Living to 90, 100, and beyond with your brain and body still functioning relatively well takes more than just being blessed with longevity genes. From what science knows about nonagenarians and centenarians, you need a life full of physical activity, mentally stimulating social relationships, and healthy nutrition.
But what makes up the diet of the world’s longest-lived people? Almost 20 years ago, National geographic writer Dan Buttner and researchers at the National Institute on Aging set out to identify communities around the world where people lived healthier for longer than most, and then looked for common lifestyle habits that kept them vigorous in the 90s, 100s and beyond. These original hotspots of century-old vigor included Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Ikaria, Greece. The only place in the United States was Loma Linda, California, home to one of the largest concentrations of Seventh-day Adventists (a Christian denomination) in the world. By analyzing the lifestyles of these people, Buettner wrote the best-selling books The blue zones: 9 lessons for living longer from the people who have lived the longest and The kitchen of the blue zonesa cookbook based on this longevity diet.
If you want to live long and well, you might want to take inspiration from the lively old men of these regions and others. Research suggests there is a clear science behind what centenarians put on their plates and their longevity. Here’s how you can eat like a Blue Zoner even if you live in Wisconsin. And after reading this, you’ll want to stock up on the top 100 foods on the planet.
Buettner found that most Blue Zone residents ate less than two ounces of meat five times a month. (For a point of reference, a McDonald’s double cheeseburger equals three ounces of beef.) In a long-term Loma Linda University research project seeking to link lifestyle, diet, disease and mortality, researchers have followed 96,000 Seventh-day Adventists since 2002. The Adventist Health Studies found that early Adventists who were vegetarian outlived Adventists who ate meat up to eight years. Pesco vegetarians, who included a small amount of fish in their diet, were also among the longest-lived Adventists.
Since studies have proven that protein is an important macronutrient for satiety, body weight maintenance and muscle support, if you want to eat less meat you can still get your protein by eating some fish and looking for plant sources of proteins.
You’ve been hearing these tips from Eatthis.com and others for years, but are you doing it? For more motivation, turn to these long-lasting Icarians. Even though they live on an island in the Aegean Sea, these easy-going Greeks mostly eat plants. Fish represents only 6% of their diet. Nearly 20% of their meals are green vegetables and 11% legumes. Outside of tobacco use, the foods you eat have the biggest impact on your health and longevity, research shows.
Consider the findings from 2019 Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors study, which estimated that poor food choices cause 11 million deaths worldwide each year. Using data from the study, the researchers who reported in OLP Medicine found that moving away from the standard Western diet by eating less red and processed meats and consuming more legumes, whole grains and nuts could result in an increase in life expectancy of more than a decade For the young. Even 60-year-olds who opted for a Blue Zones-style diet could gain eight years of life, according to this study.
The researchers found that most people in the blue zone ate fish, but not a lot, up to three ounces three times a week at most. That’s about as much seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends for good brain and heart health. But Blue Zone centenarians tend to eat small fish like sardines and anchovies. Why? Small fish generally contain lower levels of mercury than larger fish, which live longer and have accumulated higher amounts in their flesh. A study published in the May 2014 issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the more fish people ate, the higher the blood mercury levels. Eat the blue zone way by consuming less tuna, salmon and tilapia and more sardines, herring and mackerel. Eat smaller, younger fish to live longer and healthier lives.
If you want to start eating like they do in the blue zones, do this: Eat about a cup of beans a day. This is a habit common to the five regions of the blue zone. Beans and legumes are foundational ingredients in meal planning for Blue Zone residents, so add chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, peas, bean sprouts, edamame, and pintos. All do it American Diabetes Association’s list of “superstar foods” to fight type 2 diabetes due to their high fiber, protein and beneficial nutrient content.
Make two handfuls of nuts every day. That’s what people in the blue zone do. Those of Icaria and Sardinia nibble almonds. Nicoya centenarians prefer pistachios. Loma Linda Adventists eat a variety of nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, cashews, and peanuts). The famous Adventist Health Study 2 notes that those who eat nuts tend to live an average of two to three years longer than Adventists who do not.
Nuts are high in fat, but their fats are mono- and polyunsaturated varieties that lower LDL (low-density lipoprotein), the so-called “bad” cholesterol levels. A meta-analysis using data from the Nurses’ Health Study found that replacing one ounce of nuts with the caloric equivalent of carbohydrates was associated with a 30% reduction in coronary heart disease and that replacing fat nuts with saturated fat was associated with a 45% reduction in risk.
Olive oil is another heart-healthy monounsaturated fat found in many Blue Zone meals. Drizzle it on vegetables and salads and even on bread, but make sure your bread is of the whole grain variety. In blue areas, people avoid commercially produced breads made from bleached white flour. These white breads are devoid of fiber and tend to raise blood sugar rapidly, thereby increasing insulin levels. Blue Zone bread is generally high in fiber whole grains Where leaven; studies suggest that both types support a healthy microbiome.
According to Buettner’s analysis, people in blue zones consume only about one-fifth the amount of added sugars compared to North Americans. This is because these people tend not to drink sodas or eat sweetened yogurt and other foods with added sugars. They also “eat sugar intentionally, not by habit or accident,” Buettner writes. In other words, they save eating sweets only for special occasions. And when it comes to drinks, you can follow their lead by drinking mostly water, as Adventists do.
According to Mayo Clinic. While all Blue Zoners drink tea, Okinawans prefer green tea, which is rich in polyphenols and antioxidants thought to improve brain health by fighting oxidative stress. A study in the journal Psychopharmacology suggested that drinking green tea regularly could improve memory.
To be hungry ? Try these recipes for a longer life.
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