Can you eat your way to a long life? People in a handful of regions across the globe apparently do. In his book The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, author Dan Buettner identified seven so-called “blue zones” around the world, places where residents often live past 100—and analyzed the factors that may explain it. Along with lifestyle, nutrition is key. So pick some favorites from each of these “blue zones” and start beating the odds.
What People From “Blue Zones” Eat to Live Long, Healthy Lives
1. Ikaria, Greece
Called “the island where people forget to die” in Diane Kochilas’ cookbook on its food, Ikaria is a hotbed of old-agers who follow a Med-type diet but eat less meat than most Greeks; farm or forage many foods; and proudly admit they bone like bunnies well into their twilight years.
Key foods: Wild greens, olive oil, chickpeas, lentils, black-eyed peas, lemons, goat-milk cheese, potatoes, tomatoes, wild mushrooms, sage, rosemary
Dish to try: Hortopita: phyllo pie made with wild greens
2. Okinawa, Japan
Why such longevity among Okinawans? Could be their superfood intake: Turmeric is a favorite here, as is go-to veggie bitter melon—both thought to be disease fighters. Most foods are stir-fried quickly in minimal oil.
Key foods: Brown seaweeds (hijiki, wakame, kombu), bitter melon, turmeric, tofu, sweet potato, lots of pork (in all forms), garlic, green tea, brown rice
Dish to try: Goya chanpuru: stir-fried bitter melon, egg, tofu, and thinly sliced pork
3. Sardinia, Italy
Carbo-loading for long life? Sardinians eat gobs of pasta and whole-grain breads—even their famed soup, zuppa gallurese, is a sort of bread casserole. Could be the omega-3s they get from shellfish and dairy or the crazy-high polyphenols in the local red wine…
Key foods: Shellfish (clams, mussels, lobster); sheep’s/goat’s milk; tomatoes, almonds, fava beans, chickpeas, flat bread, saffron, fennel, red wine
Dish to try: Fregola sarda con arselle e zafferano: semolina pasta with clams and saffron
4. Southern Sweden
Scandinavia’s quality of life (low crime, free health care) offers some nondietary reasons for long lives. Still, something about the hearty cuisine of Sweden’s Öland, Småland, and Skåne (their flavonoid-packed black currants, perhaps?) keeps them hanging on.
Key foods: Oily fish like salmon and herring, whole grains like rye and buckwheat, berries, peas, oats, yogurt, root vegetables
Dish to try: Fiskbullar med rotmos och ärtor: fish cakes with mashed rutabaga and peas
5. Nicoya, Costa Rica
This Costa Rican peninsula’s diet is similar to the rest of Latin America’s but with a few key differences: The fruit of its peach palm tree is said to fight cancer, and its wild ginger is a potent anti-inflammatory. Plus, little milk or processed food is consumed.
Key foods: Black beans, corn tortillas, winter squash, ginger, eggs, yucca, plantains, yams, tropical fruits (bananas, papaya, mango, guava, peach palms)
Dish to try: Gallo pinto: rice, black beans, fried egg, and corn tortillas
6. Loma Linda, California
Loma Linda has one of the world’s largest concentrations of Seventh Day Adventists, who—believing the body and soul to be one—spurn meat, most rich foods, booze, cigs, and caffeine. But some do eat fish—and, sorry, Adventist vegans, but pesco-vegetarian Adventists live longer than you do.
Key foods: Whole grains (oats, barley, quinoa), beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas, citrus, whole-wheat bread, almonds, soy milk, salmon, avocado
Dish to try: Black-bean burger with avocado and tomato
7. Acciaroli, Italy
The diet of the seventh “blue zone,” the Italian coastal town of Acciaroli, is like that of most of southern Italy, but with one addition: wild rosemary, eaten all day, every day. The local herb’s intense aroma suggests it has even more antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and circulatory- and memory-boosting properties than ordinary rosemary. Bonus: Dried rosemary retains most of the nutrients of fresh. Tip: Buy organic rosemary to avoid nutrient-killing irradiation.
“Blue zones,” the bottom line:
People thrive on fresh foods, whole grains and, more often than not, not an ounce of meat.
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