Did you know that your longevity only concerns 25% attributable to genetics? It turns out that your lifestyle choices, including your diet, can play a major role in how long you live. Residents of the “blue zones” – which include Okinawa, Sardinia, Nicoya, Icaria and Loma Linda – are well aware of this. Due to their healthy eating habits, they have a larger population of centenarians (people over 100) than anywhere else in the world.
“Following blue zone eating habits is a method proven for centuries to promote longevity, connection, and energy,” says Lexi Endicott, Dt.P. and culinary nutrition specialist at Culinary Nutrition Snack. “You can start adopting these dietary principles at age 2 or 92; it’s never too early or too late to make food choices that support your long-term health. Not only do the blue zone dietary principles help you live longer and healthier, but they also naturally support a longer and healthier life for our planet, a double win!”
Just as you can take inspiration from Blue Zone residents on what to eat, you can also take inspiration from them on what not to eat. Below, registered dietitians share some eating habits you’ll want to avoid if you want to live longer.
It’s too easy to overdo snacks when you’re bored or distracted. For example, if you watch Netflix or work at your desk and eat straight from the bag or box, you may find that you frequently eat far more than one serving size.
“When you mindlessly eat, you’re more likely to overeat, and you probably won’t enjoy your food as much as you could have,” says Endicott. “In one of the Blue Zones, in Okinawa, Japan, they have a practice called Hara Hachi Bu, which translates to ‘eating until you are 80% full.’ Saying this phrase before each meal to them reminds them not to overeat, which allows Okinawans to tap into their bodies’ signals of hunger and fullness.”
If it helps, you might want to pre-portion some snacks to avoid mindless snacking.
Processed foods are unhealthy in not one, but two ways: they tend to be loaded with excess sugar, salt, fat, calories and other additives, and are also lacking in vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, water and essential phytonutrients.
“A high consumption of ultra-processed foods is consistently correlated with increased risk overweight, obesity, metabolic disorders, cancer, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, irritable bowel syndrome, depression and all-cause mortality,” says Endicott. “Blue Zone residents focus on whole, natural foods that promote satiety and are packed with disease-fighting vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients.”
Trista BestDR to Balance One SupplementAdds that some of the worst options you can have are processed meats (bacon, pepperoni, hot dogs, etc.), salty processed snacks, sugary drinks, and packaged candies.
“Packaged sweets should be avoided as they contain refined carbohydrates which are inflammatory, can weaken the immune system and affect gut health,” she explains. “Salty snacks contain preservatives and salt that increase the risk of other metabolic conditions like high blood pressure and cholesterol. And processed meats are banned due to their link to cancer and heart disease risks.”
According to Dana Ellis HunnesDR—a senior dietitian at UCLA Medical Center and author of Recipe for survival– avoiding these foods may promote longevity by reducing inflammation, a well-known predictor of chronic disease and early death.
It’s not that Blue Zoners don’t drink, it’s that they drink in moderation and stick to polyphenol-rich wine. For example, Sardinians often enjoy a glass of Cannonau red wine with a meal. Dry reds are a great choice because they are low in sugar and high in antioxidants.
In fact, a 2006 study in Nature found that reds from Sardinia and southwestern France are naturally higher in procyanidins, a type of antioxidant associated with promoting heart health. Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc are some white wines with the highest antioxidant levels.
“If people in the Blue Zone drink, it’s usually just one drink a day, and socially you don’t have to be drunk,” says Hunnes. “Alcohol is associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, such as breast and liver cancer, and early death.”
Remember the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting alcohol consumption to two drinks or less per day for men and one drink or less per day for women to prevent health risks associated with alcohol.
You don’t necessarily have to become a vegetarian to live a long life – in fact, many Blue Zone residents still occasionally enjoy meat, fish, eggs and dairy in their diets. That said, according to Endicott, the vast majority of their nutrients come from plant-based foods. Blue Zone Residents typically only eat about two ounces of meat five times a monthabout three ounces three times a week and about two to four eggs a week.
“They don’t eat animal foods the way most Americans do,” she explains. “They consume them in smaller amounts alongside many other plant foods. By limiting their animal protein intake, they naturally avoid excess calories, saturated fats and other potentially carcinogenic compounds.”
Rather than getting all of your protein from animal products, Garcia advises leaning into protein-rich beans, lentils, whole grains, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
“By increasing plant protein, you’re including healthy unsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals, and cholesterol-free protein,” she adds.
Like meat, blue zone residents reserve sweets for special occasions and celebrations. They don’t eat a lot of foods with added sweeteners and overall only consume about seven teaspoons of sugar a day. the average american consumes more than double, or about 17 teaspoons a day.
Regularly consuming excess sugar can shorten your lifespan by increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity. such as weight gain and obesity And added sugar isn’t just found in obvious foods like cookies and candies, it’s also lurking in many other unexpected foods like yogurts, cereals, smoothies, condiments, and even salad dressings. Be sure to always check the nutrition label on processed foods to confirm the sugar content, and try not to exceed a maximum of 12 teaspoons per day. When you crave dessert, do as the Blue Zoners do and enjoy fiber-rich fresh fruit that will fill you up while satisfying your sweet tooth.