Dan Buettner, longevity expert, shows us in his book “The Blue Zones”, years of research on the healthiest and longest lived communities in the world.
In The Blue Zones people live active healthy lives, out of western chronic illnesses, well into their 90s and 100s. These communities are; Okinawa in Japan, Ikaria in Greece, Sardinia in Italy, Nicoya in Costa Rica and Loma Linda (California) in the US. There are several basic principles they all have in common, like strong family and social connections, spiritual beliefs and living active lives. There are no care homes and centenarians live actively as part of the communities. They all get good sleep and based their diets around plant foods, as we shall see next.
Okinawans in the 1900s got 80% of their calories from sweet potatoes. In more recent years their elders diet was still mainly based in complex carbohydrates like stir fry vegetables, sweet potatoes, soybeans and tofu. The last two being as well their main source of daily protein. Animal foods like pork are traditionally reserved for ceremonial occasions and taken only in small amounts. They have a saying that all the old folks say before the meals – “Hara hachi bu” (eat until you are 80% full). They believe this practice keeps them from eating too much.
Ikarians secret is their mediterranean style diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and potatoes. These are the staples of their diet. They also drink some goats milk and eat small amounts of fish twice a week and meat about once a week. They use olive oil for cooking and drink lots of herbal teas everyday.
Sardinians mediterranean style diet mainly consists of beans, vegetables, fruits and whole-grain bread. The Sardinians also drink some goats milk and eat some pecorino cheese made from sheep’s milk. Meat is reserved for Sundays and surprisingly fish is very rarely consumed. Some parts of the Island cook with olive oil and others with mastic oil.
Nicoyans diet is largely based on corn, beans, rice, garden vegetables and huge amounts of tropical fruits (papaya, mango, oranges, bananas…), most of which are grown in and around their yards. They also eat some pork and eggs to complement their plant based diet. Corn tortillas are present at almost every meal.
The Seventh-day Adventist live in Southern California, 60 miles east of Los Angeles. For the past half a century, more than 25,000 members of this community, whose faith endorses healthy living, have participated in a groundbreaking health and dietary study of Californians over the age of 25. There are vegans, vegetarians and meat eating Adventists, but even the meat eaters, do eat very small amounts as side dishes rather than main courses. The results of the study have been remarkable. In a nutshell; the Adventists that ate higher amounts of fruits and vegetables, legumes and nuts, less meat and dairy, had lower rates of all chronic diseases (cancer, heart disease etc…) and lived longer. There is also another current study, AHS-2 (The Adventist Health Study 2), with more than 96,000 participants that is also exploring the link between lifestyle, diet and disease. For more info you can check the Loma Linda University Website (1).
The main general traits of all Adventists in regards to their dietary habits are drinking plenty of water, snacking on nuts and eating light early dinners. The latter seems to improve sleep and lowers BMI (Body Mass Index), as well as giving the body the opportunity to spend longer hours on repair mode, which is also health promoting.
As we have just seen, all The Blue Zones follow a diet centred around plant foods. They mainly eat legumes and vegetables, fruits, whole grains and nuts, with only small amounts of animal based foods to complement their plant based diets. They don’t eat large meals and don’t binge. They eat the right amount of daily calories, if not slightly less. They have early dinners and leave at least twelve hours between dinner and breakfast. They are the living proof that a whole foods plant based diet is the healthiest way of eating for human beings. There isn’t any other diet scientifically proven to keep us humans, away from chronic illness, healthy and active until our 90s and 100s.