When people like the beloved Betty White live to be nearly 100 years old, you can’t help but ask, “what was their secret?” While genetics do play a role in a person’s lifespan, we also know that lifestyle makes an enormous difference.
It’s this topic that inspired Dan Buettner to research the regions of the world where people live the longest. He found five regions on the globe that have the highest concentrations of centenarians, known as the Blue Zones, and from there he investigated what they all have in common.
These regions include Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, Ikaria in Greece, Nicoya in Costa Rica, and Loma Linda in California. After extensive research on their diets, movement, and daily practices, Buettner developed what is known as the Blue Zones Diet.
Continue reading to learn more about some of the eating habits practiced by the longest living people in the world, and for more tips inspired by the Blue Zones, check out 9 Foods The Longest-Living People in the World Eat Every Day.
One of the markers of all five Blue Zone regions is eating largely plant-based, which the Blue Zone’s official website refers to as the “plant slant.”
For example, according to a National Geographic article covering the Blue Zones, those in Loma Linda eat a diet that consists of about 27% fruit and 33% vegetables, with only about 4% coming from meat.
For Ikarians (in Greece), 20% of their daily intake is made up of vegetables, 17% is made up of greens specifically, 11% is made of legumes, 6% is fish, and only 5% is meat.
This doesn’t mean that you have to go entirely vegetarian, but these communities prove that you don’t need meat every day in order to live a healthy lifestyle.
According to the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicinemeat (usually pork) is consumed on an average of around five times per month, and the serving size is only as large as a deck of cards.
For those trying to mimic some of the eating habits practiced by the longest living people, it is recommended that you make beans the center of some of your meals, using them as a replacement for the meat you would have as the main course.
All five Blue Zone regions consume beans or legumes as a central part of their diet, and the Blue Zones Diet website states that these communities eat about four times the amount of beans that Americans do on average.
Unfortunately, we could use more beans in our daily diet because their health benefits are insurmountable. A 2021 study published in Nutrients confirms that consuming beans (as part of a plant-based diet) is associated with improved cardiovascular health, lower inflammation, and may even help improve your immune system to help fight disease.
Try this Healthy Black Bean and Sweet Potato Taco Recipe.
Another interesting thing about these five regions of the world is that they not only put intention into the specific food they eat, but they place care in their relationship to eating.
The Okinawans have been practicing the 80% rule for thousands of years, which is the practice of only eating until they’re about 80% full. They hold space for the other 20%, acknowledging that they don’t always need to fill it.
To many Americans, this practice may sound strange and difficult to achieve. But to the community of Okinawa, this 20% difference is one of the ways they stay healthy and content.
The consumption of healthy fats in the place of unhealthy fats is something that the world’s longest living people have in common. For example, the Seventh-Day Adventist community of Loma Linda consumes avocados, nuts, and salmon on a regular basis, while Sardinians get their healthy fats from olive oil.
Replacing things like butter and margarine with a healthy fat like extra virgin olive oil can help improve your overall health, and studies show that extra-virgin olive oil can help lower inflammation and improve the health of your arteries.
Along with healthy fats, plenty of veggies, and daily servings of beans, the longest living people in the world also consume plenty of whole grains. In fact, according to National GeographicNicoyans get 26% of their daily intake from grains, and in Sardinia it’s 47%!
When it comes to specific grains, Blue Zone Diet researchers discovered that the five regions of grains that contained less gluten than those often consumed in America. For instance, they eat less wheat and focus more on barley, oats, and brown rice.
This certainly isn’t surprising, seeing as grains like oats are some of the healthiest foods you can eat for your weight, gut, and for reducing chronic inflammation.