The Blue Zones: A Short Course

Dan Beuttner has gathered some of the top scientists in the world to study these remarkable places called the Blue Zones  where many people live to 100 years or more. They not only live long, healthy lives, but serve as teachers to the rest of us on a series of “food rituals’ ‘ that along with other healthy lifestyle factors contribute to this scenario. 

In our evolutionary history, we as hunter-gatherers lived at a time where we sought calorie-loaded foods in order to simply survive. Needless, to say, many of us don’t have this added stress to simply feed our families. On the other hand, many of us in the world today are living in a time when obesity is now called a pandemic and we are faced with the possibility of dying from abundance and not scarcity. We refer to our food choices as part of a conglomerate of industries referred to as big Ag, big Food the Standard American Diet or more realistically as the SAD diet. 

What Can We Learn and How? 

Centenarians in the Blue Zones follow daily rituals around food and meals that help them stay on course – practicing them in your own lives are the keys to longevity. Here is a brief guideline. 

 MAKE BREAKFAST THE LARGEST MEAL OF THE DAY. 

“Include complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and plant or animal protein. 

Expand your choices beyond cereal or eggs. In certain Blue Zone countries, some include beans, tortillas, miso soup.”

COOK YOUR MEALS AT HOME. 

Plan and prep ingredients for dinner in the morning. Use your slow cooker often, so dinner cooks all day and is ready for you late afternoon. 

HARI HACHI BU 

Plan to stop eating when you’re close to 80% full, based on a 2500 year old Confucian adage and practiced by the Okinawans. “ Try saying it before a meal by simply pausing for a moment of silence or saying thanks is a way to recognize the appreciation of your food. 

FAST FASTS 

“Recent evidence shows that fasting, even for a day, can recalibrate insulin release, temporarily lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol. Research has suggested that calorie restriction may slow aging. 

Try eating only two meals a day; a big late-morning brunch and a second meal around 5 p.m.” 

  EAT WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS 

“Most people in the Blue Zones often have three-hour dinner affairs with a succession of many small courses.  They never eat standing up or while driving. Avoid reading, watching TV or using your phone.”

Celebrate and Enjoy Food 

“We eat about 1100 meals a year. If we celebrate a couple of times a week and enjoy what we love to eat, that still leaves almost 1,000 meals a year to eat the Blue Zones way.”

 Pick one day of the week and make it your celebratory day to splurge on a meal with your favorite foods.” 

 Diets that use restrictions, limitations or deprivations never work.  

 Source: 

Dan Buettner. The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People, 2015,  

Three Decades of Food Milestones: 1990- 2021

Three decades of Food Milestones 1990 – 2020

Food timelines are invaluable for taking a brief look at what has happened and how it has influenced our eating behaviors.

1990 Food labels mean something: the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act passes, requiring standardized nutrition labels on most food packages. The food industry is not happy; they particularly protest adding “Added Sugars” and win their case this time.

1992 King Arthur introduces white whole wheat flour, enabling bakers to make their whole grain baking healthier.  The United States Department of Agriculture releases the Food Guide  Pyramid, visually confirming nationwide carbohydrate domination with 6-11 servings of carbohydrates a day.  Carbs are not separated into refined vs. complex.

Snackwells low fat cookies are introduced and fly off shelves. Later, the “Snackwells affect becomes shorthand for all that is wrong with the low fat, high carb diet fad. People mistakenly assume you can eat all the refined carbs you want. 

1993 Chipotle Mexican Grill is founded in Denver, marking the beginning of the “fast casual restaurant” category. The TV Food Network (now the Food Network) premieres, elevating chefs like Bobby Flay to celeb status.

1994 the Food and Drug administration approves the first genetically modified food, the long shelf -lived Flavr Savr tomato, followed a year later by GMO canola, corn, soy beans and squash, marking the anti GMO movement. It was met with considerable safety concerns., especially in European countries.  

1996 The FDA approves Olestra, a fat – free fat substitute with the unfortunate side effect of inducing “anal leakage”. Lays Wow potato chips made with olestra even sport a warning label. After its demise in food processing, olestra found new life as an industrial lubricant.

1998 Sucralose, made from sugar but is noncaloric, is introduced but the obesity rate is not impressed by its contribution to sugar-free foods.

2002 low carb guru Robert Atkins, MD, releases Doctor Atkins New Diet Revolution,” establishing further the popularity of the low carb diet he promoted 30 years with his first book. This “diet” began to slowly replace the ill-advised low fat diet for “hardcore” dieters.

In other news, organic labels finally have more attention. The USDA national organic programs, Certified Organic Labeling, rules, some 12 years in the making, go into effect.

2004 Facebook arrives and enabling you to share what you had for breakfast with 1000 of your closest friends. Photos of foods (homeccoked, however, appear in many posts.

