Some recent articles about seniors who are living the longest in the United States suggest that some of them lead a clean life, eating mostly healthy foods, engaging in daily activity, valuing their sleep hours and drinking little alcohol, if at all. Others enjoy a daily treat of ice cream, a glass of wine or two daily, or they shared that letting go of the “small stuff” keeps them very calm. To really understand the gift of longevity, though, you have to look to the Blue Zones.
The term is used to describe regions where many people reach 100 or more years of age. Loma Linda, California, is one such place. Other locations include Okinawa, Japan, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, and the Greek island of Ikaria. Though there is some dissimilarity among the folks living in these regions, there are many common lifestyle features, especially when it comes to diet. Research has analyzed numerous dietary studies that were conducted in these Blue Zones over decades, and the result (using data averages) showcases what these centenarians are eating. Time magazine did a great job of compiling the list. You can use these habits as a guideline to help you lose weight and to improve your overall health, both keys to longevity.
Eat predominantly plant-based foods
This category includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, seeds and nuts. People in the Blue Zones eat a daily diet filled with these foods.
Keep meat to twice a week
Try to eat lean meats, lose the skin (as in chicken) and try to include grass-fed options, which are higher in specific omega-3 fatty acids. Numerous studies suggest that a diet high in meat products is associated with an increased risk of cancer.
Eat a serving of fish daily
Seventh Day Adventists follow this rule, and the Adventist Health Study, which has followed 96,000 subjects since 2002, found that this singular habit appeared to improve longevity. Choose a variety of oily fishes and seek low-mercury fish.
Many people in the Blue Zones get their dose of calcium from cooked kale, but yogurt and certain cheeses do pepper the diet of centenarians from Ikaria and Sardinia. Unsweetened Greek yogurt is another good choice.
Eggs should pepper your diet
In the Blue Zones, eggs are consumed one at a time, and three times a week appeared to be average consumption. The American Heart Association recommends that one egg daily is fine for most healthy adults, and certainly egg whites offer protein cholesterol with fewer calories per serving.
Eat cooked beans daily
A half cup daily provides most of the vitamins and minerals you need, substitutes for animal protein, and works well in soups, salads, chili, stews and even a stir-fry. Soybeans are complete proteins, meaning they have all nine essential amino acids. Combining other beans with whole grains provides complete proteins as well.
Choose grains VERY wisely
Say no to processed grains, and choose sourdough, 100 percent whole wheat and ancient grains as your primary sources. You’ll get an array of nutrients, a big dose of fiber, and, in the case of sourdough bread, a low glycemic index choice (that means a more modulated blood sugar level as you digest this grain).
Lose the sugar habit
Centenarians from the Blue Zone eat far less sugar than we do and only enjoy occasional treats and sweets. Apply this rule to your whole family.
Include nuts as a daily snack
Nuts can have a positive impact on cholesterol, with regular consumption helping to lower your LDL. (A personal note: Eat measured portions since most of us need to lose weight, and nuts are high in calories. It’s also easy to eat several handfuls of nuts mindlessly).
Recognize the foods you eat
We are eating way too many processed foods because they are cheap and convenient. People from the Blue Zones eat real whole foods and benefit from the dizzying array of nutrients these foods offer.
Drink more water
Specifically avoid sweetened flavored waters and energy waters, which are not much healthier than sugary sodas and juices. Plain water is the way to go, and lots of it is a recipe that centenarians from these regions share.
Grab red instead of white wine
Many from the group drink one to three glasses of red wine daily, and it may be the antioxidants in wine or the calming effect of the wine that provides a health and longevity boost. If you don’t drink wine, it is not necessary to embrace this habit.
Have a cup of tea
Green tea seems to be the most popular choice, and people from the Blue Zone drink it all day long. Some of them brew it with herbs like rosemary and dandelion, which are considered anti-inflammatory in nature. They do not sweeten their tea.
Caffeine is a daily habit
Many of these individuals enjoy coffee and it certainly has significant levels of anti-oxidants.
A personal note: Researchers point to the fact that most of these individuals do not count calories, measure portions or take vitamins. This research does not discuss exercise, which is incredibly crucial to the energy-balance equation. Since many of us are struggling with weight issues, I don’t recommend eating without some attention to total daily calories, measured portions, and filling in any nutrition gaps with some vitamins. I do think that eating with these recommendations can offer a long-term sustainable eating plan, with satisfaction, taste and satiation. Bon appetite
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Known as The HealthGal, expert contributor Amy Hendel is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, columnist, and brand ambassador, as well as a health coach. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, you can find her on Twitter @HealthGal1103 and on Facebook at TheHealthGal. Her personal mantra is “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”