Source: The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People, Dan Buettner
What factors have led us to the Standard American Diet (SAD)? What changed in the American food culture that led us to the current obesity/diabetes epidemics?
As we evolved, we as a species needed calories for survival purposes and our bodies developed many life-saving mechanisms to keep us from starvation. That worked very well for eons until our food environment changed dramatically. “Relatively recently in human history, refined starchy foods took the place of tubers and herbaceous plants in our diets. Sugar crept in. The quality and quantity of foods available changed drastically in the last few decades, with results at once triumphant and disastrous.” Page 153.
Primarily since the mid-20th century, “food science and government policy conspired to favor wheat, soybeans, sugar, and corn over other crops. The food processing industry devised ways to use them to create cheaper food products that could be replicated in factories around the world. According to the USDA, from 1970 to 2000, the number of calories the average American consumed jumped by about 530 calories a day, a 24.5 percent increase.” At the same time, we have managed to have engineered physical activity out of our daily lives. “Page 154.
Our lifestyles need to change to counteract these facts. A study of five “hot spots” on the globe of good health and longevity has shown us the way to become the most long-lived cultures and examples of good health in the later years. These include: Ikaria, Greece, Okinawa, Japan, Ogliastra region in Sardinia, Loma Linda, California, and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rico, collectively called the Blue Zones. How do they live and more specifically what and how do they eat?
These are the “six powerful food practices” of the Blue Zone populations that are associated with longer, fuller lives.
Make breakfast or lunch the biggest meal of the day with a light, early dinner and most food is consumed before noon. Most do not regularly make a habit of snacking and when they do, a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts is sufficient. An Israeli study found that dieting women who ate half of their daily calories at breakfast, third at lunch and a seventh at dinner lost an average of 19 pounds in 12 weeks along with a drop in triglycerides, glucose, insulin and hormones that trigger hunger.
Cook at home. Always try to eat breakfast at home. Pack a lunch the night before. Prep ingredients for dinner in the morning and using a slow cooker can make dinner easy. Use Sundays to cook meals for the week and freeze for later use in the week.
Hari Hachi Bu. This saying is a 2500-year-old Confucian adage that reminds Okinawans to stop eating when they feel their stomach is 80% full. Many people in Blue Zone American cities use the method of wearing a blue bracelet to remind them to use this tool. Wear the bracelet (does not have to be blue) for six weeks as a reminder to be mindful of this practice that listens to inner signals innately found to detect hunger. After six weeks, it should be part of your eating patterns.
Fast Fasts. You can experience intermittent fasting every 24 hours by scheduling the time you eat to only 8 hours of the day. As best you can, try eating only two meals a day; a big late-morning brunch and second meal around 5 p.m. It is important to consult your doctor before any kind of fasting. Avoid starvation diets as they may lead to binge-eating. When fasting, eat foods that are nutrient dense and provide plant or animal protein at each meal.
Eat with family and friends. A 2011 study found that children and adolescents who share family meals three or more times a week are more likely to be at a normal weight range than those who share fewer family meals together. Don’t eat alone, standing up, when driving. If you eat alone, avoid reading, watching TV or using your phone – all leads to mindless eating.
Celebrate and enjoy food. From Buettner: “pick one day of the week and make it your day to splurge on a meal with your favorite foods. The Blue Zone centenarians primarily eat a plant-based diet, but they don’t give up that slice of birthday cake.” Some are vegetarians; others are not. Deprivation and restriction can lead to binge-eating.
A new cookbook is now available that is beautifully illustrated with the people and food of the Blue Zones. Find it at Amazon or Barnes and Noble – The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100, Dan Buettner, 2019.