The blue zones diet: What do the healthiest people in the world eat?
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 . 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%  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 .
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  that can promote longevity and brain health:
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 , with a 40% decrease in cognitive impairment 
Eat beans everydayBeans 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 . You can start with 3 meals with legumes/week to witness cognitive benefits .
Eat 2 handfuls of nuts dailyBlue 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% . Nuts contribute to brain health by decreasing inflammation (brain damage) and helping remove the harmful compounds of Alzheimer’s disease .
Switch to wholegrainsRye, 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 , thus promoting longevity.
Embrace the rule of 4
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.
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- Buettner, D., & Skemp, S. (2016). Blue Zones: Lessons From the World's Longest Lived. American journal of lifestyle medicine, 10(5), 318–321.
- 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 health, 18(2), 837.
- Buettner, D. (2020). Food Secrets of the World’s Longest-Lived People. [online] Blue Zones
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