NOTNow I will learn that a member of my community has turned 100 and over. Following my initial fear, I immediately wonder how. Food? Way of life? Genetic? All the foregoing?
While researching healthy habits that promote longevity, I came across areas of the world known as blue zones. Strongly researched by founder Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and several New York Times Best-selling author, Blue Zones are five regions that contain the highest concentration of longest-living people on earth. Buettner and his team found that these circles share common characteristics in their lifestyle, such as maintaining a strong sense of purpose, moving throughout the day, and following a nutrient-dense diet. .
Feeling inspired by the citizens of the Blue Zones, I decided to adopt some of the practices of these communities to better understand their way of life; more precisely, the eating habits of the blue zones. Over the course of the 30 days, I made healthier food choices that involved a mostly plant-based diet filled with ingredients like beans, nuts, and grains. I also focused on managing my stress and maintaining a sense of inner calm.
As soon as I started the trial, I discovered that the simple changes I made had an immediate positive influence on my mind and body. While I am not fortunate enough to live in a blue zone per se, living like I was there was easier to adopt (and even maintain) than I could have imagined. Read on for everything and be sure to check out Buettner’s new book, The Blue Zones Challenge: A 4 Week Plan for a Better and Longer Life, launch on dec 7th if you’re inspired, try it for yourself.
What are the eating habits practiced in the Blue Zones regions?
First of all. According to Buettner’s research, there are five blue zones in the world: Okinawa, Japan; Icaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; and Loma Linda, California. These communities have the most centenarians and much lower amounts of chronic disease than anywhere else on earth. According to a 2018 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average American’s life expectancy is around 78.7 years and has declined in recent years due to the pandemic. “In contrast, those who live in the Blue Zone, Loma Linda, live about nine years longer than their North American counterparts,” says Buettner.
When he asks Buettner to describe the eating habits of the blue zones, he explains that restricting oneself is not practiced; on the contrary, consumption of nutrient-dense foods occurs naturally (read: by choice) in these regions. “The most important thing to remember is that the inhabitants of the blue zones do not to try to change their behavior to live longer, ”explains Buettner. “Rather, they tend to live long lives because in their optimized environment, the healthy choice is the easy choice. All day long, they are unconsciously, that is to say naturally, pushed to adopt behaviors that improve longevity.
For starters, Buettner says that residents of the Blue Zones eat a mostly plant-based diet with very little meat and dairy. Plus, he says they consume whole grains, tubers, nuts, and beans. To make these simple ingredients delicious, the inhabitants of the Blue Zones incorporated healthy fats like olive oil, spices like turmeric (many of which have anti-inflammatory properties), herbs like rosemary, oregano. and sage. They also practiced and honed the culinary skills necessary to prepare these foods as healthily and deliciously as possible.
As Buettner pointed out, healthy eating habits in Blue Zones are driven by an overall healthy lifestyle rather than any form of regulated diet. People in these areas eat the way they do because that is what is available in their environment and what they generally have love to eat. This includes the crops and ingredients that grow best in each region, the seasonality, and the unique culinary history of each culture.
What I learned from trying to adopt eating habits and routines in the blue zones
1. Eating plant-based foods boosted my digestive system and my energy levels.
In most areas, plant-based meat substitutes have become more readily available in recent years; many national chains even include vegan options in their menus. As I learned more about the Blue Zone areas, it was obvious that each of them had a predominantly plant-based diet. After just a few days of eating high-fiber, seasonal foods, including cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, my digestive system became more regular. I also stayed full longer and felt much less lethargic after eating a meal.
2. I found myself wishing I had discovered the delicious, high protein potential of beans earlier.
Not only are beans and legumes, such as black beans, chickpeas, soybeans, and lentils, economical, but they offer many health benefits. Legumes are high in protein, loaded with vitamins and minerals, low in saturated fat, and high in fiber. In the past, I have recognized that I went right next to the dry bean section of the grocery store; However, I quickly discovered that well-cooked, seasoned beans made an incredibly delicious meal. By incorporating about half a cup to a cup of beans into my daily meals, I found that I was spending less money on groceries than when buying animal protein and ultimately felt like I was more energetic. I’m not going to lie to you: beans boosted by the digestive system too.
3. As soon as I started snacking regularly on nuts, I didn’t miss my gelatin bears at all.
When I realized I needed to find a less processed afternoon snack to replace my Doritos-plus-gummy-bears bag routine, I admit I wasn’t thrilled. However, I quickly discovered that a handful of heart-healthy nuts like pistachios, walnuts or almonds was the most satisfying and filling snack; I didn’t feel like I needed a nap. (A big change from the inevitable drop in blood sugar I used to experience after my old sugar-filled treat.) I also discovered other ways to incorporate nuts into a dish to add protein. My favorite? Make a hearty vegan pesto sauce with basil, almonds, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of nutritional yeast for added flavor.
4. Cutting out the soda helped me drink more water (finally).
It might come as no surprise to learn that the citizens of the Blue Zones aren’t exactly Big Gulp followers. Opting for mostly water is of course completely renouncing sodas. Reducing the sugar and caffeine from soda, along with extra hydration from all the water I drank, made me feel a lot more energized and relaxed, and these effects were virtually immediate. This is probably because quitting soda helped reduce nervousness and the spike in blood sugar that I have often experienced after a sugary drink. Although I mainly drank plain water, I incorporated teas rich in antioxidants such as matcha, which have health benefits such as reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer.
In addition, I found that drinking a glass of red wine every now and then with a meal, just like the inhabitants of the blue zones region of Sardinia, does not bother me. As long as I consumed the red wine in moderation and with food, I felt I could benefit from the antioxidant properties of the fermented drink.
5. Walking and sleeping has significantly reduced my stress levels.
Another common point between the different blue zones is a calmer lifestyle with less stress. Most areas are very passable on foot, which is good for connecting with nature and the environment. For my part, I made a point of going out for at least one 30-minute daily walk in the neighborhood to breathe the fresh air and disconnect myself from all types of media. I constantly felt much more relaxed afterwards and enjoyed getting my circulation going.
Additionally, many Blue Zone communities take short daily naps and sleep a full eight hours a night as part of their regular routines. Instead of watching TV late at night, I would go to bed earlier, do mindful meditation or breathing exercises, and try to get a good night’s sleep. This simple change in my daily practice has helped decrease my stress levels, and while not related to my food intake, it has helped me dramatically increase my energy and mood.
6. I focused on curating my “moai,Or social circle of friends.
“The best first social step you can do is organize your social circle of four or five friends, called ‘moai‘in Okinawa,’ says Buettner. “Surrounding yourself with people who practice the same healthy behaviors that you would like to adopt also makes it easier to make healthier choices. To help me live a more peaceful and healthy life, I turned to friends who enjoy connecting with the outdoors and exercising together.
Although my month-long trial is over, my efforts to eat more plant-based foods, move regularly throughout the day, manage my stress, and maintain meaningful connections with my community and environment, just like they do it in the blue areas, will not. Living a long and healthy life to your hundredths sounds good, but for now, I’m focusing on the incredibly positive effects of these changes. already have on my life.
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