In old age, chronic diseases are becoming more common. According to health experts, genetics plays a crucial role in defining your age and risk of diseases. On the hand, your lifestyle also has an important influence on your lifespan. Some places in the world are known as “blue zones” or "blue zone diet". This term refers to those geographical areas in the world where people have a low risk of chronic diseases and live longer.
This article discusses the common features of the blue zone diet and lifestyle. And also defines why blue zone people live longer than the rest of the world.
What are blue zones?
It is a non-specific term that refers to all geographical areas where old people live an exceptionally long life. This term was first used by an author Dan Buettner, who studied the blue zone areas of the world. These areas are known as blue zone because during the study Dan Buettner and his colleagues drew a blue circle around them on a map.
In the book “The Blue Zone”, author Buettner has described the 5 blue zone areas of the world such as:
- Ogliastra (Sardina, italy) This area is called the home of the oldest men in the world. It contains a lot of mountains, where people work on farms and drink more red wine.
- Icaria (Greece) It is an island where people consume a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in organic vegetables, olive oil and red wine.
- Okinawa (Japan) This region is called the home of the oldest women in the world, where they eat soy-based food and do exercise (tai chi).
- The Seventh-day Adventists (USA) It is a place of a religious group of people, who consume a strict vegan diet and live in night-tight communities.
- Nicoya; the elderly Nicoyans of the Blue Zone consume a mostly plant-based diet, relying heavily on beans, maize, and vegetables, as well as antioxidant-rich tropical fruit, to stay healthy.
Several studies have shown that all these areas contain a large number of centenarians and nonagenarians, people aged 100 and 90, respectively.
Blue zone diet
Most people living in blue zones consume 95% plant foods. Although some are not strict vegans and consume meat 5 times a month. Research has shown that avoiding meat and its products can significantly reduce the risk of cancer and heart diseases.
The Blue zone diet is typically high in the following foods:
The blue zone diet is rich in numerous minerals, vitamins, and fiber. Consuming five servings of fruits and vegetables daily can prevent several chronic diseases.
Whole grains contain a high amount of fiber. They can control blood pressure, which is associated with colorectal cancer and death.
Legumes include chickpeas, beans, lentils and beans, and are high in protein and fiber. A high intake of legumes can lower the mortality rate.
Nuts are high in healthy fats (mono and polyunsaturated fats), protein and fiber. In combination with a nutritious diet, nuts can reverse metabolic diseases and reduce the mortality rate.
Blue zone diet food list
If you're following the blue zone diet plan, you should:
- Set your macronutrients to the following allocation: 65% carbs, 20% percent fats, and 15% of proteins.
- Prioritize plant-based foods by making 95% of your food consumption from plant-based sources, while the remaining 5% can be animal products.
- Pay close attention to how you feel, and stop eating when you reach about 80% satiety.
Blue zone diet protein options:
- All types of legumes, including red beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, fava beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts.
- Spread out beans consumption across breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Soy proteins such as Tofu
- 5% of total protein intake could be animal meats with a priority to fish meats.
- Limit poultry meat intakes such as chicken and turkey.
- Completely avoid red meats such as Beef and Pork and processed food.
Blue zone diet fats choices:
- Olive oil
- Nuts and nut butter
- Sesame oil
- Limit or completely avoid trans fats that are highly present in processed food, margarine, and hydrogenated oils.
Blue zone diet fruits and vegetable choices:
- Prioritize fresh whole fruits and vegetables. The top priority choices are leafy greens like spinach, kale, beet and turnip greens, chard, and collards.
- Seasonal fruits and vegetables, sea greens, and vegetables such as seaweed, kelp, and mushrooms are also good choices.
- Limit or completely avoid fruit juices.
Blue zone diet bread and grains choices:
- Prioritize whole-grain bread, sourdough bread, ground corn
- Eat brown rice, oatmeal, chia, and quinoa
- Limit or completely avoid white bread, pasta, crackers, and processed snacks.
Blue zone diet diary products list:
- Prioritize unsweetened plant-based milk such as soy milk, almond milk, and oat milk.
- Consume moderately Sheep's and goat's milk products such as feta cheese and Pecorino cheese.
- Limit egg intake to 3 times weekly
- Completely avoid cow's milk and its dairy products.
Blue zone diet beverages choices:
- Green tea
- Herbal teas
- Red wine
- Completely avoid sweetened beverages and alcoholic beverages other than natural red wine.
Blue zone diet flavoring options:
- Limit table salt intake and lower sugar consumption.
- Replace salt with Mediterranean herbs, milk thistle, rosemary, turmeric, lemon, garlic, and miso.
Six longevity takeaways
Restrict calorie intake
Restriction of calories for a long time can increase longevity. An animal study has shown that monkeys consuming 30% fewer calories have more lifespan than others.
One more study found that eating slowly can enhance the feeling of fullness and reduce hunger as compared to those who eat rapidly. This is because hormones that make you feel full reach their maximum level 20 minutes after you consume food.
Therefore, by eating slowly you consume fewer calories and feel satisfied for a long time.
In addition to calorie restriction, fasting is also beneficial for your health. Like, Icarian are orthodox Christians, which is a religious group and they fast on religious holidays for the whole year. A study has shown that religious fasting can reduce body mass index (BMI) and total serum cholesterol. Moreover, intermittent fasting that includes fasting for some specific hours in a day can also result in a decline in blood pressure, body weight and cholesterol.
Consume alcohol moderately
Another dietary pattern of blue zone people is the consumption of alcohol in moderation. Several studies have depicted that consuming one or two drinks daily can decrease the mortality rate associated with heart problems.
The positive effects of moderate alcohol intake mainly rely on the type of alcohol. For example, red wine is the best because it is high in antioxidants. That’s why the consumption of red wine in people of Sardinian and Icarian blue zones is common. But benefits are only in moderate consumption and high intake can result in death.
Do exercise daily
In the Blue zones, people don’t do exercise in the gym, it's built in into their daily routine through walking, gardening and cooking.
A study done on Sardinian and the Blue Zone diet men has found that their long life is due to raising farm animals and walking long distances.
Get proper sleep
Besides exercise, adequate and proper sleep is also associated with healthy and longer life. People living in the blue zone get enough sleep and also have at least one daytime nap. Several studies have depicted that lack of proper sleep can result in stroke, hypertension and heart problems. In the blue zone, people do not sleep and awake on set hours. They just sleep as much as their body tells them to.
A review of 35 studies has found that “siestas” (daytime naps) do not harm human health. However, its duration matters. A nap of thirty minutes is beneficial, but longer than this can leads to heart issues.
Keep your social network healthy
Your social circle, also known as “moai” can significantly affect your health. Like, if you have obese friends then you have more chance of getting obese by socially accepting the weight gain.
The bottom line
What is the blue zone diet and what are blue zone? A region of the oldest and healthiest individuals in the world. Although their lifestyle is different, such as consuming natural and plant-based foods. Drink alcohol moderately, exercise daily, get adequate sleep and have a healthy social network. All these factors result in the prevention of diseases and a longer life span. So, by incorporating all these factors into your life, you can also add some healthy years to your life. Here are 11 more longevity hacks to help add some healthy years.