What’s the Secret to a Longer Life? Think Blue.

Want to live the longest, healthiest life possible? 'Blue zones' are places around the world where people live the longest. Here’s a closer look at how those populations eat, and takeaway tips for how to adopt their longevity habits, no matter where you live.

Photo: Ellen van Bodegom / Getty Images

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Longevity is a hot topic as people look for preventative ways to improve their health in the long run. While many fad diets are here today, gone tomorrow, that’s not the case with this one: the Blue Zone way of eating is more than just a dietary pattern — it’s a way of life.

Back in 2004, researchers teamed up with National Geographic to figure out why certain populations from across the globe lived to be over 100. Drawing a blue line around these locations, the team set out to find what these communities had in common. These communities spanned from mountainous villagers in Sardinia, Italy, to island residents in Ikaria, Greece, to centenarians in Okinawa, Japan, and to right here in the United States, in Loma Linda, California (where Seventh-day Adventists live up to a decade more than the rest of the US). The commonalities found amongst these global communities were fascinating.

As the team explored these connections that promoted longevity amongst these diverse populations, 11 common food principles began to emerge, alongside other important lifestyle habits, such as movement and social connection.

11 Principles of the Blue Zone Diet:

The Blue Zone diet and lifestyle pattern focuses on eating a predominantly plant-based diet while incorporating regular movement and community interaction. Those in the Blue Zones tend to follow the below dietary patterns:

  1. Eat 90 to 100 percent plant-based foods.
  2. Minimize meat consumption to no more than twice per week.
  3. Fish is an exception to the above rule. Consume fish daily (unless there is a risk of mercury poisoning).
  4. Reduce dairy consumption — particularly cow’s milk.
  5. Have the occasional egg — the official Blue Zones organization recommends eating up to 3 eggs weekly.
  6. Add a daily dose of beans to your diet. Beans are a cornerstone of Blue Zone eating.
  7. Cut out sugar. Limit added sugar to honey-form, in coffee or tea.
  8. Snack heart-healthy with nuts.
  9. Choose whole-grains or sourdough breads.
  10. Aim to eat whole, unprocessed foods.
  11. Eat at least 3 “Super Blue” foods per day. These are food groups favored by residents of Blue Zones: beans, greens, sweet potatoes, nuts, olive oil, oats, barley, fruits, green or herbal teas, turmeric.

Plus, a bonus beverage tip: outside of water, which you should drink aplenty, opt for coffee for breakfast, tea in the afternoon and an optional wine at 5pm. Of course, avoid soda, including diet varieties.

Alongside these dietary principles, Blue Zone residents move every 20 minutes while focusing on engaging in community connection (technology-free.) Their communities aren’t built for modern conveniences of appliances, cars, and public transportation, but rather for kneading bread by hand and walking to run errands.

Some of these principles may not be entirely possible for urban communities. But the premise behind them can be applied to your lifestyle (and is successfully being done across America with the help of the Blue Zone Project communities.)

Can What You Eat Really Promote Longevity? What Experts Have to Say:

According to Registered Dietitian Lisa Young, Ph.D., “a nutrient-dense diet rich in colorful produce along with a stress-free lifestyle goes hand in hand to promote longevity.”

Dr. Young suggests swapping meat for fish, beans, and legumes. These foods are a great way to fight inflammation, prevent aging and promote brain health. “What we eat can make a difference in preventing cognitive decline,” shares Dr. Young.

“Foods high in certain vitamins, antioxidants, and phytochemicals may help to boost brain health. Deep red foods such as tomatoes and watermelon contain the antioxidant lycopene. This fights free radicals that come with aging. Leafy greens such as kale and spinach are rich in vitamins E and K. These may prevent memory loss and help reduce our ‘brain age.’ Berries contain anthocyanins, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.”

Nutrition expert Dr. Divya Selvakumar, Ph.D., RD, echoes what Dr. Young shared. She notes that a major aspect of diets that promote longevity, like the Blue Zone dietary pattern, is that “they are lower in cholesterol, fat, and sugar. This is beneficial in preventing common disorders such as heart disease, diabetes and hypertension.”

Dr. Selvakumar recommends increasing plant-based foods such as legumes, lentils, fruits, vegetables and nuts. She also emphasizes the fact that eating for longevity extends beyond just what we put in our mouths. The key to nutrition and health behaviors that promote living our best and longest lives also include stress management tactics. Examples include daily practice of yoga and meditation to maintain a positive outlook and sense of calmness.

Key Takeaways

  • Eating to promote longevity is possible through following a Blue Zone dietary and lifestyle pattern.
  • Focusing on eating more plant-based foods while incorporating daily movement and social connection are important aspects that help promote longevity.
  • You do not have to overhaul your life overnight. Focus on making small, simple changes on a regular basis to help live your best (and longest) life possible.

Bottom Line

While genetics and environmental factors inevitably play a role in total health, there are many positive takeaways here. Through simple steps, you can begin to incorporate  Blue Zone dietary and lifestyle habits to help you live your healthiest (and longest) life! Start small: increase your intake of plant-based foods, move more, disconnecting from technology when you can, and engage in meaningful social connections with your loved ones.

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