When people like beloved Betty White live to be nearly 100 years old, one can’t help but wonder, “What was their secret?” Although genetics plays an important role in a person’s lifespan, we also know that lifestyle makes a huge difference.
It was this topic that inspired Dan Buettner to research the areas of the world where people live the longest. He found five regions of the globe that have the highest concentrations of centenarians, known as blue zones, and from there he investigated what they all have in common.
These regions include Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, Ikaria in Greece, Nicoya in Costa Rica and Loma Linda in California. After extensive research into their diet, movements, and daily practices, Buettner developed what is known as the Blue Zone Diet.
Keep reading to learn more about some of the eating habits practiced by the world’s longest-lived people, and for more Blue Zone-inspired tips, check out 9 Foods The World’s Longest-Lived People Eat Every Day .
One of the markers of the five Blue Zone regions is eating largely plant-based, which the official Blue Zone website calls “plant inclination.”
For example, according to a National Geographic article covering the Blue Zones, Loma Linda residents eat a diet of about 27% fruit and 33% vegetables, with only about 4% coming from meat.
For the Icarians (in Greece), 20% of their daily intake consists of vegetables, 17% of green vegetables specifically, 11% of legumes, 6% of fish and only 5% of meat.
That doesn’t mean you have to go completely vegetarian, but these communities prove that you don’t need meat every day to live a healthy life.
According to American Journal of Lifestyle Medicinethe meat (usually pork) is eaten on average about five times a month and the serving size is no larger than a deck of cards.
For those trying to emulate some of the eating habits practiced by the longest living people, it is recommended that beans be the center of some of your meals, using them as a substitute for the meat you would have as your main course.
The five blue zone regions consume beans or pulses as a central part of their diet, and the Blue Zones Scheme website states that these communities eat about four times the amount of beans that Americans eat on average.
Unfortunately, we could use more beans in our daily diet because their health benefits are insurmountable. A 2021 study published in Nutrients confirms that consuming beans (as part of a plant-based diet) is associated with better cardiovascular health, reduced inflammation, and may even help boost your immune system to help fight disease.
Try this healthy black bean and sweet potato taco recipe.
Another interesting thing about these five regions of the world is that they not only put intention into the specific food they eat, but they place care into their relationship to food.
Okinawans practice 80% rule for thousands of years, which involves only eating until they are about 80% full. They reserve space for the remaining 20%, recognizing that they don’t always need to fill it.
For many Americans, this practice may seem strange and difficult to achieve. But for the Okinawa community, that 20% difference is one of the ways they stay healthy and content.
Eating healthy fats instead of unhealthy fats is something the world’s longest living people have in common. For example, the Seventh-day Adventist community in Loma Linda regularly consumes avocados, nuts, and salmon, while the Sardinians get their healthy fats from olive oil.
Replacing things like butter and margarine with a healthy fat like extra virgin olive oil can help improve your overall health, and studies show that extra virgin olive oil can help reduce inflammation and improve the health of your arteries.
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Along with healthy fats, plenty of vegetables, and daily servings of beans, the world’s longest-lived people also eat plenty of whole grains. Indeed, according to National geographicNicoyans get 26% of their daily intake from cereals, and in Sardinia it’s 47%!
As for specific whole grains, Blue Zone Diet Researchers found that all five regions ate grains with less gluten than those often eaten in America. For example, they eat less wheat and focus more on barley, oats and brown rice.
It’s certainly no surprise, because grains like oats are some of the healthiest foods you can eat for your weight, your gut, and to reduce chronic inflammation.