2006 in April, Michael Pollan releases the Omnivore’s Dilemma, making terms like food system, high fructose corn syrup and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) household words.

2007 The Human Microbiome Project (HMP) was a United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) research initiative to improve understanding of the microbial flora involved in human health and disease. Prebiotic and probiotics became familiar terms and the yogurt industry blossomed. Source: Wikipedia

2008 Chobani launches and the cult of Greek yogurt begins. Now we no longer have to strain regular yogurt through a coffee filter to make it.

2009 The White House kitchen garden is planted in March and an interest in vegetables and sustainable eating skyrockets. Gluten free foods become a thing with $1.56 billion dollars in US sales, and projections of continuing breakneck growth.

2010 Welcome, instant pot! Now we can cook slow, fast or steam vegetables, make rice, etc, etc.  

2011 in June, the USDA replaces the Pyramid guide with My Plate, where vegetables and fruits fill half the dish and nudge grains to a smaller portion. First lady Michelle Obama announces it. Instagram arrives.

2013 Blue apron and other meal kit delivery services kickoff, making home cooking as easy as opening a box.

Jay-Z announces he’s doing a 22 day vegan challenge. Veganism officially becomes cool.

2016 Restaurant delivery services go mainstream: 50% of Americans report using apps like Grubhub and DoorDash to purchase meals from casual dining outlets, with 26% ordering at least once weekly.

2017 The Regenerative Organic Alliance releases its Regenerative Organ Certification Program, which incorporates soil health, animal welfare, and social justice in its eligibility criteria.

2018 Plant based milk sales have exploded, growing 61% in the last five years. The dairy industry is disturbed.

2019 the eat Lancet Commission releases its food in the Anthropocene report in January, linking our red meat and sugar heavy diets to climate change, and recommending we slash our consumption and eat more plant- based foods.

And now ,  Googling “nutrition” today gets over 1 billion hits but alas, 72% of Americans are overweight or obese based on Body Mass Indexes. Obesity becomes a risk factor for infectious disease, primarily COVID-19.

2020 Covid – 19 sweeps the world. Many Americans line up for miles at food distribution sites. Restaurants offer take out and deliveries, and small businesses teeter. Yet perseverance is everywhere, chefs, nonprofits, entire communities find ways to offer hope, and nourishing food. Restaurants rebound and talk dominates with who should wear masks; should schools open; are vaccines effective, should vaccinated people only have privileges?

This takes us to the present – 2021. The food culture will probably be changed forever.

Bugs for Breakfast?

 Bugs for Breakfast ?

Bone marrow soup and sautéed snails are favorite food choices of some people in France; however, what pleases the palate of some people can be absolutely disgusting in others.

Horsemeat is a favorite food in a large area of North Central Asia. but Is rigidly avoided by many people in Islamic countries. Dog is a popular food in Borneo, New Guinea, the Philippines whereas snake is a delicacy in China. In some countries, people enjoy insects while others consider it fit only for animal feed. And then there are steamed clams and raw oysters, food passions for some, but absolutely disgusting to others.

A highly influential Jewish philosopher in the Middle Ages, Maimonides, included pigs on his taboo list due to rapid spoilage of pork in in hot climates and in their despicable habit of rooting garbage, declaring them “unclean”. However other animals have the same habit, for example, goats.

Pork attained its unique status  in 165 B.C when the Syrian monarch, Antiochus, slaughtered pigs in the Temple of Solomon. The Jews who were so enraged organized an army and reestablished the Temple and ended with a triumphant revolt that is celebrated at Hanukkah.

The fledging Christians pointed instead of Roman rules to the book of Matthew in the New Testament.;” “It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man, but that what comes out”, Jesus said.

“Burger chomping Americans express incomprehension over the sacred status of cattle in India, where their 1947 Constitution spells out the right of cows. Yet those same Americans would never think of eating whale, monkey, dog, cat or parrot  that Americans consider companion animals.

All cultures have their comfort  foods, “super foods”. In Russia and Ireland its potatoes; in Central America, it’s corn and yucca and in Somalia, it’s rice.

In the U.S food choices can be regional. Southern cooking is considered “soul food” and provides comfort in the form of grits. A tasty bowl of chili is in the “soul” of Texans while in New England, there’s nothing better than a bowl of clam chowder or a lobster roll in Maine.

“However, hunger still overrides food aversions from any type or origin. When German armies laid siege to Paris in 1870 cutting off this city from traditional country farms and gardens, many bourgeois restaurants offered such delicacies such as rat ragu and saddle of cat. 

Many simply said  “tastes just like chicken”

Sources: 

Judith E. Brown, Nutrition Now. 7th Edition

Patrician Harris, David Lyon, and Sue McLaughlin, The Meaning of Food, 2005.

