t walk outside your front door in these regions without bumping into somebody you know, and this is all so much more powerful than we think.”

Humans are extremely social creatures, and from a young age we learn the importance of teamwork and collaboration (for instance, Buettner says, young children who can’t lift a bucket of water on their own will understand that if they together they’ll succeed, whereas a young chimpanzee may not figure this out).

“We’re genetically hardwired to crave social interaction and when you don’t have it, there’s a level of subconscious stress that grates away at you,” he adds.

Walking everyday is so simple and so effective

Three of the five Blue Zones (Okinawa, Ikaria and Sardinia) are located in very narrow, steep regions that didn’t always have access to industrial roads. This element of being tucked away in remote hilltop isolation not only “protected these zones from the corrosive effects of globalization,” Buettner says, it forces people to form tight social connections with one another, and to incorporate a lot of up and downhill walking into their daily routines.

“Walking is one of the best forms of exercise and you can do it without thinking about it,” says Buettner, who encourages people to rely less on cars and more on public transportation so that they have to walk more. He also recommends bringing a dog into your life if you’re struggling to get outdoors much.

“Adopting a dog is really the best Blue Zone strategies there is,” he says. “It’s that perfect nudge to get you walking everyday.”

There’s no magic Blue Zone potion — and that’s kind of the point

Ultimately, the secrets of the Blue Zone are not so secret after all. They each prioritize health and happiness in ways that we’re increasingly learning about and embracing.

“We’re all looking for magic dietary pills or serums or supplements, but you see none of that in the Blue Zones,” says Buettner. “It’s mostly small things driven by the right environment. If America wants to get healthier, it will drop the freneticism with diets and disciplines and shift the focus to changing the environments of our cities, schools and workplaces.”

We can also build Blue Zone values into our own lives. You can get started assessing where you are and what you might want to change by taking the True Vitality Test by Blue Zones. (I took the test and found it helpful and slightly worrying, such that I changed my dinner plans and decided: A. Not to eat alone and B. To opt for whole grains instead of French fries.)

Jumpstart your Blue Zone bliss with this suggested menu

Suzanne Dixon, a registered dietitian, epidemiologist and medical writer shares her tips for a day of Blue Zone-style eating in the menu below:

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal with blueberries and banana + 1 cup Greek Yogurt + coffee with cinnamon and cardamom.
  • Snack: Handful of walnuts and dried cherries + cup of green tea.
  • Lunch: Bean burrito with shredded, sautéed carrots, kale and cabbage. Add cumin, chili powder and pinch of salt for taste.
  • Snack: Apple with cashew butter + cup of chamomile, rose hip, hibiscus or other herbal tea
  • Dinner: Sautéed salmon with lemon juice + olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper + side of barley with chopped dried apricots & slivered almonds + 1/2 sweet potato + rubbed kale or chard salad (or Ceasar salad — skip the croutons and go light on the dressing).

Dixon’s pro-tip: “If you want to really go for something fun and new, make your entree in this dinner as follows: Fresh tomato wedges topped with seared skinless/boneless sardines and drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt.”

And enjoy these meals in good company, if possible.

“People eat to live, they don’t live to eat,” Dixon says of the typical Blue Zone behavior towards food. “Each eating opportunity is a time for connection with others, being with family and a time for gratitude for all of the good things in their lives. They take the time to savor food, enjoy company and slow down for a bit.”

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In the US, the average life expectancy is 78 years. But there are a few places in the world—specifically Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Icaria, Greece—where living to be over 100 isn’t uncommon at all. In these regions, known as Blue Zones, the life expectancy isn’t just higher; centenarians are generally also healthy, their minds and bodies still working well.

National Geographic journalist Dan Buettner spent years studying each culture, pinpointing the exact reasons why they thrived before publishing his findings in the best selling book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. Buettner found that despite the geographical differences, people living in the Blue Zones all had nine key lifestyle habits in common, which he named the “Power 9.” Here, each pillar is explained, with input from doctors about why it’s so crucially connected to health and longevity. Keep reading for the complete intel, including how to apply the pillars to your own life.

1. Move naturally

Buettner found that in all the Blue Zones communities, movement was a regular part of daily life for the residents. The Longevity Plan author John Day, MD saw this first-hand as well when he spent a year living in remote China. Even in their advanced age, he saw centenarians working in the fields and throughout the village.

Of course, here in the States, our jobs are a lot more sedentary. But Dr. Day still says we can work this pillar into everyday life. “Unfortunately, our modern lifestyles have been engineered in a way to take movement out of our lives, so it is up to us to get in as much as we can during the day,” he says. “For example, you could take a vow to never use an elevator or escalator again unless the stairs are restricted. Other options include an evening walk or doing everything possible to avoid having to use a car. Even vacations can be scheduled in a way that are physically active, like a vacation centered around skiing, hiking, or cycling.”

Richard Honaker, MD, who works with Your Doctors Online, echoes this saying, “The more exercise you can fit into your day, the better. Even walking is good for your health.” His recommendation is to aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise three times a week. “This is the bare minimum amount of exercise to do that will benefit your health,” he says.

2. Have a larger purpose

Having a clear sense of why you wake up in the morning is connected to living a long, healthy life. “Purpose is related to happiness, and happiness is associated with better health than sadness or indifference,” Dr. Honaker says.

Dr. Day adds that the connection between the mind, health, and a sense of purpose is powerful. “Whether your goal is to beat cardiovascular disease or cancer, or even to live a long and healthy life, study after study has found an association of purpose in life with all kinds of better health outcomes—an effect that stands regardless of age, sex, education or race,” he says. “You have to have a reason to get out of bed every morning. Something that pushes and motivates you. For without purpose it is next to impossible to maintain the healthy behaviors and lifestyle that is conducive to a long and healthy life.”

3. Manage your stress

PSA: Chronic stress is terrible for your health, which is why stress management is one of the pillars for living a long, healthy life. “We all have stress. The key is how you perceive your stress,” Dr. Day says. “If you view stress as something that is making you stronger or refining you then it can be a good thing. If you view stress as something destructive then it probably is.”

During his time in China, he saw that simple lifestyle habits such as eating nourishing foods, being physically active, getting good sleep, and socializing with family and neighbors all helped negate the stress the townspeople experienced, showing that the pillars are intertwined and connected to each other.

4. Eat until you are 80 percent full

Here in the States, generous, oversized portions of food are valued greatly. But in Blue Zones, Buettner found that people stopped eating when they were mostly full, not when they finished everything on their plate or were too stuffed to eat another bite. He also observed that the biggest meal of the day occurred in late afternoon or early evening, not right close to bedtime. Scientific research has shown that eating late at night is linked to unhealthy weight gain, which isn’t exactly great for lifespan.

