The Blue Zone diet is based on populations in the world that live the longest. The study was pioneered by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic best-selling author. After many years of interviews with centenarians, he and his team discovered five zones of the world that exhibited the most longevity: Okinawa, Japan, Sardina, Italy, Ikaria, Greece, Loma Linda, California and Nicoya, Costa Rico. They called these areas “Blue Zones” and here is just one of their stories:
“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.
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).
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.
Americans don’t live as long as people in most other high-income countries. We hear so much about how healthy habits are the recommendations of the medical community, but often they come across as vague and not specific enough. How many times has your doctor said, “watch your diet” as you leave his/her office. Here are the highlights of a study that actually investigated the adherence of these habits and how they related to longevity rates.
Researchers found that people who maintained five healthy lifestyle factors lived more than a decade longer than those who didn’t maintain any of the five.
A Study led by Frank Hu at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed data from more than 78,000 women and 44,000 men who participated in two nationwide surveys (Nurses Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study.)
The study was funded by NIH National Heart Lung and Blood Institute and National Cancer Institute and published in Circulation on April 30, 2018.
Data identified five different low-risk lifestyle factors and compared health outcomes for those who adopted all five with those who didn’t adopt any.
1. Maintaining a healthy eating pattern (like the Mediterranean Diet) The DASH Diet or the MIND Diet are also healthy choices. You can find details on Amazon Books.
- Recommended daily amounts of vegetables fruit, nuts, whole grains, polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids.
- Limiting red and processed meats, moderately.
- Limiting beverages with added sugar, trans fats, and sodium
2. Moderate drinking (2 glasses for men and 1 glass for women) daily.
3. Not smoking
4. Getting at least 3.5 hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week
5. Maintaining a normal weight (18.5 to 24.9) BMI
Each participant’s medical history: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, age at death (when applicable).
At age 50, women who did not adopt any of the five healthy habits were estimated to live on average until they were 79 years old and men until they were 75.5 years.
In contrast, women who adopted all five healthy habits lived to 91.1 years and men lived to 87.6 years.
From the medical histories, Independently, each healthy lifestyle factor significantly lowered the risk of total death, death from cancer, and death from heart disease.
Tianna Hicklin, PhD. Healthy habits can lengthen life. National Institutes of Health (NIH).
By Sally J. Feltner, MS, Ph.D.
Ponce de Leon began his quest for the fountain of youth in 1531 and humans have been seeking magical solutions for keeping us younger and living our later years in relatively good health.
In 2009 with the backing of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, AARP and the National Geographic, Dan Buettner established the Blue Zone Project and authored The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the people who lived the longest, He interviewed those who were either centenarians or those in their later years and began to investigate what factors may have contributed to five regions of longevity hotspots in the world that included:
- Sardinia in Italy with the highest concentration of centenarian men.
- Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California, where some residents live ten more healthy years than the average American.
- The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica that has the world’s lowest rates of middle-age mortality and the second highest concentration of male centenarians.
- Ikaria, Greece that has one of the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality and lowest rates of dementia. Only 20 percent of people over 80 showed any signs of dementia, whereas a similar study of long-lived people near Athens showed an almost 50 percent rate of dementia- a rate similar to that for older Americans.”
- Okinawa, Japan home to the world’s longest living women.
Remarkably, all the regions had common characteristics that included family and purpose, community and spirituality, stress reduction and physical activity. Mr. Buettner later published The Blue Zones Solution and coauthored with Ed Diener, The Blue Zones of Happiness.
One major practice was that all their diets, though not vegan, were predominantly based on plants. Meat and other animal products are either the exception or used as a condiment. Additionally, Okinawans, practice a philosophy called hara-hachi bu regarding food; they only eat until they are 80% full.
In the Costa Rican Zone, everyone feels like they have a plan “de vida” or life plan. Even at ages above 60 and 70, inhabitants don’t stop living. They keep themselves busy; they love to work. It provides them a “reason to waking up in the morning” called ikigai. There is no word for “retirement” in Okinawa.
The book introduces some very interesting longevity “superstars.”
- Marge Jones, at 100 years old from Loma Linda begins every day with a mile walk, a stationary bicycle ride, and some weight lifting. “I’m for anything that has to do with health”, she says
- Kamada Nakazitam, 102 years old from Okinawa says “To be healthy enough to embrace my great – great grandchild is bliss.”
