What is the 'Blue Zones' diet and how does it work?
The Blue Zone diet is based on the findings of Dan Buettner who discovered a high concentration of healthy, happy centenarians across the globe. Of this, there was a strong emphasis for their vitality and youthfulness founded on their dietary choices. The five Blue Zones countries include:
Okaria, Greece: wild dandelion, boiled like spinach is a popular side dish with the greens known to have ten times more antioxidants than red wine
The Province of Ogliastra, Sardinia: drink up to 1-2 glasses a day of Cannonau Wine which is known to have more antioxidants and flavonoids than most other red wines
Okinawa, Japan: A popular staple in their diet consists of sweet potato. Sweet potato is high in “beta carotene” and is also packed with antioxidants
Loma Linda, California: Seventh Day Adventists eat a “biblical diet” that is mainly plant based
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica: The inhabitants of this region’s diet consist of beans, squash and tortillas. The combination of these foods are full of proteins and contain all nine essential amino acids.
Blue Zones diet is a reasoning behind the communities longevity and reduction of chronic diseases. Blue Zones are not strictly vegetarian but it is a predominantly plant-based diet. Commonly referred to to as the Mediterranean Diet, 95% of the daily food intake comes from nutrient rich legumes, vegetables, grains and fruit. People in Blue Zones traditionally eat “whole food” that can be raw, cooked, or fermented.
Given that these Blue Zones regions are often remote they don’t have the negative convenience of highly processed foods. A centenarian’s diet consists of local or homegrown ingredients and produce generally within a ten mile radius from home.
People in Blue Zones typically avoid meat, dairy, and processed sugars. Blue Zones recipes typically contain a handful of natural ingredients that make up simple and delicious meals. A Mediterranean diet may help you live longer and lose weight, but this Blue Zone diet is not your typical fad diet.
It is simply having a healthier approach to life and refocusing on local produce and eliminating processed foods. Essentially bringing us back to a natural state of living removing common food conveniences. This is the key to Blue Zones uniquely healthy diet.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
5 Key Elements to the Blue Zone Diets
There are 5 key elements of the Blue Zones diet and here is a simple guideline to a healthy lifelong lifestyle of eating habits:
- Plant Slant – 95% of your diet should be plant based
- 80% rule – don’t overindulge and avoid eating to completely full
- Eat the smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening
- Make homemade meals from local or homegrown ingredients
- Wine at 5 – alcohol should be consumed in moderation
“Power 9”, Blue Zones Principles
The Blue Zones do not only prescribe to a throughline diet, these regions have designed a lifestyle that implements healthy daily practises over a lifetime to increase longevity. This is known as “Power 9”, Blue Zones principles associated with living a long and healthy life:
Incorporating moderate, regular physical activity naturally as part of their daily routine.
Down Shift, reduce stress
80% rule, moderate caloric intake
Moderate alcohol consumption, specifically wine
Engagement in a community, spirituality or religion
Engagement in family life
Enjoy an active social life
Blue Zone Foods to include in your Diet
People living in blue zone countries primarily eat a 95% plant-based diet. Often referred to as plant slant or the Medditerranean Diet, the inhabitants of blue zone regions ingest an impressive variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. All of which dominate the blue zone meals all year round.
It is evident that an emphasis on homegrown vegetables and plants is the cornerstone of centenarian diets. Having a high volume of plant-based foods in your diet has the nourishing and beneficial effects of vitamins, fiber, minerals, and antioxidants.
Whether the plants and vegetables are in season, many blue zone regions are able to prolong their harvest by either pickling or drying the vegetables and plants during the off-seasons.
Legumes are rich in fiber and protein and have proven to be a vital component of all Blue Zone diets. Beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas are a top source of complex carbohydrates and contain a variety of vitamins and minerals. Beans especially are a cornerstone in the Blue Zone diet being a hearty and satisfying meal.
Dark Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens are nutrient dense and contain several vitamins and powerful antioxidants. locally grown and organically farmed vegetables such as kale, spinach, and Swiss chard champion the blue zone diet.
Olive oil is a staple of Blue Zone diets with an abundance of healthy fatty acids and antioxidants. Several Blue Zone regions exhibit the benefits of a healthy heart with lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
Extra-virgin olive oil is derived from plants and is preferable to animal-based fats. When possible, always select extra-virgin olive oil which can be used for cooking and in vegetable and salad dishes.