Speaking of Blue Zones, here’s what to know about the expert-loved Mediterranean diet:

5. Stick to a plant-forward diet

While we’re on the subject of food, people in Blue Zones tend to eat a diet that’s primarily plant-based, consuming meat only a few times a month on special occasions. “Processed foods and added sugar have never shown to have a health benefit. Cutting them out is 90 percent of a a healthy diet right there,” Dr. Day says. “, they picked their own produce and ate it the same day. And since they were essentially cut off from the rest of the world, they didn’t have any access to sugar or processed foods.” He also adds that they ate fish about twice a week, which of course brings to mind the Mediterranean diet, a long-beloved eating plan by doctors and dietitians.

6. Moderate alcohol consumption

Across Blue Zones, Buettner observed that alcohol was consumed, but moderately, at one to two glasses a day, with friends or food. This makes sense, as light to moderate drinking (particularly of wine) has been associated with a longer lifespan. According to a 2017 333,000-person, eight-year analysis, those who enjoyed an occasional drink—seven or less per week, to be exact—were 20 percent less likely to die of any cause and 25 percent to 30 percent less likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those who were completely sober. The key, of course, is to be mindful.

7. Find your community

A sense of family and community is important in all Blue Zones communities, which Dr. Honaker says has been directly linked to health. “Many studies have shown lower rates of hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and possibly even cancer for people with lots of friends and loving relationships in their lives,” he says.

Dr. Day observed first-hand how belonging affected the health of the people in China’s longevity village. “Our research showed that as long as people stayed in the village and adopted the village lifestyle, they were healthy and aging was slowed,” he says. “However, if they left for employment in one of the big cities in China then their health suffered.”

8. Stay close with family

Similarly, in Blue Zones, families tend to be close, both geographically and emotionally. Younger generations value and help care for older ones. Dr. Day says that healthy aging requires a close network of friends and family who share their health goals and values, not something people can do on their own. This may too be related to a sense of belonging. “This may be in part to the healthy lifestyles happy people adopt along with other factors we cannot measure,” Dr. Honaker says.

9. Maintain a fulfilling social life

People in Blue Zones areas not only have supportive families and communities, they actively participate in them. For some, faith may be the cornerstone of their social life, which Dr. Honaker says can provide both comfort and camaraderie through a shared beliefs system. “As with purpose, study after study suggests that having a faith may increase longevity,” Dr. Days says of this connection, adding that faith often involves frequent social gatherings. Another study published in 2016 emphasizes the importance of even casual social relationships when it comes to longevity.

Here’s more intel on exactly how relationships impact your health. Plus, why chili peppers are linked to longevity.

The Blue Zones Diet Secrets from People Who Live Up to 100.

What are Blue Zones?

In 2004, longevity expert and National Geographic Fellow, Dan Buettner teamed up with National Geographic to travel across the globe and identify the healthiest parts of the world.

At the end of their decade long research period, the explorers discovered five regions in the world, where people had the least health related diseases and lived the longest. These are called the ‘Blue Zones.’

During the research phase, scientists wanted to dig deeper to uncover why inhabitants within these communities lived happier, healthier and longer lives—up to 100 years old—longer than the rest of the world.

One of the key factors they discovered was that their environment i.e. physical items, architecture, terrain etc. helps them to make healthy decisions without thinking too much. You can read more about this in my previous article here.

Another major factor they discovered was the type of diet these people shared in common. This diet is also known as the ‘Blue Zones Diet.’

Best selling author and longevity expert, Dan Buettner, shares his findings from the decade of research in his book, The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living like the World’s Healthiest People.

The Blue Zones Diet

Buettner suggests that the average american could live an extra 12 years if they ‘optimize’ their lifestyle by eating a diet similar to the blue zones diet.

The Blue Zones Diet was developed through the analysis of more than 150 dietary studies conducted in Blue Zones.

As a quick summary, here are some of the diets within different Blue Zones regions:

In Nicoya, Costa Rica, where there is the lowest rate of middle age mortality, 70% of the inhabitants diet consists of beans, squash and corn tortillas. The combination of these foods have complete proteins and contain all nine essential amino acids.

In Okinawa, Japan, where the longest living women on earth reside—an average of 90 years old—60% of their diet consists of sweet potato. Sweet potato is high in “beta carotene” a source of Vitamin A and it’s also packed with antioxidants as well.

In Sardinia, Italy, where the longest living men on earth reside, men drink up to 1-2 glasses a day of Cannonau Wine. The antioxidants and flavonoids within the wine may help promote their heart health.

In Loma Linda, California, the Seventh Day Adventists eat a “biblical diet” which consists of slow-cooked oatmeal, beans and nuts. These food items are high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants which may help in reducing risk factors for heart disease.

In the book, the Blue Zones solution, Dan Buettner also recommends some of the following guidelines based on the Blue Zones diet:

  • 95% of your food items should be plant-based.
  • Stop eating when 80% full.
  • Eat a half cup of beans daily.
  • Eat your largest meal at breakfast and your smallest at dinner.
  • Snack on a handful of nuts daily.
  • Cook majority of your meals at home.

The Blue Zones Diet Food List

Within the Blue Zones Solution, there is an in-depth list of food items for the Blue Zones diet. Here are the best of the longevity foods to include in your daily meals:

Blue Zones Diet: Best foods.

Blue Zones Diet: Foods to minimize.

  • Meat (at most 2 times per week, daily fish intake required)
  • Dairy (limit as much as possible)
  • Eggs (at most 3 eggs per week)
  • Sugar (limit as much as possible )
  • Bread (100% whole wheat are okay)

Blue Zones Diet: Foods to always eat.

  • 100% Whole Wheat Bread
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Fruit

Blue Zones Diet: Foods to always avoid.

  • Sugar-Sweetened Beverages
  • Salty Snacks
  • Processed Meats
  • Packaged Sweets

You can read more about the Blue Zones Diet in the book, Blue Zones Solution (Audiobook).

The Blue Zones Diet Lifestyle

According to Dan Buettner, none of the 100 plus year old people he interviewed had a ‘diet’ or exercise program. Instead, they lived in an environment that was designed to make the healthiest decision, the easiest choice. In other words, healthy living is a lifestyle not an activity.

The problem isn’t that we don’t know what a healthy diet looks like. It’s that we spend a lot more time thinking about the next diet plan to try out, more so than how well designed our environment is to make healthy choices easier.

A small decision such as moving your unhealthy food items out of eyesight or leaving a bowl of apples on your kitchen counter, could be the difference between another 10 pounds of weight gain or loss—or, another 1 year of your life gained or lost.

The Blue Zones Diet is a guideline of what to eat for a healthy, long-lived life. It’s not a short-term fix or a typical ‘diet’ plan you can jump on and off.

The Blue Zones Diet is a lifestyle. It is a lifelong decision to eat better for a life lived longer.

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Footnotes

  1. Herskind A, McGue M, Holm N, Sørensen T, Harvald B, Vaupel J (1996) The heritability of human longevity: a population-based study of 2872 Danish twin pairs born 1870–1900.
  2. Dan Buettner Blue Zones Diet interview with Fox News.

