Emulating the eating habits of the residents of “Blue Zones,” where people enjoy extraordinary longevity, can help you stay healthy at every age.

by Stacy Baker Masand

Being around to celebrate your 100th birthday seems like a matter of luck, but it turns out that there are many similarities between the lifestyles of the world’s longest-living people. Dan Buettner, researcher and author of The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest (National Geographic, 2010), explored these regions, uncovering the secrets to longevity of centenarians from around the globe. In addition to their long, healthy and happy lives, Buettner’s research found that they also have low levels of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Surprisingly, even though these people live in vastly different places, thousands of miles apart, there are many similarities in their diets—and their lifestyle. Some of his findings:

In Sardinia, an island off the coast of Italy, Buettner believes that the local’s herding lifestyle, combined with plenty of wine, legumes and dairy from goat and sheep, are their secrets to longevity. Even more impressive: The ratio of male-to-female 100-year-olds is one to one, which is unheard of in other parts of the world.

The people of Okinawa, Japan—which has the highest concentration of centenarians in the world—focus on tofu, brown rice, garlic and shiitake mushrooms, along with seaweed and fish.

 

Blue Zoners mostly eat a plant-based diet, with a special emphasis on veggies.

Buettner found that the diet of Costa Ricans in the Nicoya Peninsula is centered around beans, squash and corn, supplemented by vitamin C–rich locally grown fruits.

On Icaria, Greece, the islanders eat a traditionally Mediterranean diet, including feta cheese, goat’s milk, wild greens and wild-caught fish instead of lamb, which Buettner says is responsible for their longevity.

There’s even a Blue Zone in the U.S.: Loma Linda, CA, the home of many Seventh Day Adventists. These Californians follow an “Adventist’s Diet,” which is mainly plant-based with small amounts of salmon and no processed sugars.

Admittedly, the lifestyle and diets of the Blue Zones are not always easy to replicate if you live a modern Western lifestyle—it’s probably not realistic to give up your desk job to become a shepherd, grow and pick every salad you eat, or never get takeout. So we asked nutrition experts and health coaches to weigh in on savvy adaptations that can help you live a longer, happier life. Here’s what they said.

Practice makes perfect.
You wouldn’t try a new sport or hobby without practicing different techniques or learning new skills, points outs Ronit Kalman, PhD, a New York City–based certified health coach. “It’s just not practical.” Same thing goes for incorporating new healthy eating habits into your routine. Start with small, manageable steps: putting more vegetables, whole grains and beans on your shopping list, eating more vegetables at every meal, or just taking more time to eat. “Trying to make all the changes at once can be overwhelming and feel like a strict regimen,” she says.

Know what you’re going to eat.
Kalman also says that planning and preparing meals ahead of time can help you make good choices and stay on track with your goals. She prepares batches of food that will last for multiple meals, makes and freezes smoothies for the week, and preps snacks in advance so there’s no scrounging around for a quick fix in the office vending machine or on a delivery menu when she’s hungry.

Limit (read: omit) the junk.
Blue Zone areas generally don’t have blocks-long strip malls jammed with fast-food restaurants, or convenience stores selling processed foods. Gabbi Berkow, RD, a New York City–based dietitian and Pilates instructor, believes that avoiding low-quality junk food is one of the keys that help Blue Zoners stay healthy; she recommends that her clients follow suit.

“Limit fried foods, packaged snacks and any foods with partially hydrogenated oil as an ingredient,” she advises. “They’re high in trans fats, which raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol, decrease your good (HDL) cholesterol, cause inflammation and increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes,” She also recommends curbing white carbs and foods with added sugar as much as possible. “They wreak havoc with your blood sugar levels, increase fat storage and have addictive qualities because they most often combine sugar, fat and salt.”

Fill your plate with vegetables.
Blue Zoners mostly eat a plant-based diet, with a special emphasis on veggies. That’s not always easy in places with a faster-paced lifestyle, but it’s one of the most important things you can do to improve your health. “Veggies are low in calories and chock-full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals that are really beneficial for your body and mind,” Berkow explains. She recommends following the Plate Method, which means filling half of your plate with veggies at lunch and dinner. She also says to shoot for four different unstarchy vegetables per day, two of which are green.

Make it easy to increase your intake by having precut and precooked varieties ready to go in the fridge, which you can quickly add to green or grain salads, sandwiches, eggs and other dishes. Some examples: Steam a big batch of broccoli or string beans, or roast asparagus, tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower or carrots. Pre-shredded vegetables—Brussels sprouts, carrots, cabbage, kale—as well as salad mixes also make it simple to eat more produce.

Take your pulse(s).
Luci Crow, MS, RD, a dietitian, Pilates instructor and co-founder of Align Wellness Studio in Nashville, encourages her clients to incorporate “pulses,” aka beans, lentils and dry peas, into meals. “Pulses are loaded with protein, fiber, iron and antioxidants—they’re truly an earth-friendly superfood that can be incorporated into your diet every day,” she says. She sends her clients to pulsepledge.com to get recipes, learn how to easily incorporate legumes into their diet and take a 10-week Pulse Pledge.

Choose grains wisely.
“True whole grains have 100 percent whole-wheat or whole-grain flour listed as the first ingredient,” says Kalman. “If the word ‘whole’ isn’t in the ingredients list, the product is not really a whole grain—even though it may be advertised as such!”

In addition to wheat, look for other organic whole grains, like quinoa, wild rice, brown rice, amaranth and buckwheat.


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May 3, 2017 at 11:30 am
Category: Articles, Health, Teasers