The Blue Zone diet is not strictly vegetarian but they often trade meat for plants. Blue zone inhabitants limit their meat consumption to once a week as a small side or eat meat sparingly as a celebratory food.
Long term consumption of red meat has negatively indicated an increased risk of mortality. In comparison, Blue Zone regions that adhere to a mostly plant-based diet show inhabitants having lower risks of diseases and living longer lives.
In Blue Zones, people eat fish in small quantities limiting the seafood dining experience to only 3 times a week. Popular in the Ikarian and Saridinian diet, fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids which are incredibly important for brain and heart health.
Most importantly, Blue Zones rely on the land and sea for their local produce, therefore respectfully have an acute awareness to not disrupt the ecosystem in which they rely on. They do not threaten the seas by overfishing and generally eat fish that are common and in abundance in the area such as anchovies and sardines. Something to also consider is that people in Blue Zones eat middle of the food chain species that are not exposed to high levels of mercury.
Cows milk is not a significant staple in the Blue Zone diet. Cows milk is often associated with allergies, lactose intolerance, bone fractures and cancer. It is often said that there is no use for cows milk in the development of human bodies.
Ikaria and Sardinia however get their milk source from goats and sheep. Blue zone livestock are generally free to roam the land with its milk source being easier to digest and keeping milk allergies at bay. Interestingly, this milk is generally not consumed as a liquid but is often fermented into cheese and yogurt.
Blue Zone eggs come from chickens that roam the lands freely and eat a wide variety of food that is natural. Naturally farmed eggs are high in nutritional value and omega-3 fatty acids, however within a Blue Zone diet are only eaten in moderation about two to four times a week. Most importantly, blue zone chickens don’t receive antibiotics or hormones.
People in Blue Zones consume sugar from natural sources such as fruits, syrups and honey. Sugar is eaten intentionally, as opposed to consuming because of bad habits or cravings.
The readily available refined sugar in western society has been shown to suppress the immune system which negatively spikes insulin levels. Overall, blue zones obtain sweetness in meals from natural sources in limited quantities.
Blue Zone residents opt for healthier snack options such as nuts rich in protein, minerals and vitamins. Nuts supply healthy unsaturated fats and fibre which has been linked to reducing cholesterol. Blue zone centenarians consume almonds, pistachios, walnuts and cashews aiding in their reduced mortality risks combined with a healthy diet.
Blue zones bread is unlike most commercially available breads on the market which are riddled with bleached flour. Blue Zones bread is made up of healthy characteristics of either whole grain or sourdough.
Whole grains have higher levels of fiber and nutrients made from a variety of rye, wheat or barley. Sourdough. Traditional sourdough is slow burning and lowers the glycemic loads of meals as it is made with naturally occurring bacteria called lactobacilli.
Blue zones centenarians drink mainly water in copious amounts. Adventist follow a recommended seven glasses of water daily. Hydration is key in aiding digestion, normalizing blood pressure and carrying nutrients to cells.
People in Blue Zones drink tea as a daily ritual. Okinawans sip on green tea and Ikarians brew wild sage and dandelion. There are many known benefits to drinking herbal tea including boosting the immune system and having anti-inflammatory properties.
Coffee is also consumed to the delight of Nicoyans, Ikarians and Sardinians. The benefits of drinking coffee is associated with lower rates of dementia, boosted metabolic rate and can be a source of antioxidants.
Lastly people in blue zones drink red wine often with a meal and friends. Things to take into consideration in the case of Sardinians; that their wine has the added benefit of being home made from grenache grapes that are known to have three times the flavonoids and polyphenols as other wines.
5 Delicious Blue Zones Recipes
Take a look at these delicious tasting Blue Zones recipes that follow the guidelines of being whole food and plant based eating. Easy recipes that will have you exploring the Mediterranean diet.
Blue Zones Diet books
There are many Blue Zones books available spreading the compelling information, furthering your knowledge about how to live a long and healthy lifestyle. These books also take its readers through “top longevity foods” and tasty Mediterranean recipes.
The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest
The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100
The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons From the World’s Happiest People
The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People
The Blue Zones, Second Edition: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest
Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way