- Ellsworh Wareham, age 91 from Loma Linda, assists during heart surgery procedures, something he does about two or three times a week
- Abuela Panchita, 100 year old Costa Rican woman whose 80 year old son, Tommy bicycles to see her every day, spends every day cooking, splitting logs and using a machine to clear brush from her garden.
- The notion of moai in Okinawa stands for “a social support network. Says 77 year old Klazuko Mann, “each member knows that her friends count on her as much as she counts on her friends.”
- From the author: “I once pressed a 101-year-old woman in Ikaria, Greece to tell why she thought people there lived so long. ‘We just forget to die,’ she said with a shrug. None of them went on a diet, joined a gym, or took supplements. They didn’t pursue longevity – it simply ensued”
The final chapters in the first book boil it all down into nine lessons and a cultural distillation of the worlds’ best practices in longevity a and how they can be applied to the American food culture.
However, there is a downside that is currently happening. From the Author: “Sardinians today have already taken on the trappings of modern life. For example, junk foods are replacing whole-grain breads and fresh vegetables traditionally consumed here. Young people are fatter, less inclined to follow tradition, and more outwardly focused.”
I’ve enjoyed these books immensely and have often referred to them in various tweets and posts. The first book concludes with a chapter on Your Personal Blue Zone. Other books such as “the Blue]Zones Solution” give us more explicit ways to establish Blue Zones in other areas such as the U.S.
From the back cover of The Blue Zones Solution – “Propagating the Blue Zones would not only prevent a rise in the prevalence of diabetes (and other misfortunes) it would allow us to eliminate more than 80 percent of the burden we have now. That’s revolutionary.” David Katz, M.D., Director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center
The Blue Zones are lessons in how lifestyles can affect our health and longevity. Prevention of chronic disease as we age is the primary goal. More attention needs to be paid to improve the American diet in order to “add years to your life and life to your years.”
Calorie restriction has been shown to extend lifespan in many animal species. Even though the following article is an animal (rat) study, it is very interesting since it goes further than most studies by examining the effects on the body cells themselves of a calorie restricted diet versus a control group with no calorie restriction.
Some people find this easier to do with the practice of intermittent fasting (or time-restricted) eating patterns. It is suggested that you consult your physician with any restrictive diet (e.g., Keto) since it is imperative we still get all the proper nutrients we need for optimum health.
An alternative could be is to consult a certified nutritionist or health coach. Be careful who you might choose for nutrition information. Unfortunately, some practitioners in the nutrition community offer services that are highly questionable and appear to be outside the legitimate scope of evidence-based nutrition. Even advanced degrees can be purchased from what used to be called “diploma mills”. There are a lot of crazy schemes (mostly for weight loss) on the internet – question and check on the credentials of any person who call themselves a “nutritionist.” Also if a plan or a supplement sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Stephen Barrett, MD, a long-time crusader against nutrition and health fraud, recommends steering clear of:
- Anyone who suggests that large doses of vitamins are effective against a large number of diseases and conditions. That is simply untrue. On the contrary, mega doses can sometimes be harmful.
- Anyone who suggests hair analysis is a basis for determining the body’s nutritional state and then recommending large numbers of dietary supplements are not reliable for this purpose.
- Anyone who claims that a wide variety of symptoms and diseases are caused by “hidden food allergies”. There are legitimate food intolerances that are different from true allergies.
- Anyone who uses a computer-scored “nutrient deficiency test” as the basis of prescribing dietary supplements. There are more valid ways of assessing diets.
- All practitioners – licensed or not – who sells vitamins and minerals in their offices. Evidence-based nutritionists do not sell supplements.
- Practitioners who seem to favor a certain food brand or supplement. There is a lot of research that is supportive of the food industry and research on that particular brand is often biased.
Source: Quack Watch, Where to Get Professional Nutrition Advice, Stephen Barrett, MD.
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.
Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones and The Blue Zones Solution has revealed that the world’s longest living people have lived lifestyles over the past 100 years that help them and others lead healthier and more fulfilling lives.
One of these lifestyles includes their diets. Buettner’s teams have helped thousands of people lose weight and reverse disease by changing the way they live, eat, and connect with each other. Ultimately, these changes can transform your health and help you live longer.
The basis of this diet at a glance:
- Rich in “healthy” fats including olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Vegetables abound; meat is minor.
- Loads of beneficial herbs.
- Moderate drinking.
- Practice of a slower pace of life with a strong social connection.
FYI: There is a new book by Dan Buettner called The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 recipes to live to 100. The information is priceless and the photographs are stunning (provided by David McLain and National Geographic).