How to Follow the Blue Zones Diet, Which Was Developed to Help You Live Past 100


The Blue Zone diet is also heavy on tubers, such as purple sweet potatoes, sweet potatoes, and regular potatoes. “Seventy percent of the caloric intake of Okinawan women—until about 1970—came from purple sweet potatoes,” says Buettner. “They’re a superfood. The pigment in purple sweet potatoes contains the same antioxidants as blueberries in even higher concentrations, and they contain folate, complex carbohydrates, and even protein.” Plus, he adds, they’re shelf stable and “super easy to make taste delicious.”

Grains

Buettner says in the Blue Zones, people eat whole grains, corn, wheat, and white rice. Yes, white. He says white rice is prevalent in the Blue Zones of Costa Rica and Okinawa and in regions where people live much longer than we do, such as Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan. “I’m very aware that if you just eat a bowl of white rice, it’ll send your blood sugar and your insulin soaring, but when you add protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates to it, the glycemic load of that whole meal is muted,” he says.

Beans and legumes

The Blue Zone diet is also big on beans, which are an exceptional source of protein, fiber, and nutrients. They’re also filling. Buettner says the longest-living people in the world eat about a cup of beans per day, on average. This includes everything from lentils to garbanzo beans to soybeans to black beans. Need help with how to make beans exciting? Buettner’s got you covered.)

Nuts

In the Blue Zones, people rely on nuts for snacking. “People who eat a handful of nuts daily live longer than non-nut eaters,” says Buettner. Nuts are packed with protein, vitamins, minerals, and heart-healthy unsaturated fats. They may even help lower your cholesterol levels. Concerning longevity, you can get “bonus points” for choosing walnuts over other nuts.

Tofu

While tofu isn’t found in all Blue Zones, Buettner considers it a central part of the Blue Zone diet. “In Okinawa, they eat about eight times more tofu than we do [in the United States],” he says. Tofu is an excellent source of heart-healthy protein.

Turmeric

Buettner considers turmeric a longevity food, and he says the spice is used constantly in the Blue Zones—in teas, for example, or to flavor rice. There’s a wealth of scientific research that supports the health benefits of turmeric,” he says. “It’s a super powerful anti-inflammatory, and it’s also been shown to kill several types of cancer in vitro.”

Olive oil

Buettner says that most Blue Zones cook with olive oil, except Okinawa, where canola oil is primarily used. Research links such olive oil consumption with lower rates of all-cause mortality.

Tea

While water is the primary Blue Zone beverage, tea is also prominently featured in the diet. “Chamomile is a powerful anti-inflammatory tea, and you’ll see that in Sardinia and Ikaria,” says Buettner. “In Ikaria, you’ll see rosemary, oregano, and dandelion teas, which are anti-inflammatory and contain mid-to-high amounts of antioxidants. They’re also diuretics, which help keep your blood pressure in check.”

Coffee

Coffee is also big in the Blue Zones. Buettner has previously called it “one of the few indulgences you can enjoy with impunity.” He notes that it’s been associated with lower rates of Parkinson’s Disease and Type 2 Diabetes. In the Blue Zones, it’s almost always consumed black—no added milk, sugar, or pumpkin spice syrup.

Fruit

Local fruit is consumed in all five Blue Zones, and according to Buettner’s research, people who consumed about a quarter pound of fruit daily (e.g., an apple) were 60% less likely to die in the next four years than those who didn’t. In his opinion, it doesn’t matter what fruit you consume. “Some would argue that berries are healthier than bananas, but the best fruit to eat is the fruit that you’ll actually eat,” says Buettner. He does caveat, however, that fruit is most often consumed as dessert in the Blue Zones.

Bread

While it’s not technically considered a whole food, some bread in the Blue Zone diet is made either from whole grains—such as wheat, rye, or barley—or from sourdough, which Buettner says can make the rest of your meal healthier. “If you have real sourdough bread like they bake in Sardinia, it actually lowers the meal’s glycemic load,” he says. “They’re eating that with almost every single meal.” In the Blue Zone of Costa Rica, 100% corn tortillas are substituted for bread as a dietary staple.

What foods should I eat in moderation on the Blue Zones diet?

Meat

While the Blue Zone diet can include meat, Buettner says it should be more of a special-occasion food than an everyday dish. “In the Blue Zones, meat is consumed about five times a month, traditionally speaking, usually in a portion no bigger than the size of a deck of cards,” he says.

Fish

The Blue Zone diet includes only occasional servings of fish. “Maybe twice a week,” says Buettner. “It’s a lot less than you might think.” As is true of the meat consumed, this fish is usually fresh-caught versus farmed.

Dairy

Dairy doesn’t make much of an appearance in the Blue Zones either, and cow dairy is especially rare, says Buettner. “You do see feta cheese, which is made from goat’s milk, or pecorino cheese, made from sheep’s milk,” he says. “But, the cheese generally tends to be much stronger, and they’re eating much less of it—a piece the size of a marshmallow versus half a pound melted over a pizza.”

Eggs

The Blue Zone diet is also low on eggs, with Buettner allowing two to three per week. In the Blue Zones, eggs are usually consumed as a side dish. Few are used in baking, as there isn’t a ton of baking, at least in terms of cookies and cakes, done in general in the Blue Zones. In Loma Linda, people often use egg substitutes such as aquafaba, or the liquid byproduct of cooking or canning garbanzo beans, when they do bake.

Dessert

To that end, the Blue Zone diet does not include many desserts beyond the occasional piece of fruit. “Desserts per se are usually celebratory foods eaten at festivals, weddings, or birthdays,” says Buettner.

Red wine

Red wine, on the other hand, is consumed daily in most Blue Zones. “I’m aware of all the recent research on [the health risks] of red wine, but people in the Blue Zones who are making it to 90 and 100 are drinking wine in small amounts every day,” he says. The critical caveat is that this is a small amount each day—one glass versus half a bottle.

What foods should I avoid when following a Blue Zones diet?

Processed foods

Traditionally, people in the Blue Zones eat very few heavily processed foods or foods that have been significantly altered from their original state. Examples include chips, bakery goods, fast foods, and sugary drinks.

Added sugar

People in the Blue Zones avoid processed foods and foods that contain added sugar. “The average American consumes about 22 to 24 teaspoons of added sugar every day,” says Buettner. In the Blue Zones, it’s about seven.” What sugar is found in their diets tends to come from fruit or is added in small amounts to tea or coffee.

What are the benefits of a Blue Zones diet?

The health benefits of the Blue Zone diet are similar to those of another popular whole-food, plant-based diet known as the Mediterranean diet, including:

Increased longevity

The most famous benefit of the Blue Zone diet is increased longevity—after all, it was designed after the diets of the world’s longest-lived people. Scientific evidence supports this claim: Whole foods and plant-based diets, such as those found in the Blue Zone diet, have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of mortality from all causes.



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