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blue zones diet where do people live the longest healthiest people in the world blue zones longevity blue zones of happiness blue zones nutrition

The blue zones diet: What do the healthiest people in the world eat?

Published Apr 28, 2023 | Updated Feb 8, 2024

Imagine being 100 years old, in good health, happy with a sense of belonging in a flourishing community. Sounds like the ultimate dream? People in at least five areas around the world are living this dream. In 2005, Dan Buettner, a National Geographic educator and New York Times bestseller, published his findings on the communities with the healthiest people in the world [2]. He named these five areas the Blue Zones. The blue zones longevity formula lies in their diet and lifestyle. 

With your lifestyle accounting for 80% [1] of how long you will live (genes control only 20%), you can make this dream a reality for yourself by building your own blue zones of happiness. Adopting the blue zones lifestyle can also help you build a better brain. 

Where do people live the longest and why?

The 5 Blue Zones that were studied include: 

  • Sardinia, Italy
  • Ikaria, Greece
  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Loma Linda, CA, USA
  • Nicoya, Costa Rica

These regions are areas where living up to a 100 years is the norm and these individuals are free of diseases and health conditions commonly seen in old age. In addition, these residents are happy, engaged in fulfilling activities and have positive social engagements [3].

Blue zones nutrition: How to eat your way to the age of 100.

Despite the geographical differences in the blue zones, their residents have similar dietary choices. In a nutshell, people in the blue zones eat a plant-based diet. These are 5 blue zones dietary habits [4] that can promote longevity and brain health: 

  1. Level up to 95% plant-based meals:

    People in the blue zones eat a predominantly whole, plant-based diet, with meat being consumed less than twice a week. Most residents grow their own fruits and vegetables, or source them locally and seasonally. More than 75 varieties of greens are grown in Ikaria. A 2022 global review found that those who ate a plant-based diet added 10 years to their life, with legumes and whole grains showing the highest benefits [5], with a 40% decrease in cognitive impairment [6]
  2. Eat beans everyday

    Beans are a staple in every blue zone area. Black beans are commonly eaten in Nicoya. White beans, chickpeas and lentils are eaten in abundance in Italy, Greece, and Loma Linda. And soybeans are a base food in Okinawa. In addition to regulating your blood sugar levels, beans also provide raw materials to make brain chemicals. In a study of 65-year-olds, those who increased their legumes intake had an improvement in their cognitive scores after one year [7]. You can start with 3 meals with legumes/week to witness cognitive benefits [7].
  3. Eat 2 handfuls of nuts daily

    Blue zones residents rarely consume processed and sugar-laden snacks. Their snack of choice are nuts. Eating at least 28g of nuts like walnuts and almonds per day was found to improve lifespan by 22% [8]. Nuts contribute to brain health by decreasing inflammation (brain damage) and helping remove the harmful compounds of Alzheimer’s disease [9].
  4. Switch to wholegrains

    Rye, barley and whole wheat are grains of choice in blue zone areas. In most places, residents opt for 100% whole grains intake. This delivers optimal nutrition with fibre for longevity and brain benefits. Whole grains have the bran portion still intact, which is lost upon refining. Bran is rich in fibre, B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium and plant compounds that have been associated with decreased risk of diseases like Alzheimer's, heart disease and gastrointestinal illness [10], thus promoting longevity. 
  5. Embrace the rule of 4

Blue zones have perfected the rule of 4. There are 4 “always foods” and 4 “avoid foods”. The always foods to be eaten daily include: 100% whole grain bread, beans, nuts, and fruits. The avoid foods include high-salt snacks like crisps, processed meats, sugary beverages like soda and sweet treats like candies. These should be limited as much as possible. You can find recipes here.

    Blue zone residents eat foods as close to nature as possible. This along with their lifestyle is responsible for their long and healthy lives. You can adopt these easy habits today and create your own blue zone at home. 


    1. Herskind, A. M. et al. (1996). The heritability of human longevity: a population-based study of 2872 Danish twin pairs born 1870-1900. Human genetics97(3), 319–323.
    2. Buettner, D., & Skemp, S. (2016). Blue Zones: Lessons From the World's Longest Lived. American journal of lifestyle medicine10(5), 318–321.
    3. Marston, H. R. et al. (2021). A Commentary on Blue Zones®: A Critical Review of Age-Friendly Environments in the 21st Century and Beyond. International journal of environmental research and public health18(2), 837.
    4. Buettner, D. (2020). Food Secrets of the World’s Longest-Lived People. [online] Blue Zones
    5. Fadnes, L.T. et al. (2022). Estimating impact of food choices on life expectancy: A modeling study. PLOS Medicine, 19(2), p.e1003889.
    6. Zhu, A. et al. (2022). Plant-based dietary patterns and cognitive function: A prospective cohort analysis of elderly individuals in China (2008-2018). Brain and behavior12(8), e2670. 
    7. Mazza, E. et al. (2017). Impact of legumes and plant proteins consumption on cognitive performances in the elderly. Journal of translational medicine15(1), 109.
    8. Balakrishna, R. et al. (2022). Consumption of Nuts and Seeds and Health Outcomes Including Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes and Metabolic Disease, Cancer, and Mortality: An Umbrella Review. Advances in Nutrition.
    9. Theodore, L.E. et al. (2020). Nut Consumption for Cognitive Performance: A Systematic Review. Advances in Nutrition, 12(3), pp.777–792.
    Wu, H. et al. (2015). Association between dietary whole grain intake and risk of mortality: two large prospective studies in US men and women. JAMA internal medicine175(3), 373–384.

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