I have been interested in the topic of longevity and health for many years, like most people over the age of 50, one day I realized that sooner or later I would experience the ailments of the middle aged people around me, most suffering from some chronic health issue, unless I made some drastic changes. I read the book, The Blue Zones, Lessons for Living From the People Who’ve Living the Longest, by Dan Buettner in 2008. I had previously read The Okinawa Plan, by Bradley Wilcox, Craig Wilcox, and Makoto Suzuki and was aware of the 25 year long Okinawa Centenarian Study. Having a Japanese mother, I was especially fascinated by the Okinawans. One of the communities featured in Dan Buettner’s book happened to be Okinawa. From the Blue Zones book, I learned that living an active, fulfilling life well into your 90s and maybe even your 100s is a more than a possibility in places other than Okinawa. Longevity expert Dan Buettner traveled the world and studied the planet’s longest lived people in unique communities later named,”Blue Zones”, where common elements of lifestyle, diet, and outlook have led to an amazing quantity and quality of life.
The communities were: Sardinia, Italy, Loma Linda, California, Nicoya, Costa Rica, Okinawa, Japan and Ikaria, Greece
To sum it up, the longest lived people moved naturally–meaning they maintained an activity level consisting of daily, low-intensity physical activity such as gardening, walking, or hiking. They ate less calories than necessary, stopping when their stomachs are 80 percent full in the Okinawan culture. The Blue Zones populations typically eat the biggest meal of the day during the first half of the day, either midday or breakfast. The smallest meal is eaten in the evening. Although most of the Blue Zone populations ate some meat, it wasn’t consumed daily nor in large amounts. It might have been eaten during festive meals at certain times of the year, or maybe a few times a month. Four out of five communities consumed pork, but in small quantities and not every day. They all avoided processed food. They ate what they produced in their gardens, supplemented by staples such as wheat, sweet potatoes, maize, beans, whole grains, nuts and tofu. Most of the Blue Zones consumed alcohol, in moderation, although the Loma Linda Blue Zone abstained.
Longevity Eating Recommendations
Eat 4-6 vegetable servings daily, at least 2 at every meal
Limit intake of meat to twice a week, a portion no larger than a deck of cards; fish 3 times a week
Showcase fruits and vegetables—put them front and center in the refrigerator or have a fruit bowl on the kitchen counter
Eat beans or tofu as the centerpiece of lunches and dinners.
Eat nuts every day. (Be careful not to overeat nuts—one ounce is 165-200 calories.)
Other Blue Zone lessons include: A sense of purpose, reason to get up in the morning or a clear goal in life is important as well as a daily stress reliever. Chronic inflammation, the body’s reaction to stress, can promote age related diseases. Slowing life’s pace is important by minimizing stress caused by being late, decreasing constant access to electronic entertainment and finding time to sit quietly and relax every day. A major finding was participation in a spiritual community. All populations belong to religious communities, consider family is a priority. Social connectedness is extremely important. For example, the Okinawans have moais, or groups of people who stick together throughout their whole lives, creating their own mutual support network. Sardinians finish their day in the local bar where they meet with friends. Many of the centenarians demonstrated a life-long positive disposition. Buettner’s recommendations include: Identify people in your life who reinforce the right habits and live by Blue Zone secrets—people who support healthy habits, challenge you mentally, and which ones you can truly rely on in case of need. Find a way to spend at least 30 minutes a day with members of your inner circle. Establish a regular time to meet or share a meal together. Take a daily walk. Enjoy the sunshine and grow a garden.
Eating for longevity does not mean one strict, perfect diet. The Blue Zone communities had varied diets which included a wide variety of foods, however in all groups, the largest food group of the diet consisted of vegetables and fruits. Other foods included: whole grain bread, Pecorino cheese from grass-fed sheep, goat’s milk, stir-fried vegetables, sweet potatoes, tofu, goya bitter melon, potatoes, meat, olive oil, pasta and rice.
Fast forward from my initial exposure to the Blue Zones in 2008 to 2017. The city of Fort Worth, my hometown, is the largest city in the United States participating in the Blue Zones Project by Healthways. As a Blue Zone city, many initiatives are in place to promote the longevity lifestyle. Recently I have been conducted chef presentations as a Blue Zones chef. You don’t have to become a vegetarian or vegan to be healthy. 90-95% plant-based would be ideal, however any reduction of animal foods can make a difference in your health. I am making delicious, beautiful, healthy plant-based meals every day and love to share my recipes and techniques with others.