Modeling your lifestyle and eating habits after the people who live in the Blue Zones is just one way to increase your longevity.
The Blue Zones are the five areas of the world that have the longest-living and healthiest populations: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoia, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, Calif. It turned out they had nine things in common, including some of the ways they eat, despite thousands of miles separating them.
While much of their longevity success comes down to where and how they live, there are a few key dietary aspects that can be applied to an American lifestyle without too much work. In a workshop hosted by the Global Wellness Summit, journalist and blue zone expert Dan Buettner shared some of his best longevity nutrition tips gleaned from years of research into how these communities live. Here are the main tips:
1. They drink wine after 5pm, ideally with friends and a meal
There’s a lot of evidence in the Blue Zones that a couple of drinks a day, especially with friends and with a meal, likely lowers your mortality, Buettner says. (In fact, four of the five Blue Zone communities drink alcohol in moderation as part of their lifestyle.)
There are a few potential reasons for this: Wine is high in antioxidants, has some anti-inflammatory properties and has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD, previously told Well + Good. (Canau is Sardinia’s favorite red wine.) However, if you’re not drinking now, that doesn’t mean you should start; if you choose to absorb, do it the blue zone way.
2. They eat mostly plant-based foods
Yes, people in Blue Zones are on the plant-based train too and have been for generations. They’re eating 90 to 100 percent plant-based food without a doubt, Buettner says. A plant-based diet has been shown to be good for the heart, gut and brainnot to mention, plant-based foods like vegetables and grains have a lower carbon footprint than meat and dairy.
3. including lots of carbohydrates
Justice for Carbs! Buettner says people living in Blue Zones typically consume about 65 percent of their daily calories in the form of carbohydrates. Which makes sense: The macro typically comes paired with lots of fiber (great for gut health) along with vitamins and minerals your body needs to function at its best.
But it’s important to remember that not all carbohydrates are created equal, and people in the Blue Zones get this macronutrient mostly from sources like grains, greens, tubers, nuts, and beans. (Read: not the super-processed stuff.) There’s one carb that trumps all the rest: beans. The star longevity food is beans, Buettner says. So if you eat about a cup of beans a day, it’s probably worth four years of life expectancy.
4. Sometimes they like meat
Meat is considered a celebratory food in Blue Zones, Buettner says, and is typically eaten only about five times a month. People in these communities typically stick to a serving no larger than the size of the deck of cards, she adds, which translates to about three ounces. This makes sense, while meat is an excellent source of protein, B vitamins, and bioavailable iron, too much is also associated with cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer, and other health issues. And studies have shown that higher meat intake in both men and women is associated with higher rates of cancer and all-cause mortality.
Like the wine advice, you don’t have to start eating meat if you don’t currently, but if you’re a meat eater, know that a little is perfectly fine from a longevity standpoint. To take it a step further, here’s how to make the healthiest, most sustainable choices when you eat meat.
5. They stick to water, coffee and wine
These are drink choices that I can fully accept. Buettner says people in the Blue Zones drink six glasses of water a day, plus coffee in the morning and a glass of wine with dinner. There is a lack of sugary drinks, such as soda, which have been shown to have a negative impact on health.
6. They practice modified forms of intermittent fasting
But no, that doesn’t mean they are dieters. Rather, Buettner says people in Blue Zone communities typically eat in ways similar to what we might call intermittent fasting. They eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper, and tend to eat all of their calories in an eight-hour window, leaving 16 hours for their digestive systems to rest, Buettner says. Basically, their largest meal is breakfast, their smallest is dinner, and they don’t eat until late at night. (And it comes with a lot of potential longevity-related benefits.) However, this isn’t a meal plan for everyone, especially if you’re recovering from an illness, pregnant, nursing or trying to conceive, or have a history of eating disorders. .
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