The Blue Zones Solution by Dan Buettner: Food list

The Blue Zones Solution (2015) is a longevity diet which suggests building a community to improve your likelihood of success.

  • Eat whole foods, mostly plant-based.
  • Eat until you’re 80% full.
  • Avoid processed foods.

See below on this page for a description of the food recommendations in the diet. General guidelines | What to eat | Foods to limit | Foods to avoid. There’s a lot more in the book.

Use this page as a cheat sheet alongside the book. Send this page to friends, family, and anyone else who you want to understand what you’re eating on this diet.

Get a copy of The Blue Zones Solution for descriptions of diets in Blue Zones, how new Blue Zones are grown, behavioral and physical activity tips, creating a circle of friends/moai to impact your well-being, how to develop a taste for Blue Zone foods, cooking tips, and recipes.

The reasoning behind The Blue Zones Solution

The author and his team set out to find the world’s longest-living people – places that had not only high concentrations of 100-year-olds but also clusters of people who had grown old without diseases like heart problems, obesity, cancer, or diabetes. These Blue Zones are Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Ogliastra region, Sardinia; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya peninsula, Costa Rica. They looked for the factors that contributed to longevity in these places, and found similar habits and practices. These common denominators, called the Power Nine, are: Move naturally; purpose; downshift times; eat to 80% full; plant focus for eating; 1-2 glasses of alcohol per day; social circles to promote healthy behavior; faith-based community; putting families first. The Blue Zones Solution offers food ideas and eating practices, plus ways to change your environment that make it all the more likely that you will live a longer, healthier life.

The Blue Zones Solution diet plan – what to eat and foods to avoid

General guidelines | What to eat | Foods to limit | Foods to avoid

General guidelines

  • Meals
    • Eat a large breakfast, a medium-size late lunch, and a light, early dinner
    • Make breakfast your biggest meal of the day. It should include protein, complex carbohydrates, and plant-based fats. Schedule breakfast depending on what works for you; it can be early or as late as noon. Eat a variety of foods for breakfast – building blocks include whole-grain cooked cereal, smoothies, beans, and scrambles
    • Don’t make a habit of snacking – you might have a single snack of a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts, but no more
    • Cook or prepare your meals at home so you have control over what goes into them
    • Eat with friends and family
    • Never eat standing up. Never eat while driving. When you eat alone, just eat – focus on your food
    • Celebrate and enjoy food, such as good meals and occasional indulgent celebration
  • How much to eat
    • Eat until you’re 80% full, then stop
    • Occasionally go without food / go on a fast. You can do this by eating only within an 8-hour timeframe each day, or limiting your food intake to 500 calories every other day; deliberate long-term fasts like religious fasts can also be beneficial
  • Plate proportions
    • Eat 95% plant-based, 5% animal-based
    • Eat 65% carbs, 20% fats, 15% proteins

Foods to eat in The Blue Zones Solution

  • Look for whole foods that are recognizable for what they are – single ingredient, raw, cooked, ground, or fermented, and not highly processed
  • Try to eat at least 3 Super Blue Foods daily – you don’t need to eat copious amounts
    • Beans of all kinds
    • Greens
    • Sweet potatoes (don’t confuse with yams, although one part of the book lists these as a longevity superfood as well)
    • Nuts of all kinds
    • Olive oil – green extra-virgin is usually the best – note that it decomposes quickly so buy no more than a month’s supply at a time
    • Oats – slow-cook or Irish steel-cut are best
    • Barley
    • Fruits – all kinds
    • Green or herbal teas
    • Turmeric – as a spice or tea
  • Legumes/beans (carbohydrate and protein)
    • At least ½ cup of cooked beans daily (a diagram says 1 cup/day)
    • Beans – e.g. black beans, black-eyed peas, cannellini beans, chickpeas/garbanzo beans, cranberry beans, edamame, great northern beans, lima beans, pinto beans, white beans (note that fava beans, kidney beans, and navy beans are harder to digest and likely to give rise to more gas)
    • Lentils – e.g. beluga lentils, black lentils, brown lentils, green lentils
    • Hummus
    • Dried beans are recommended
    • When buying canned beans, make sure the ingredients are beans, water, spices, and perhaps a small amount of salt. Avoid the brands with added fat or sugar
    • The author suggests beans in non-BPA cans
  • Vegetables (carbohydrate)
    • ½ cup/day
    • Leafy greens are the best longevity foods – e.g. arugula, beet greens, cabbage, chard, collard greens, dandelion greens, escarole, fennel greens, lettuce, kale, mesclun, mizuna, mustard greens, pea shoots, spinach, turnip greens, watercress, wild greens
    • Other vegetables –artichoke hearts, avocados, bean sprouts, bitter melons, bok choy, broccoli, broccoli rabe, carrots, cauliflower, celery, corn, cucumber, eggplant, fennel, green beans, onion, parsnips, peppers including bell peppers and hot peppers, plantains, scallions, shallots, squash, summer squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turnips, winter squash (e.g. acorn squash, buttercup squash, butternut squash, hubbard squash), yams, zucchini
    • Mushrooms, e.g. cremini mushrooms, enoki, maitake, shiitake mushrooms, white mushrooms
    • Seaweed, e.g. kombu, wakame
  • Fruits (carbohydrate)
    • 2-3x/day
    • g. bananas, blackberries, blueberries, lemons, lime, mango, oranges, papayas, pears, pejivalles/peach palms, pineapple, raspberries, strawberries
  • Nuts (carbohydrate and fat) (the book lists seeds along with nuts)
    • 2 oz/day / 2 handfuls/day
    • Nuts – e.g. almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, peanuts, walnuts
    • Seeds – e.g. chia seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds
    • Nut and seed butters, e.g. almond butter, peanut butter
    • Nut and seed meals, e.g. ground flaxseed
    • Purchase in small quantities, or purchase and freeze, as the oils in nuts degrade/oxidize
  • Whole grains (carbohydrate)
    • Daily
    • g. barley, ground corn / maize nixtamal, oats (preferably slow-cook or Irish steel-cut), quinoa, brown rice, wild rice
    • There are some recipes with long-grain white rice, such as basmati rice
    • The book says that wheat is not used as widely, and where it is used it tends to be older varieties that contain less gluten than the modern strains of today. However, it lists 100% whole wheat bread as one of the 4 foods always to have on hand
    • Whole grain breads
      • Replace common bread with sourdough or 100% whole wheat bread
      • Try sprouted grain bread or tortilla, or whole-grain corn tortilla
      • Choose whole-grain rye bread (with rye as the main ingredient) or pumpernickel bread over whole wheat bread
      • Try coarse barley bread, with an average of 75-80% whole barley kernels
    • Whole grain noodles/pasta
      • Soba noodles, somen noodles, whole grain pasta
    • Fats
      • Olive oil – 4 teaspoons/day
      • Nuts (listed above – 2 oz/day)
      • Canola oil, coconut oil, peanut oil, pecan oil, toasted sesame oil, walnut oil – not listed in the main list of fats, but included in recipes
    • Proteins
      • Beans (listed above – 1 cup/day)
      • Tofu – ½ cup/day (tempeh is also listed as an option)
      • Greens (listed above) – 1 cup/day
      • Fish
        • Up to 3 ounces daily, wild-caught
        • Note there’s conflicting advice in the book – there’s a diagram that tells you to have fish 2x/week max, but several of the blue zones include fish and another part of the book says that fish is fine, and to eat up to 3 ounces of fish daily
        • Eat fish that are common and abundant, not threatened by overfishing. In most Blue Zones, the fish being eaten are small, relatively inexpensive fish— middle-of-the-food-chain species that are not exposed to the high levels of mercury or other chemicals like PCBs that pollute our gourmet fish supply today
        • g. anchovies, cod, grouper, salmon (including smoked or canned), sardines, snapper, trout
      • Sweeteners
        • Honey – make this your go-to sweetener – e.g. a tablespoon or less with your breakfast
        • Stevia – can be used to sweeten tea or coffee
      • Beverages
        • Drink coffee for breakfast, tea or herbal tea in the afternoon, wine at 5pm, and water or green tea all day
        • Seltzer or sparkling water is listed as an option
        • Blue Zone Smoothies for breakfast – make with a combination of fruits and vegetables, nuts or nut butter, and a liquid base. You can add certain ingredients to boost the fiber content, which makes the smoothie more filling. Don’t use additional sweeteners. If you want your smoothies sweeter, add more banana to the recipe
      • Herbs and spices
        • Herbs e.g. basil, bay leaves, cilantro, dill, garlic, marjoram, Mediterranean herbs, milk thistle, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme
        • Spices e.g. allspice, black pepper, cardamom, cayenne pepper, celery seeds, chili powder, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, fennel seeds, ginger, nutmeg, paprika, pumpkin spice, red pepper flakes, turmeric
      • Other
        • Dairy alternatives – unsweetened soy milk, coconut milk, or almond milk
        • Coconut water
        • Pickles, olives
        • Vegetable broth
        • Condiments and dressings – dashi, mustard (no added sugar), hot red pepper sauce e.g. Tabasco, regular or vegan mayonnaise, mirin, miso paste, oil & vinegar salad dressing, salsa, Salsa Lizano, salt, soy sauce, tomato paste, vinegar (e.g. red wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar), yakisoba sauce, Worcestershire sauce
        • Vanilla extract

