As a dietitian, I like to say that genetics loads the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger. This is undoubtedly true for living a longer, more independent life. While genetics somewhat determine your lifespan and susceptibility to disease, your lifestyle probably has a more significant impact.
The secret to living over 100 years isn’t drinking kale smoothies every day or committing to intense daily exercise routines. It’s not a pill, a potion, or a mantra either.
However, research shows that Blue Zones (places in the world that are home to some of the world’s oldest people) have many similarities, especially regarding their diets. So today, we’re taking a closer look at the Blue Zone Diet Plan and what these communities eat to make it to those triple-digit birthdays.
This post is all about the Blue Zone Diet Plan.
If you would prefer to sit back and watch/listen to this information you can view it over on the YouTube Channel. 🎥
- 1 What Are The Blue Zones?
- 2 The Patterns Found In The Blue Zone Diet Plan:
- 3 Lifestyle
- 4 Summary
What Are The Blue Zones?
“Blue Zones” are geographic areas with lower rates of chronic diseases and a longer life expectancy. Italy, Greece, Japan, Costa Rica, and California have a Blue Zone.
- Okinawa, Japan
- Sardinia, Italy
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
- Icaria, Greece
- Loma Linda, California, USA
Blue Zones were identified by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Explorer, and his team of researchers. These regions had the highest concentrations of centenarians (people who live to be 100 years old or older). Dan and his team spent 20+ years researching and analysing these people’s diets, lifestyles, and data.
In this post, we are going to discuss what they found.
The Patterns Found In The Blue Zone Diet Plan:
1. People Who Live In The Blue Zones Eat A Diet Full Of Whole-Plant Foods
Their diets are predominantly plant-based, with meat and fish making up only a tiny portion. They eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. This doesn’t mean completely removing meat. The people of the Blue Zones still eat meat and fish but sparingly, typically only a few times a week. When they do eat meat, they choose lean cuts and wild-caught fish.
2. They Choose Whole, Unprocessed Foods Over Processed Foods
I always advocate that some processing is okay with regard to our diet. We need to be realistic, and some processing is required to make foods more accessible and convenient. For example, when we buy olive oil, it is technically processed from olives into an oil. However, that does not mean that it is terrible for us. It is the ULTRA-processed foods that we need to be mindful of. Ultra-processed foods are often high in unhealthy fats, sugar, and salt.
The people of the Blue Zones rarely eat ultra-processed foods. Instead, they focus on eating whole foods. For example, they opt for potatoes instead of potato chips or whole fruit instead of apple sauce.
3. They Follow The 80% Rule
The people of okinawan call this “hara hachi bu.” This means they stop eating when they feel 80% full rather than 100% stuffed. In Okinawa, this is more than just a saying; it’s a way of life. People in Okinawa are taught from a young age to eat until they are satisfied, but not stuffed.
This simple practice has been shown to have several health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, and stroke. It prevents them from overeating, which can lead to weight gain and chronic illness.
4. They Eat With Others
A lot of solid research shows that eating with others during shared family meals leads to healthier eating habits, particularly when started in childhood.
People in the blue zones eat slowly and savour their food. They also avoid eating while distracted, such as watching TV or working on their laptop, which allows them to be mindful of their fullness and hunger cues.
Several studies have also shown that eating slowly can reduce hunger and increase feelings of fullness, compared to eating rapidly. This may be because the hormones that make you feel full only reach their maximum blood levels 20 minutes after you eat.
Therefore, by eating mindfully, with others and only until you feel 80% complete, you may eat in a more controlled way and feel full for longer.
5. Healthy Carbohydrates
Another common trait shared by the people of the blue zones is that they eat a diet full of healthy carbs. Dan Buettner found that 65% of the dietary intake in the blue zones came from complex carbohydrates. As a dietitian, this does not surprise me, as carbohydrates are our body’s primary energy source. However, in today’s society, we have been conditioned to fear carbohydrates.
This proves that we do not need to fear carbs. You can live a long and healthy life by incorporating the right kind of carbohydratess.
Complex carbs like whole grains, quinoa, potatoes with skin on, and sweet potatoes contain more fibre and protein than conventional carbs. This means they are less likely to cause a spike in blood sugars and more likely to help you feel fuller for longer.
Looking beyond diet, the lifestyle of the people from the blue zones also holds clues into their secret for living a longer life.
In the Blue Zones, people don’t exercise purposefully by going to the gym. Instead, movement is built into their daily lives through gardening, walking, cooking and other daily chores.
A study of men in the Sardinian Blue Zone found that their longer lives were associated with raising farm animals, living on steeper slopes in the mountains, and walking longer distances to work.
The benefits of these habitual activities have been shown previously. In a study of more than 13,000 men. The amount of distance they walked or stories of stairs they climbed each day predicted how long they would live.
Other studies have shown the benefits of exercise in reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease and overall death.
In addition to exercise, getting adequate rest and a good night’s sleep are common traits in the blue zones. They all get sufficient sleep and also often take daytime naps.
This isn’t something we haven’t heard before. Several studies have found that not getting enough sleep, or getting too much sleep, can significantly increase the risk of death.
Seven hours seems to be about the optimal sleep duration, but this can differ for everyone. In the Blue Zones, people tend not to sleep, wake up or go to work at set hours. They sleep as much as their body tells them to.
In particular Blue Zones, such as Icaria and Sardinia, daytime napping is also common.
Several studies have shown that daytime naps, known in many Mediterranean countries as “siestas,” have no adverse effect on the risk of heart disease and death and may even reduce these risks.
However, the length of the nap appears to be very important. Naps of 30 minutes or less may be beneficial, but anything longer than 30 minutes is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and death.
Aside from diet, exercise and rest, several other social and lifestyle factors are common to the Blue Zones and may contribute to the longevity of the people living there.
Being religious or spiritual, and several studies have shown that this is associated with a lower risk of death. It may be due to social support and reduced rates of depression.
People in Blue Zones tend to have a life purpose, known as “ikigai” in Okinawa or “plan de vida” in Nicoya. This is associated with a reduced risk of death, possibly through psychological well-being.
Older and younger people also live together in many Blue Zones. Grandparents often live with their families. Studies have shown that grandparents who look after their grandchildren have a lower risk of death.
They also have a healthy social network. If you have ever heard the phrase, “You’re the average of the five people spend the most time with”. Well, your social network, called “moai” in Okinawa, can affect your health. For example, if your friends are obese, you have a greater risk of being obese, possibly through social acceptance of weight gain.
The Blue Zone regions are home to some of the oldest and healthiest people in the world.
Although their lifestyles differ slightly, they mostly eat a plant-based diet, exercise regularly, drink moderate amounts of alcohol, get enough sleep and have good spiritual, family and social networks.
Each of these lifestyle factors is associated with a longer life. By incorporating these factors into your lifestyle, it may be possible for you to add a few years to your life.
This post is all about the Blue Zone Diet Plan.
Hi there! My name is Maria, and I am a Registered Dietitian practising in Ireland and Bermuda. I have extensive experience in helping clients improve their health through the power of good nutrition. I hope you enjoyed this article. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me. Additionally, if there are nutrition topics or recipes you would like me to make in future posts, please let me know. I would be more than happy to help.
Stay happy and healthy 💚
Your Registered Dietitian
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