The diet of the world’s longest-lived people
The Blue Zones are five regions of the world where people live longer, healthier lives than anywhere else.
These regions are: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya, Costa Rica and Loma Linda, California.
The term "Blue Zones" was coined by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic fellow and author of the book The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest. He called these regions "Blue Zones" because he drew blue circles around them on a geography map.
Buettner and subsequent researchers have studied the people who live in these regions to try to understand why they live so long. They have found that they share a number of factors that contribute to their good health and longevity. To note, the average longevity in the Blue Zones is around 90 years old. This is significantly higher than the average life expectancy in most countries. For example, the average life expectancy in the United States is 78.6 years old.
These shared factors among these Blue Zones are mainly:
∎ A plant-based diet with limited processed foods
∎ Moderate alcohol consumption
∎ Physical activity
∎ Strong social connections
∎ A sense of purpose in life.
In the rest of this article, I will discuss the Blue Zones diet.
What is the Blue Zones’ diet?
It is a plant-based diet that emphasises whole, unprocessed foods. The key foods that are included in the Blue Zones diet are:
1, Fruits and vegetables
They make up a major part of this diet. They are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which are important for health and longevity.
Almost daily. They are a good source of protein, fibres, and other nutrients. They are also a low-fat food, which makes them a good choice for people who are trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy one.
3, Whole grains
Again a good source of fibres, vitamins, and minerals. They are also a good source of complex carbohydrates, which provide the body with sustained energy.
4, Nuts and seeds
These are a good source of protein and healthy plant fats.
5, Olive oil
Olive oil is a healthy fat that as it is high in monounsaturated fatty acids.
In a limited amount, fish is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for heart and brain health.
In addition to these foods, the Blue Zones’ diet also emphasises the importance of eating a local and seasonal harvest, as it is a good way to get the most nutrients from food and to support local farmers and community.
The same diet also emphasises the importance of eating mindfully, and jointly with friends and family, as these attributes can help one to eat more slowly and to savour the food and turn it into a shared experience. All this can lead to eating less and keeping the weight down, among other health benefits.
What are the health benefits of the Blue Zones’ diet?
1, Increased longevity
A study published in the journal Nature, in 2015 found that people who followed the BZ diet had a 20 per cent lower risk of death from all causes compared to people who did not follow the diet.
2, Reduced risk of chronic diseases
A study published in the journal The Lancet in 2017 found that people who followed the Blue Zones’ diet had a 35 per cent lower risk of developing heart disease, a 25 per cent lower risk of developing cancer, and a 15 per cent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, than people who did not follow the BZ diet. Another study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in 2011 found that people who followed this diet had a lower risk of developing colorectal cancer.
3, Reduced risk of stroke
A study published in the journal Stroke in 2013 found that people who followed the BZ diet had a 25 to 30 per cent lower risk of developing a stroke.
4, Improved cognitive function
A study published in the journal Neurology in 2017 found that people who followed this diet had a 25 per cent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease than people who did not.
5, Weight loss
A trial published in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism in 2018 found that people who followed the Blue Zones’ diet lost an average of 5lbs over a 12-week period.
6, Increased energy levels
A study published in Nutrition Journal in 2019 found that people who followed the BZ diet had a 15 per cent increase in perceived energy levels after six weeks.
7, Improved mood
A study published in the journal Appetite in 2020 found that people on the Blue Zones’ diet had a 10 per cent improvement in mood after eight weeks.
What is the difference between the Blue Zones’ diet and the Mediterranean diet?
As one can notice, two of the Blue Zones’ geographical areas are around the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, both the Blue Zones’ diet and the Mediterranean diet are healthy and sustainable ways to eat. They are similar in that they are both rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, and they both limit processed foods, red meat and sugary drinks. However, there are two key differences between them:
The Blue Zones’ diet is more plant-based than the Mediterranean diet, and it has more emphasis on beans.
The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, includes more dairy products, eggs, and poultry than the BZ diet.
• Joe Yammine, MD is a consultant cardiologist at the Bermuda Hospitals Board. The information here is not intended as medical advice or as a substitute for professional medical opinion. Always seek the advice of your physician