Foods to limit with The Blue Zones Solution

  • Proteins (which also include some fat)
    • Meat
      • Less than 2x/week
      • Servings sized no more than 2 ounces cooked
      • Favor true free-range chicken and family-farmed pork or lamb instead of meats raised industrially
      • Neither beef nor turkey figures significantly into the average Blue Zones diet
    • Dairy
      • You’re advised to minimize your consumption, amount not given, just “less”
      • Small amounts of sheep’s milk or goat’s milk products – especially grass-fed, full-fat, naturally fermented yogurt with no added sugars – a few times weekly are okay
      • Note that feta cheese and pecorino cheese are listed among the longevity superfoods
      • Limit or avoid cow’s milk and dairy products such as cheese, cream, and butter (some parts of the book say to limit dairy, others to avoid these specific dairy foods)
    • Eggs
      • Eat no more than 3 eggs per week
      • From chickens that are cage-free, pastured, eating a wide variety of natural foods, do not receive hormones or antibiotics, and produce slowly matured eggs that are naturally higher in omega-3 fatty acids
      • Diabetics should be cautious about consuming egg yolks, and egg consumption has been correlated to higher rates of prostate cancer for men and exacerbated kidney problems for women
      • The book offers egg alternatives
    • Starchy veggies (carbohydrate)
      • Potatoes – 2x/week max (although one of the Blue Zones eats a lot more, and it’s listed as a longevity superfood)
    • Sugar
      • No more than 7 added teaspoons a day
      • Enjoy cookies, candy, and bakery items only a few times a week and ideally as part of a meal. Avoid foods with added sugar. Skip any product where sugar is among the first five ingredients listed. Limit sugar added to coffee, tea, or other foods to no more than four teaspoons per day. Break the habit of snacking on sugar-heavy sweets
      • Watch out for processed foods with added sugar, particularly sauces, salad dressings, and ketchup. Many contain several teaspoons of added sugar
      • Watch for low-fat products, many of which are sugar-sweetened to make up for the lack of fat
    • Sweets/desserts (carbohydrate)
      • Conflicting advice – one part of the book says 2x/week max, another says to limit desserts or treats to 100 calories and eat just one serving a day or less
      • Consume sweets as celebratory foods
      • Freshly made, not packaged
    • Dried fruit (e.g. dates, raisins) – eat fresh fruit preferably

Foods to avoid with The Blue Zones Solution

  • Factory-made food, including
    • Foods wrapped in plastic
    • Food products made with more than 5 ingredients
    • Premade or ready-to-eat meals
  • Salty snacks – e.g. potato chips (although one diagram says you can have them 1x/week max), other chips, crackers
  • Packaged sweet foods, such as cookies, candy bars, muffins, granola bars, energy bars
  • Fruit juice (use whole fruit instead)
  • Trans fat
  • Processed meats – e.g. bacon, hot dogs, luncheon meat, salami, sausages. At one point in the book it tells you to avoid beef, listing it with processed meats
  • Factory-farmed meat and eggs
  • Fish
    • Predator fish like shark, swordfish, tuna
    • Overfished species like Chilean sea bass
    • Farmed fish, as they tend to use antibiotics, pesticides, and coloring
  • Sugar-sweetened drinks – soda, teas, fruit drinks
    • Conflicting information – one part of the book says to avoid it altogether; another says 1x/week
    • The book says that if you must drink sodas, choose diet soda (or, better yet, seltzer or sparkling water). Then another part of the book says that you should never drink soda pop, including diet soda

Health benefits claimed in The Blue Zones Solution

The diet in this book claims to increase longevity and reduce the risks for chronic diseases (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, inflammation, osteoporosis, stroke) and overweight/obesity.

As always, this is not intended to be a replacement for professional medical diagnosis or treatment for a medical condition. Consult your doctor before starting a new diet. This page describes what the authors of the diet recommend – Chewfo is describing the diet only, not endorsing it.

Get a copy of The Blue Zones Solution for descriptions of diets in Blue Zones, how new Blue Zones are grown, behavioral and physical activity tips, creating a circle of friends/moai to impact your well-being, how to develop a taste for Blue Zone foods, cooking tips, and recipes.

How has this diet helped you? Please add a comment or question below.

There are five places on earth that may just have the highest percentage of people who live to a healthy and happy 100 years. National Geographic author Dan Buettner explored their secrets to health and longevity in his book, “The Blue Zones.”

