If you want to live a long, healthy life, it might be a good idea to study those that are actually doing it. That is exactly what Dan Buettner and his team of longevity researchers did in his book The Blue Zones: Eating and Living Like the Worlds Healthiest People. They traveled the world and discovered the 5 places that live longer and healthier than anywhere else: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. Those living in these zones outlive most Americans by an average of 10 years.
Most importantly, they are not only living longer because the rates of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s is much lower, but their quality of life in their 80’s, 90’s and beyond is much better. He dubbed these areas the “Blue Zones,” and their research found that they shared many common traits among them was that their diets were very similar.
While none of the populations were vegans, their diets were composed of primarily plant foods. He referred to their style of eating as “Plant Slant,” noting that 95% of the food they consumed came from plants sources. Beans, such as lentils, white bean, soy, and black beans, are the cornerstones of most of the Blue Zones diet. Also, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts are a staple. Not surprisingly, the primary sources of protein are beans and nuts complemented with fish. They eat very little red meat, small portions 4-5 times a month, very little processed foods and most limit dairy. Water is the preferred beverage and they consume very little sugar-sweetened beverages. They do enjoy moderate amounts of red wine but do so during meals with family and friends. Buettner’s book also provides specific guidelines to help you live and eat like those in the Blue Zones.
Buettner is not alone in observing that a Plant Slant approach to nutrition leads to lower rates of chronic disease and longer life. Hundreds of studies have found that those who follow a dietary pattern similar to a Mediterranean Diet. This diet reflects a way of eating that is traditional in the countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea, and those participating have much lower rates of the chronic diseases mentioned above. In fact, 2 of the Blue Zones, Sardinia, Italy and Ikaria, Greece are in the Mediterranean region. Dimitrios Trichopoulos, MD, former professor of cancer prevention and chair of the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard Medical School said “the Mediterranean way of eating is possibly the best ever. The diet featuring olive oil, vegetables, fish, fruits and low in saturated fats and enjoyed by the people of that region is healthy and promotes longevity.” For more detailed information about the Mediterranean Diet and tips for implementing it, click here.