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Nutrition: Could What’s on Our Plates be the Key to Longevity?

Nutrition in the Blue Zones: Could What’s on Our Plates be the Key to Longevity?


What is the best advice to live until 100 years old? Researcher Dan Buettner and National Geographic set off to discover the world’s longest living people and studied their lifestyles and environment.  They identified five regions and labeled them the Blue Zones. The regions include Sardinia-Italy, Ikaria-Greece, Nicoya-Costa Rica, Loma Linda-California, and Okinawa-Japan. After a thorough investigation performed by a team comprised of medical researchers, anthropologists, demographers, and epidemiologists, they concluded nine evidence-based common denominators among all places, which is referred to as the Blue Zones Power 9. The Blue Zones Power 9 was organized into four groups including movement, connection, outlook, and nutrition.

It is fascinating but no surprise that these groups of people from all over the world follow similar lifestyles, with the most dominant determinant being what they had on their plates. The first common diet trait that the cultures follow is the “80% rule” meaning they stop eating when they are 80% full. That additional 20% could be the difference between someone gaining weight or maintaining their ideal body weight. As we know obesity is very detrimental to our health leading to a cluster of chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. These cultures also eat their largest meals early in the day and eat very little at dusk.  Just like the adage, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”

Another component of a centenarian diet is “plant slant” which means a diet that is primarily vegetarian. Meat dishes were saved for special occasions and even then, the amount was only 4 ounces or a size of a deck of cards. Majority of their diet was more plant based, focusing on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and most importantly, beans. In fact, all 5 groups ate some type of bean or legume every single day.

The last diet trend, with the exception of the 7th Day Adventist in California, was they all drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Specifically, 1-2 glasses of red wine daily with friends. Of note, this does not equivocate to saving up all week for a total of 12 drinks on Saturday night.

In conclusion, if you are interested in longevity and looking forward to celebrating your 100th birthday, adopting habits of Blue Zones might start you on the right track.

Source: Ryan Morrison is a Registered Dietitian for Home Base, a Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Program, where he provides individual nutrition counseling and support to veterans and their families. He has a passion for educating others on the importance of developing healthy eating habits and lifestyles as well as cooking savory, nutritious meals.