The author believes the answer to reaching such a golden age and being healthy right up to the end is diet.

“Individuals get lucky, but populations don’t,” Buettner told NBC special anchor Maria Shriver. “There’s too many people to chalk it up to collective luck, or even genes.”

Buettner has been on a mission to write down the meals of the world’s healthiest and longest living people, before they are lost forever.

No matter where people lived, Buettner found that each one had four main foods in their longevity diets:

3. whole grains

“That’s 80 to 90% of their calories they’re putting in their mouths every day,” Beuttner told TODAY.

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In his book, “The Blue Zones Kitchen,” he compiled 100 recipes from the locations.

“They know how to make them taste good and they know how to optimize them for their health,” Buettner said.

Beuttner talked about his visits to three of the Blue Zones:

Ikaria, Greece

On the remote Greek island of Ikaria, he said people outlive the average American by more than a decade. On Ikaria, 97% of the people are over age 70 and Buettner found only three cases of dementia. By comparison, there’s a 50 percent chance of dementia for Americans who reach 85.

A common side dish is wild dandelion, boiled like spinach. These greens have 10 times more antioxidants than red wine, according to Buettner. Chickpeas, also a favorite on Ikaria, are the cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world, he said.

The Blue Zones Solution

Chickpeas with Potatoes and Carrots

Sheila Hodgkin

Costa Rica

The Nicoya Pennisula is famous for beautiful sandy beaches, exotic wildlife and people who seem to defy the limits of age. In Nicoya, about 1 in 250 people live to 100, Beuttner said, compared to 1 in 4,000 who make it to 100 in the U.S. Their diet of rice, beans and tortillas might be viewed as unhealthy by American standards. But they can be great for health.

“If the average American could add a cup of beans a day, it would extend their life by four years,” Buettner said.

NBC News Slideshow

“Eating to 100” in Costa Rica

In Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, about 1 in 250 people live to 100, compared to 1 in 4,000 who make it to 100 in America.

Loma Linda, California

An hour west of Los Angeles is Loma Linda, California, where nearly half of the city belongs to the Seventh -Day Adventist Church. It’s home to one of the highest concentrations of Seventh-Day Adventists in the United States. Most of the church members don’t eat meat or fish and they never touch alcohol or cigarettes. And they live about seven to 10 years longer than the rest of Americans, according to their survey.

In Loma Linda, eating healthfully is part of the religion. The diet is inspired by the Bible and the Garden of Eden and the typical meals rely on beans, nuts, slow-cooked oatmeal, whole wheat bread and real soy milk. They also drink six to eight glasses of water a day, as prescribed by the church’s founder, Ellen G. White, who established the faith over 150 years ago. The citizens of Loma Linda are often on the move, as well, taking afternoon walks and adhering to a strict lifestyle.

Location isn’t the main factor, it’s more about habits; Buettner believes it’s never too late to start living like the people of the “Blue Zones.”

“You can be 90 years old and go plant based and you’ll add to your life,” he told TODAY. “It’s not as hard as some might believe — once you’ve tasted it.”

TODAY visits the California town where many people live to 100

June 1, 201705:48

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Sept. 7, 2009 — — Longevity expert Dan Buettner has traveled the world in search of the secrets to longer life and now he’s taking what he’s learned and has a challenge for Americans. And it all starts with breakfast.

Starting Tuesday, Buettner, author of the New York Times best-seller “The Blue Zones,” is asking Americans to take part in the Six Weeks to Longevity challenge.

The challenge is an at-home version of a massive project Buettner and Blue Zones started with the AARP and United Health Foundation to radically redesign, reorganize and reprioitize the town of Albert Lea, Minn., in an effort to encourage the town’s residents to live healthier.

Called the Vitality Project, the initiative put in more sidewalks, encouraged work and school redesigns and taught residents how to live healthier in their own homes in hopes of adding around two years to each participants’ life.

On the AARP Web site, interested participants can learn how they can make small changes in their homes and lifestyle that can have a big impact on the rest of their lives.

But for those who want a head start today, Buettner showed “Good Morning America” what you can do for breakfast each morning to start the day healthier and the snacks you should have on hand to stay that way all day long.

Breakfast for a Longer Life

Cobbled from his travels around the world, Buettner came back with a list of some of the best food and drinks for longer life.

What to Drink

One lesson Buettner learned in Costa Rica is that coffee is a good choice for breakfast because it wakes you up, makes you more alert and function better in the morning. The optimal amount is half a cup, he said, as too much can work as a diarrhetic.

Green tea, which is drunk in Okinawa, Japan, has been found to stave off dementia, Buettner said. A cup at breakfast, another in mid-morning and in the afternoon is best, he said.

Third, goat’s milk, is a tip he got from the residents of Sardinia. It’s more easily digestible than other milk, he said.

To get your antioxidants, Buettner recommends pomegranate juice and dark grape juice.

What to Eat

One of Buettner’s favorite healthy dishes, he said, is scrambled tofu with onion and peppers. Tofu is a “perfect, complete” protein, he said and contains vital estrogens that lower breast cancer rates and makes skin look better.

To make it, simply chop tofu finely and scramble with onions and peppers. It tastes like eggs, he said, with none of the fat.

Another breakfast idea from Costa Rica is a corn tortilla with beans and squash. Black beans are a great source of protein, Buettner said, and the corn tortilla gives you grain. Most Costa Ricans eat it with squash.

“It’s a low-fat, high-protein meal,” Buettner said.

Finally, oatmeal with nuts and dried fruit, particularly raisins is a great breakfast, Buettner said.

If you don’t have time for a full meal for breakfast, Buettner also has two quick meal ideas: sprouted wheat bread with apple butter or a Blue Zones smoothie.

To make a Blue Zones smoothie, mix soy milk, frozen blueberries, Greek honey and more than a dash of cinnamon. The Greek honey is great for its antibacterial properties and the cinnamon lowers blood sugar, Buettner said.

Healthy Snacks During the Day

Some foods should be staples in every kitchen, Buettner said, and some Americans need to avoid.

American families should have nuts, beans, whole grain breads and sweet potatoes in the pantry, Buettner said. People should snack on the nuts four times a week.

The beans are cheap, high in protein, low in fat and rich in vitamins, Buettner said. The whole grains are good for digestion.

The sweet potatoes, which may come as a surprise healthy food to some, is good because they are high in cancer-fighting carotene, they can stay for weeks in the cupboard, are inexpensive and taste good, he said.

Among the foods to avoid, Buettner said to say good bye to salty snacks, soft drinks, processed meats, packaged sweets and desserts.

Not having them in the house at all is the best way to curb consumption, Buettner said.

“If you have to open a cellophane bag to eat them, they can’t be good,” Buettner said.

Soft drinks are among the sneakiest diet dangers because they are “the most insidious way to deliver sugar,” Buettner said. Even diet sodas are bad for the bones over time, he said.