UNPROCESSED FOOD?

“Unprocessed or minimally processed foods are whole foods in which the vitamins and nutrients are still intact. The food is in its natural (or nearly natural) state. These foods may be minimally altered by removal of inedible parts, drying, crushing, roasting, boiling, freezing, or pasteurization, to make them suitable to store and safe to consume. Unprocessed or minimally processed foods would include carrots, apples, raw chicken, melon, and raw, unsalted nuts.”

Kathryn D. McManus, MS, RD, LDN

Harvard Health Publishing, 2020

We talk a lot about the bad stuff (processed foods) and not about the good stuff – unprocessed food. Good definition above. These are beginning to be hard to find in the supermarkets. The following article reports on a doctor’s experience of what it is like to eat Ultraprocessed foods for one month.

CLICK HERE.

Living Longer with Carbohydrates: The Okinawan Way

“The traditional Okinawan diet was about 80% carbohydrate. Before 1940, Okinawans also consumed fish at least three times a week together with seven servings of vegetables and maybe one or two servings of grains a day. They also ate two servings of flavonoid-rich soy, usually in the form of tofu. Dairy and meat represented about 3% of their calories. They didn’t eat much fruit; they enjoyed a few eggs a week” They particularly had/have an affinity for sweet potatoes.

The Okinawan Clues to Longevity

Have a purpose in life – i.e. a reason to get up in the morning .

Rely on a plant-based diet .

Get gardening .

Eat more soy .

Maintain a social network.

Enjoy the sunshine.

Stay active.

Plant a medicinal garden with beneficial herbs.

Enjoy simple pleasures.

Source: Dan Buettner, The Blue Zones Solution, 2015

The following article explains much of the recent research as to why this culture has had so much success in living a relatively speaking healthy lifestyle – it is worth a read. It does not mean we all need to go buy pounds of sweet potatoes; however I think I may have one for dinner. (SJF).

CLICK HERE.

Big Food?

“Robert Goldstein, a hedge fund manager in New York, was getting huge cravings for sweets when he came across a tropical plant called Gymnema sylvestre that works a little like methadone for heroin addicts.” What does that have to do with “big food”? Too much, I’m afraid.

CLICK HERE.

UNHEALTHY PROCESSED FOOD AND SNACKS CAN LEAD TO OBESITY

The Ketogenic Diet: What You Should Know

“Ketones (or ketone bodies) are molecules formed in the liver when there is not sufficient carbohydrate to completely metabolize the two carbon units produced from fat breakdown.”

It always has been claimed by many doctors and nutritionists to “eat a balanced diet”. Is this healthy? Why is the ketogenic diet so unbalanced? I

The ketogenic diet has gained in popularity due to many adherents on the internet and magazine covers in the supermarkets to this way of eating. It appears that weight loss is achieved a little faster than following the outdated low fat diet; however, after time, both diets in most studies produced approximately the same weight loss (e.g. after a year). “The ketogenic diet is not a diet for life. It is highly restricted in calories and types of food allowed. The ketogenic diet is high in fat and protein and low in carbs; eliminates fruit, grains, and beans, many vegetables high in meat and low in plant foods.

“That makes it the opposite of what we know constitutes a healthy diet”.

Healthy carbohydrates have been the mainstay of many healthy diets from food cultures around the world, e.g. many of the Asian diets and those countries around the Mediterranean area, thus the Okinawan and/or the Mediterranean Diet.

Source: Mark Bittman and David L. Katz, MD. How to Eat: All Your Food Questions Answered, 2020

CLICK HERE.

The Japanese Diet: Deconstructed

The Japanese diet is one of the world’s lowest in fat. Other attributes include fish as a mainstay and soy foods. The Japanese also care about appearance and think of food as an art – resulting in more appetizing and satisfying foods. Do these characteristics contribute to the Japanese record of low rates of major chronic diseases and the fact that they boast the world’s highest life expectancy – age 76 for men and 82 for women?

In contrast, in 1980, 30 percent of U .S. adult population were affected by at least one chronic condition. Today it’s 60 percent. The percentage of those affected by two or more chronic diseases has grown from 16 percent to 42 percent. What and how do the Japanese eat? Often, it is Interesting to study lifestyles, in particular what and how other cultures eat to gain some insights as to what exactly is a healthy diet. No one expects the typical American to start munching on seaweed but the study indicates that what and how we eat can affect our overall health and longevity.

CLICK HERE.

Got Milk?

“Indeed, the already booming nut-milk industry is projected to see continuous growth. Much of this is driven by beliefs about health, with ads claiming “dairy free” as a virtue that resonates for nebulous reasons—many stemming from an earlier scare over saturated fat—among consumers lactose intolerant and tolerant alike.”

CLICK HERE.

Various fresh dairy products on wooden background