People in the so-called ‘Blue Zones’ — a term coined by National Geographic Fellow and journalist Dan Buettner — are renowned for their exceptional longevity and remarkably low rates of chronic diseases. These regions, which include Okinawa (Japan), Sardinia (Italy), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Ikaria (Greece), and Loma Linda (California, USA), have become the focus of extensive research to unveil the secrets to a long and healthy life.
Unsurprisingly, a significant part of these secrets lies in their dietary habits. Let’s explore how to eat like a Blue Zoner.
1. Favor Plant-Based Foods
Blue Zone inhabitants primarily consume plant-based diets rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. In Okinawa, sweet potatoes comprise a significant part of the diet. In Sardinia and Ikaria, beans, lentils, and chickpeas are staple foods. These foods are high in fiber, antioxidants, and essential nutrients, all contributing to overall health and longevity.
2. Limit Meat Consumption
Most Blue Zoners aren’t strictly vegetarian but consume meat sparingly, viewing it more as a celebratory food or a side dish rather than the main focus of their meals. On average, Blue Zone diets incorporate meat—mostly lean, organic, or free-range—only a handful of times per month.
3. Incorporate Healthy Fats
The Blue Zone diets are rich in healthy fats, particularly monounsaturated fats, from sources like olive oil, avocados, and nuts. For instance, the traditional Greek diet, as followed in Ikaria, is rich in olive oil, a vital component of the Mediterranean diet known for its heart-health benefits.
4. Eat a Variety of Fruits and Vegetables
Residents of Blue Zones consume a wide variety of locally grown and seasonal fruits and vegetables. These foods contain different antioxidants and nutrients that boost the immune system and protect against chronic illnesses.
5. Moderate Caloric Intake
Okinawans practice a Confucian teaching called ‘Hara Hachi Bu,’ which advises eating until you’re 80% full. This practice effectively helps control caloric intake and supports a healthy weight.
6. Keep Hydrated with Water and Tea
Blue Zoners mostly drink water, herbal tea, and sometimes coffee. Sardinians and Ikarians also consume moderate amounts of red wine. However, they tend to avoid sugary drinks and limit alcohol intake.
7. Include Fermented Foods
Many Blue Zone diets include fermented foods, like miso and tofu in Okinawa, sourdough bread in Sardinia, and yogurt in Ikaria. These foods are rich in probiotics that promote a healthy gut microbiome, linked to everything from improved digestion to better immune function and mental health.
8. Keep Portions in Check
Not only do Blue Zoners eat wholesome foods, but they also pay attention to portion sizes. Instead of large plates, smaller plates and bowls are standard, which naturally limits portion sizes and helps prevent overeating.
The secrets of the Blue Zone diets aren’t really secrets at all. They boil down to principles many of us know but find hard to practice: eat more plants, limit meat and processed foods, stay hydrated, and keep an eye on portion sizes.
By adopting these principles and combining them with regular physical activity, strong social connections, and a sense of purpose—all common characteristics of Blue Zone inhabitants—you, too, can embrace the path to a longer, healthier life.