These ‘Blue Zones’ Foods May Help You Live Longer—Wine and Bread Included

It sure is tempting to think that you could (healthfully) eat your way to 100. The reality is that what you eat really does play a role in how long you live—as do many other factors. A Danish study of nearly 3,000 pairs of twins found that genes only dictate 20% of how long we live. Eighty percent is determined by our lifestyle, which includes what we eat. Turns out there are a handful of areas around the world where there are larger populations of centenarians—people who live to 100 or older. Folks who live in these areas, called Blue Zones, practice some of the same lifestyle habits and eating patterns that help them reach that 100th birthday milestone still in good health. Here’s what to know about the Blue Zones and tips to eat like the centenarians who live in them.

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Where Are the Blue Zones?

In 2004, Dan Buettner and a team of scientists interviewed hundreds of 100-year-olds to explore what they had in common. Looking at the data, they identified 5 communities around the world where people reach age 100 at 10 times greater rate than the United States. They named them the Blue Zones and they are Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Ogliastra Region, Sardinia; Loma Linda, California; and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.

Related: What to Know About the Latest Diet Plans

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What Is the Blue Zones Diet?

There isn’t actually a single Blue Zones diet, or even one way of eating. As varied as the locations are, so are the diets. Here’s a summary of the common diet in each of the Blue Zones.

  • Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica: Here it’s the ‘three sisters’ that are most common in the diet—beans, corn, and squash. Plus, papayas, yams, bananas and peach palms (a small Central American oval fruit).
  • Loma Linda, California: The residents here are Seventh Day Adventists and, thus, are vegetarian. They follow a biblical diet, which is predominately grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Their most common foods are avocados, nuts, beans, oatmeal, whole wheat bread, soy milk, and salmon, if they eat fish or meat (some do eat small amounts of fish). They only drink water.
  • Sardinia, Italy: Their diet is heavy in goat’s milk and sheep’s cheeses, eating around 15 pounds of cheese per year. They also eat a fair amount of carbs—sourdough bread, flatbread, barley. And also fennel, beans, tomatoes, almonds, milk thistle tea, and wine.
  • Okinawa, Japan: Their so-called “longevity foods” are bitter melon, tofu, garlic, brown rice, green tea, and shiitake mushrooms.
  • Ikaria, Greece: Another community that eats a version of the Mediterranean diet. Their diet focuses on lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, potatoes, and olive oil.

Although there are variations in their diets, there are four foods they all ate, and four they all avoided.

The Four Foods Every Blue Zone Eats

If we were going so far as to say these are the foods that make up the Blue Zones diet, this is what would be included.

  1. 100% whole grains
  2. Nuts and seeds
  3. Legumes, beans, and pulses (pulses include dry beans, lentils, and chickpeas to name a few)
  4. Fruits and vegetables

The Four Foods Every Blue Zone Avoids

If we were to put together a list of foods forbidden on a so-called Blue Zones diet, these would be the foods that are off-limits.

  1. Sugar-sweetened beverages
  2. Salty snacks
  3. Packaged sweets
  4. Processed meats

When researchers studied the Blue Zones, they found—as you now might expect—that it wasn’t just what the residents of those communities ate, but the lifestyles they lived, too. The Blue Zones shared 9 characteristics, which scientists dubbed the Power 9. Of those “Power 9,” these are the three that characteristics that apply to diet.

  1. The 80% Rule: In Okinawa, there’s a mantra said before meals—Hara hachi bu—which reminds dieters to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full. The 20% difference between not being hungry and being full is significant.
  2. Plant Slant: Beans are the cornerstone of most of the Blue Zones communities, while meat and fish are eaten much less compared to the standard Western—or American—diet. All adhere to a more plant-focused way of eating.
  3. Wine at 5:00: With the exception of the Adventists in Loma Linda, the people in all of the other Blue Zones drink red wine moderately—and typically with friends and/or family.

How to Eat Like You Live in the Blue Zones

The experts behind the Blue Zones findings pulled together tips on how you, too, can eat as if you lived in one of the Blue Zones and lengthen your life. Here are their tips.

Image zoom Justin Coit

1 Make your diet 95% plant-based

People in the Blue Zones eat a lot of vegetables—fresh when in season and picked or dry when they’re not. The top longevity veggies are leafy greens such as spinach, kale, beet and turnip tops, chard, and collards.

Image zoom Andy Lyons Cameraworks, LTD

2 Choose plant-based oils

Using and cooking with plant-based oils instead of animal fats is a healthier choice—and in the Blue Zones the primary oil used is olive oil.

Image zoom Blaine Moats

3 Eat beans daily

(Sorry keto diet or paleo diet followers.) Beans appear in every longevity diet—in the Blue Zones they eat, on average, at least four times as many beans as Americans do. Blue Zone scientists’ advice? Eat at least a half cup of cooked beans daily.

Image zoom Karla Conrad

4 Snack on nuts

The average quantity of nuts that Blue Zones people eat is about two handfuls a day—almonds in Ikaria and Sardinia, pistachios in Nicoya, and all types of nuts with the Adventists.

Image zoom Andy Lyons Cameraworks, LTD

5 Eat sourdough or whole-grain bread only

Bread consumed in the Blue Zones is unlike the bleached white flour-based bread most Americans buy. Blue zones bread is either 100% whole grain or sourdough.

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6 Choose whole foods, wholly

People in Blue Zones traditionally eat the whole food—they don’t throw out the yolk and make an egg-white omelet, nor do they skip the juice in their fruit. They eat raw, cooked, ground, or fermented—and not highly processed—foods, and most of their dishes typically contain only six or so ingredients.

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7 Drink mostly water

Although coffee, tea, and red wine (in moderation) are all consumed by different Blue Zones people, water is the primary beverage.

Image zoom Andy Lyons Cameraworks, LTD

8 Go easy on fish

Research on The Adventists in Loma Linda found that the people who lived the longest were vegans or pesco vegetarians, but those who ate fish didn’t eat much, which is why to eat the Blue Zones way, it’s recommended to eat fewer than 3 ounces, up to three times weekly.

Image zoom Andy Lyons Cameraworks, LTD

9 Retreat from meat

People in four of the five blue zones consume meat, but sparingly—as a small side, or a way to flavor dishes, or at celebrations. Researchers found that, on average, Blue Zones people ate about two ounces or less about five times per month.

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10 Reduce dairy

Only some of the Adventists drink cow’s milk. Two other groups, however, consume goat and sheep’s milk—the Ikarian and Sardinian Blue Zones. And they don’t drink it so much as milk as they eat it fermented as yogurt, sour milk, or cheese.

Image zoom Karla Conrad

11 Eliminate eggs

People in all of the Blue Zones eat eggs about two to four times per week—and researchers’ advice is to eat no more than three eggs per week.

Image zoom Mike Dieter

12 Slash sugar

Consume only 28 grams, or 7 teaspoons, of added sugar daily. In the Blue Zones, people eat sugar with intention. Surprisingly, they consume about the same amount of naturally occurring sugars as Americans do, but a lot less added sugar—about a fifth as much.

