Want to live a long and healthy life? It might be time to try the Blue Zones Diet.
The Blue Zones Diet draws inspiration from five “zones” where people tend to consistently live beyond a 100 years, at rates as high as 10 times greater than in the US. Okinawa in Japan, Ikaria in Greece, Loma Linda in California, Nicoya in Costa Rica, and Sardinia in Italy. All the places are by the sea — which is why “blue.”
Cookbook author Dan Buettner conceptualized the Blue Zones diet. Along with a team of demographers, scientists and anthropologists, he researched the places in the world where people live beyond a hundred. They distilled nine common lifestyle features among these zones, referred to as the Power 9. Among these denominators are three that have to do with eating:
- Hara Hachi Bu: Eat only up to 80% full. People in the blue zones eat their last and smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening.
- Plant Slant: Eat a pesticide-free organic and primarily plant-based diet comprising whole, unprocessed food. Beans, lentils, and legumes are the foundation of most centenarian diets. Although blue zoners do eat meat, it is in small quantities.
- Wine: People in all five blue zones drink alcohol moderately, about one or two drinks a day.
Of course, their habits don’t stop at food alone. People in the blue zones do not exercise in the conventional sense. Instead, they incorporate regular movement into their daily lives.
If you want to incorporate the Blue Zones diet into your lifestyle, here are some guidelines:
- Get most of your nutrients from seasonal fruits, seasonal vegetables, grains, seeds, and nuts. Aside from being highly nutritious, vegetarian diets are also linked to healthier mood states. Eat at least one cup of leafy greens, a quarter pound of fruits, two handfuls of nuts, and half a cup of cooked beans daily.
- Consume a minimal amount of cow’s milk products. Research shows that goat’s milk is healthier than cow’s, but you can meet your calcium requirements without the fat from nut milk or plant-based sources like kale or tofu. People in Sardinia consume goat and sheep milk products largely in fermented form as cheese or yogurt.
- The Blue Zones diet isn’t wholly plant-based. It includes a small portion of fish and free-range eggs. According to Buettner, people in all Blue Zones (except for Loma Linda) were eating small amounts of meat, about two ounces or less at a time, about five times per month. You can include meat (excluding beef and turkey) as a treat. Consume meat no more than twice a week or less, with smaller serving sizes. Get your meat free-range and grass-fed.
- Sugar is implicated in several diseases of the heart and liver. Consume no more than seven teaspoons of sugar a day — including and especially added sugar in packaged food. As a rule, do not consume products where sugar is in the first five ingredients and cut out soft drinks, processed fruit juices, flavored yogurts, cereals, cookies, cakes, candy, and most processed foods. If you find this difficult, swap sugar for honey.
- Eat whole foods, as in one that comprises a single ingredient, raw, cooked, ground, or fermented, and not highly processed. The Blue Zones official website states, “Throughout the world’s blue zones and their diets, people… 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…And when they prepare dishes, those dishes typically contain a half dozen or so ingredients, simply blended together.”
The Blue Zones diet has more intricate guidelines, which you can find in any of Dan Buettner’s books. But remember that for any diet to positively affect your life, you need to make it sustainable and adaptable to your needs. The Blue Zones diet is not meant to be followed for a few months before one returns to the old way of eating. It is a lifestyle prescription that can positively change your mood, health, and vitality.