Live Like The Centenarians With The Blue Zone Diet
- 6 mins read
- Written by: Dr. Pramod Mane
Ever wondered how some people go on to live for 100 years, or even more? Do you sometimes wonder if you would live to be a centenarian? Or are you a big fan of Héctor García and Francesc Miralles’ Ikigai? It might sound absurd, but there are ways you can lengthen your life! Even though our genes have control over our lifespan and susceptibility to diseases, our lifestyles can play a huge role too. Let’s peek into the modest and simplistic lives of the people from the Blue Zones, including the Blue Zone diet, and find out their secret.
What are the Blue Zones?
The Blue Zones are geographic regions, that are home to some of the oldest people in the world. These areas house more centenarians than any other place on the globe. This fact has caught science and the media’s attention. Multiple surveys and studies have been carried out to decode the mantra to such a large proportion of people in an area living exceptionally long lives.
Before you go on to wonder why they are called blue zones, let us put your mind to rest: the CEO of Blue Zones LLC, Dan Buettner, who was studying these areas drew blue circles around them on a map! According to Buettner, there are five blue zones:
- Loma Linda, CA, USA;
- Nicoya, Costa Rica;
- Sardinia, Italy;
- Ikaria, Greece;
- Okinawa, Japan
Let us discuss the basic school of thought of the people from these areas, including their diet and lifestyle.
What’s their secret recipe?
The secret ingredient to the long lives of the people in Blue Zones includes their diet and other lifestyle choices. Let’s have a look at these:
Watch what you eat
You’ve probably heard this ample of times, but here’s a refresher for you. You are what you eat. What you eat can not only affect your quality of life but also your lifespan. Wondering about what is the blue zone diet? Here’s are some guidelines and recommendations of the Blue Zone diet meals and foods:
- Follow the 95/5 rule:
The 95/5 rule basically means 95% of your diet should come from plant-based sources and the rest 5% from animal-based ones. Plant-based sources can include fruits, vegetables, grains, greens, beans, and fruits. You can use olive oil to sauté and add spices to provide flavour to the vegetables. You can even eat a cup of cooked whole grains daily. Limit eggs to 3 per week.
- Limit meat: Meat should be eaten occasionally only. Do not have meat more than once or twice a week. Avoid processed meats like sausages, nuggets, bacon etc.
- Fish is your friend: Enjoy fish up to three times weekly. Fish like salmon, sardines, trout, snapper, cod, and anchovies are good choices. However, control your portions. Avoid eating more than 3 ounces of fish.
- Reduce dairy: Avoid dairy when possible. You may add small amounts of cheeses like sheep (pecorino) or goat (feta) cheese to your recipes for flavour.
- Get your daily dose of beans: Eat a cup of beans daily, be it for breakfast lunch or dinner, or spread across each square meal. They are a rich source of proteins as well as fibres. If you opt for canned beans, choose the ones with limited or no added sugars, salt, and chemicals.
- Have a nutty snack: Keep some nuts handy and munch on them when you feel like snacking. Eat a handful of nuts like almonds, pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, and peanuts. Try avoiding sugar-coated nuts or the ones with excess salt.
- Limit added sugars: Consume only up to 7 teaspoons of added sugar daily which amounts to approximately 28 g. Remember, cakes and cookies are only for birthdays and anniversaries! Try and make it a habit of understanding the food labels to avoid eating packaged foods with high amounts of sugar.
- Make your meals whole-some: Try to eat only whole foods or processed foods with less than 5 ingredients.
- Roll in sourdough: Eat only 100% whole grain bread or sourdough bread, usually made from live cultures. Limit bread to two slices daily. Avoid white bread and wraps.
- Stay hydrated: Drink 6 glasses of water and unsweetened tea or coffee to avoid added sugars. Wine is allowed in moderation.
Eat 80, Live to be 100
How often do you end up eating a full three-course meal, until your pants fit tight over your belly, and you can’t eat anymore? Eating till satiation is something that the Blue Zone diet discourages. Hara Hachi Bu is an Okinawan mantra that says you should stop eating once your stomach is 80% full. The 20% gap could make the difference between weight loss and weight gain. This along with intervals between your meals can help in controlling your calorie intake as well as unnecessary munching. People in the Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening, and then, they do not eat any more the rest of the day.
Do you wake up to the sound of ten alarms buzzing in your ears? Or do you often stay up late at night, only to regret it the next morning? If your answer is yes, here’s what people from the Blue Zones do differently. First of all, they ensure they get enough sleep. People in Ikaria often indulge in naps. This helps to keep your circadian rhythm in sync and even keeps your heart health in check. Sleep can even reduce your stress levels.
Walk a mile in their shoes
The people from the Blue Zones do not go seeking out opportunities to exercise and stay active. They do not buy gym memberships or run marathons. They make exercise a part of their normal routine. Be it farming, cooking, taking care of animals, or just doing any daily chore. Something that keeps them on the move all the time, without consciously thinking about it. They grow gardens and do not have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work. This not only keeps them active and physically fit but also contributes to their increased life span. There are several studies that support this theory. A study in men from the Sardinia region in Italy demonstrated that occupational activities such as walking and farming are an important factor in increasing the longevity of these men. Engaging in vigorous activities can indeed lower your risk of death.
Our modern-day lives are riddled with stress. It’s like a nightmare that haunts you every day. Stress can be really bad for our health as it leads to chronic inflammation, something associated with most lifestyle-related diseases. These diseases may precipitate with age. Different Blue Zone residents have different coping mechanisms to deal with stress. For example, Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors; Adventists pray; Ikarians take a nap. Seek out a stress-busting activity that suits you the most, and practise it to escape daily stress.
Reading this, you might have understood that the Blue Zone life does not mean renouncing your worldly pleasures. You can very easily follow the Blue Zone diet and lifestyle. Following the Blue Zone way of life can make you healthier and happier. Plus, it can add a couple of years to your life! So why not give it a try?
Buettner D, Skemp S. Blue Zones: Lessons From the World’s Longest Lived. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016 Jul 7;10(5):318-321.
10 Blue Zones Food Guidelines Available at https://www.bluezones.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Blue-Zones-Food-Guidelines-2015.pdf Accessed on 6 August 2021
Gebel K, et al. Effect of Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity on All-Cause Mortality in Middle-aged and Older Australians. JAMA Intern Med. 2015 Jun;175(6):970-7
Lee IM, et al. Associations of light, moderate, and vigorous-intensity physical activity with longevity. The Harvard Alumni Health Study. Am J Epidemiol. 2000 Feb 1;151(3):293-9.