If you’re the resolution-making type and this year you’ve set a goal of eating for longer (and healthier) life, implement some of the Blue Zones principles and cooking methods that help people in these areas make it to 100 to learn other longevity tips.

Food Guidelines

These 11 simple guidelines reflect how the world’s longest-lived people ate for most of their lives. We make it easy to eat like the healthiest people in the world with the Blue Zones Meal Planner, where you’ll find thousands of recipes that follow these guidelines while making plant-slant food delicious and accessible. By adopting some of the healthy eating principles into your daily life, you too can Live Longer, Better®. Click here to download our free printable of the Blue Zones Food Guidelines so you can post it in your home as a daily reminder.

SEE THAT YOUR DIET IS 95-100 PERCENT PLANT-BASED

People in the blue zones eat an impressive variety of garden vegetables when they are in season, and then they pickle or dry the surplus to enjoy during the off-season. The best-of-the-best longevity foods are leafy greens such as spinach, kale, beet and turnip tops, chard, and collards. Combined with seasonal fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and beans dominate blue zones meals all year long.

Many oils derive from plants, and they are all preferable to animal-based fats. We cannot say that olive oil is the only healthy plant-based oil, but it is the one most often used in the blue zones. Evidence shows that olive oil consumption increases good cholesterol and lowers bad cholesterol. In Ikaria, we found that for middle-aged people, about six tablespoons of olive oil daily seemed to cut the risk of dying in half.

People in four of the five blue zones consume meat, but they do so sparingly, using it as a celebratory food, a small side, or a way to flavor dishes. Research suggests that 30-year-old vegetarian Adventists will likely outlive their meat-eating counterparts by as many as eight years. At the same time, increasing the amount of plant-based foods in your meals has many salutary effects. Beans, greens, yams and sweet potatoes, fruits, nuts, and seeds should all be favored. Whole grains are OK too. Try a variety of fruits and vegetables; know which ones you like, and keep your kitchen stocked with them

RETREAT FROM MEAT

Averaging out consumption in blue zones, we found that people ate about two ounces or less about five times per month. And we don’t know if they lived longer despite eating meat.

The Adventist Health Study 2, which has been following 96,000 Americans since 2002, has found that the people who lived the longest were vegans or pesco vegetarians, who ate a plant-based diet that included a small amount of fish.
So, while you may want to celebrate from time to time with chicken, pork or beef, we don’t recommend it as part of a Blue Zones Diet. Okinawans probably offer the best meat substitute: extra firm tofu, high in protein and cancer-fighting phyto-estrogens.

GO EASY ON FISH

If you must eat fish, fewer than three ounces, up to three times weekly. In most blue zones, people ate some fish but less than you might think—up to three small servings a week. There are other ethical and health considerations involved in including fish in your diet. It makes sense, for example, to select fish that are common and abundant, not threatened by overfishing. In the world’s blue zones, in most cases, the fish being eaten are small, relatively inexpensive fish such as sardines, anchovies, and cod—middle-of-the-food- chain species that are not exposed to the high levels of mercury or other chemicals like PCBs that pollute our gourmet fish supply today.

People in the blue zones don’t overfish the waters like corporate fisheries that threaten to deplete entire species. Blue zones fishermen cannot afford to wreak havoc on the ecosystems they depend on. Again, fish is not a necessary part of a longevity diet but if you must eat seafood elect fish that are common and not threatened by overfishing.

REDUCE DAIRY

Milk from cows doesn’t figure significantly in any blue zones diet except that of some
Adventists. Arguments against milk often focus on its high fat and sugar content. The number of people who (often unknowingly) have some difficulty digesting lactose may be as high as 60 percent. Goat’s and sheep’s milk products figure into the Ikarian and Sardinian blue zones.

We don’t know if it’s the goat’s milk or sheep’s milk that makes people healthier or if it’s the fact that they climb up and down the same hilly terrain as the goats do. Interestingly though, most goat’s milk is consumed not as liquid but fermented as yogurt, sour milk, or cheese. Although goat’s milk contains lactose, it also contains lactase, an enzyme that helps the body digest lactose.

ELIMINATE EGGS

People in all of the blue zones eat eggs about two to four times per week. Usually they eat just one as a side dish with a whole-grain or plant-based dish. Nicoyans fry an egg to fold into a corn tortilla with a side of beans. Okinawans boil an egg in their soup. People in the Mediterranean blue zones fry an egg as a side dish with bread, almonds, and olives for breakfast. Blue zones eggs come from chickens that range freely, eat a wide variety of natural foods, and don’t receive hormones or antibiotics. Slowly matured eggs are naturally higher in omega-3 fatty acids.

People with diabetes should be cautious about eating egg yolks. Consumption of eggs has been correlated to higher rates of prostate cancer for men and exacerbated kidney problems for women. Some people with heart or circulatory problems choose to forgo eggs. Again, eggs aren’t necessary for living a long life and we don’t recommend them, but if you must eat them eat no more than three eggs per week.

DAILY DOSE OF BEANS

Eat at least a half cup of cooked beans daily. Beans reign supreme in blue zones. They’re the cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world: black beans in Nicoya; lentils, garbanzo, and white beans in the Mediterranean; and soybeans in Okinawa. People in the blue zones eat at least four times as many beans as Americans do on average.

The fact is, beans are the consummate superfood. On average, they are made up of 21 percent protein, 77 percent complex carbohydrates (the kind that deliver a slow and steady energy rather than the spike you get from refined carbohydrates like white flour), and only a few percent fat. They are also an excellent source of fiber. They’re cheap and versatile, come in a variety of textures, and are packed with more nutrients per gram than any other food on Earth. Beans are a meal staple in all five of the blue zones—with a dietary average of at least a half-cup per day, which provides most of the vitamins and minerals you need. And because beans are so hearty and satisfying, they’ll likely push less healthy foods out of your diet.

SLASH SUGAR

Consume only 28 grams (7 teaspoons) of added sugar daily. People in the blue zones eat sugar intentionally, not by habit or accident. They consume about the same amount of naturally occurring sugars as North Americans do, but only about a fifth as much added sugar—no more than seven teaspoons of sugar a day. It’s hard to avoid sugar. It occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables, and even milk. But that’s not the problem.

Between 1970 and 2000, the amount of added sugar in the American food supply rose by 25 percent. This adds up to about 22 teaspoons of added sugar each of us consumes daily—insidious, hidden sugars mixed into soda, yogurt, and sauces. Too much sugar in our diet has been shown to suppress the immune system. It also spikes insulin levels, which can lead to diabetes and lower fertility, make you fat, and even shorten your life.

Our advice: If you must eat sweets, save cookies, candy, and bakery items for special occasions, ideally as part of a meal. Limit sugar added to coffee, tea, or other foods to no more than four teaspoons per day. Skip any product that lists sugar among its first five ingredients.

SNACK ON NUTS

Eat two handfuls of nuts per day. A handful of nuts weighs about two ounces, the average amount that blue zones centenarians consume—almonds in Ikaria and Sardinia, pistachios in Nicoya, and all nuts with the Adventists. The Adventist Health Study 2 found that nut eaters outlive non–nut eaters by an average of two to three years.

The optimal mix of nuts: almonds (high in vitamin E and magnesium), peanuts (high in protein and folate, a B vitamin), Brazil nuts (high in selenium, a mineral found effective in protecting against prostate cancer), cashews (high in magnesium), and walnuts (high in alpha-linoleic acid, the only omega-3 fat found in a plant-based food). Walnuts, peanuts, and almonds are the nuts most likely to lower your cholesterol.

SOUR ON BREAD

Eat only sourdough or 100 percent whole wheat. Blue zones bread is unlike the bread most Americans buy. Most commercially available breads start with bleached white flour, which metabolizes quickly into sugar and spikes insulin levels. But bread from the blue zones is either whole grain or sourdough, each with its own healthful characteristics. In Ikaria and Sardinia, breads are made from a variety of whole grains such as wheat, rye, or barley, each of which offers a wide spectrum of nutrients, such as tryptophan, an amino acid, and the minerals selenium and magnesium.

Whole grains also have higher levels of fiber than most commonly used wheat flours. Some traditional blue zones breads are made with naturally occurring bacteria called lactobacilli, which “digest” the starches and glutens while making the bread rise. The process also creates an acid—the “sour” in sourdough. The result is bread with less gluten even than breads labeled “gluten free,” with a longer shelf life and a pleasantly sour taste that most people like. Traditional sourdough breads actually lower the glycemic load of meals, making your entire meal healthier, slower burning, easier on your pancreas, and more likely to make calories available as energy than stored as fat.

GO WHOLLY WHOLE

Choose foods that are recognizable. People in blue zones traditionally eat the whole food. They don’t throw the yolk away to make an egg-white omelet, or spin the fat out of their yogurt, or juice the fiber-rich pulp out of their fruits. They also don’t enrich or add extra ingredients to change the nutritional profile of their foods. Instead of taking vitamins or other supplements, they get everything they need from nutrient-dense, fiber-rich whole foods.

A good definition of a “whole food” would be one that is made of a single ingredient,
raw, cooked, ground, or fermented, and not highly processed. Tofu is minimally processed, for example, while cheese-flavored corn puffs are highly processed. Blue zones dishes typically contain a half dozen or so ingredients, simply blended together. Almost all of the foods consumed by centenarians in the blue zones grow within a 10- mile radius of their homes. They eat raw fruits and vegetables; they grind whole grains themselves and then cook them slowly. They use fermentation—an ancient way to make nutrients bio-available—in the tofu, sourdough bread, wine, and pickled vegetables they eat. And they rarely ingest artificial preservatives.

DRINK MOSTLY WATER

Never drink soft drinks (including diet soda). With very few exceptions, people in blue zones drank coffee, tea, water, and wine. Period. (Soft drinks, which account for about half of Americans’ sugar intake, were unknown to most blue zones centenarians.) There is a strong rationale for each.

WATER Adventists recommend seven glasses of water daily. They point to studies that
show that being hydrated facilitates blood flow and lessens the chance of a blood clot.

COFFEE Sardinians, Ikarians, and Nicoyans all drink copious amounts of coffee.
Research associates coffee drinking with lower rates of dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

TEA People in all the blue zones drink tea. Okinawans nurse green tea all day. Green tea has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease and several cancers. Ikarians drink brews of rosemary, wild sage, and dandelion—all herbs known to have anti-inflammatory properties.

RED WINE People who drink—in moderation—tend to outlive those who don’t. (This
doesn’t mean you should start drinking if you don’t drink now.) People in most blue zones drink one to three small glasses of red wine per day, often with a meal and with friends.

Ready to eat? Try our Blue Zones recipes.

Lose Weight and Live Longer with the Blue Zone Diet

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You know you need to shed pounds and get fit, but with all the weight loss food plans out there, it’s tough to know what’s what. Will a specific diet work? Will it help you maintain the weight loss long-term? Is the diet actually healthy? You may have come across one plan that’s been getting some attention lately: Blue Zone. If you have questions about this new diet and what it entails, here’s your guide to using the Blue Zone diet to lose weight and live longer.

So what exactly is a “Blue Zone”?

Blue Zones are areas in the world where people tend to live healthier, longer lives than the world average. It’s not unusual to find people in these regions living—and living well—to 100 years old, and beyond. Experts have identified 5 areas around the world:

Loma Linda, CA
Okinawa, Japan
Sardinia, Italy
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Icaria, Greece

Researcher Dan Buettner uncovered a number of factors that help folks in these regions live longer and healthier lives. One of the top reasons is that the people tend to eat a diet with little to no processed foods, like soda or packaged snacks. Blue Zone residents also typically consume lower-calorie, plant-based meals.

What is a Blue Zone diet?

It’s an eating plan based on the habits of people living in Blue Zones. In Blue Zone diet plans there are no formal diets that dictate you must eat so much of this or so much of that. Rather, it’s a lifestyle change that embraces smart eating habits. Here are the basic principles:

Plant-based diet– Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provide the antioxidants, phytonutrients, protein, and fiber needed to maintain good health and active living. So in addition to loading your menu with fruits and veggies, start enjoying foods like brown rice, nuts, and quinoa. (What is quinoa? Learn more here.) Find a list of the best natural foods on The Whole Foods Shopping List, and then consider adding more Vegetarian Recipes to your menu.

Proper portion sizes– Even women who choose a healthy diet can make mistakes when it comes to portion control. Learn how to control portions and keep a food journal to track food and calorie intake.

Healthy beverage choices– Another factor in the success of these weight loss food plans is the emphasis on healthy beverages. Eliminate drinks that are high in calories, sugar, or artificial sweeteners (try our No Soda Challenge). Instead choose water, black or green tea, or drinks like this Green Tea Mango Smoothie. Red wine can be part of a Blue Zone-based diet, but moderation is the key. Stick to one glass with dinner—more than that, and you’re just padding your waistline with empty calories.

Build your own Blue Zone.

Blue Zone diet plans on their own are no guarantee for health and longevity. In fact, tapping into the Blue Zone secret is more about creating a lifestyle that nurtures physical and emotional well-being. Buettner also discovered that, along with eating smart, Blue Zone residents stayed physically active and maintained close social ties. So stop putting off that long-promised coffee date with a friend because you’re “too busy”! Give her a call right now and set up face-to-face time. It’s good for your health—and hers!

Get more tools for building a lifestyle that genuinely nurtures your body and mind; try a Hatha Yoga Session, Evening Yoga for Relaxation, or How to Walk 10,000 Steps a Day, 5 Can-Do Tips.

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Blue zones diet plan

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