If your goal is a long and happy life, then you might have to start looking at what you put on your plate. Longevity, or how many years you live, is increasing thanks to modern medicine and a better understanding of how lifestyle factors can influence health.
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It’s estimated that anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of your longevity is determined by genetics, according to February 2022 research in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
That leaves a lot of room for you to potentially increase your years lived simply by altering your lifestyle choices — and looking to the Blue Zones may be a good place to start.
In 2004, with a collaboration between National Geographic and the National Institute on Aging, an author named Dan Buettner set out to find the secret to living longer.
The team found that there were five distinct places in the world that had the largest number of centenarians, or people who lived to be 100. They also found these locations to have lower numbers of chronic diseases, like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even dementia.
They named these areas the Blue Zones, and they include:
These five locations were then deemed to be the healthiest places to live, so naturally, they sought to find out why.
Anthropologists, epidemiologists and many researchers traveled to the Blue Zones to find out what they had in common and they came up with some common themes between all of these places that might contribute to this longevity phenomenon:
For example, the Blue Zone of Loma Linda, CA is largely a Seventh Day Adventist community and they follow a vegetarian diet. They’re also the only Blue Zone that does not drink alcohol at all, per their religion.
It’s clear that it takes more than a nutritious diet to reach the age of 100, but the diet in all the Blue Zones have one commonality: They’re largely plant-based.
Eating more veggies doesn’t guarantee you’ll live longer, but the high amounts of antioxidants, fiber and minimally processed food in plant-based diets are linked to a lower risk of chronic disease.
The Blue Zones diet focuses on plant foods, with most folks eating meat only five times per month (or about once per week), according to September-October 2016 research in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.
The Blue Zones diet can be best described as a flexitarian diet or a Mediterranean diet pattern. It’s a largely plant-focused diet, with moderate amounts of dairy, eggs, fish and whole grains.
Feel free to eat multiple servings of these foods each day:
You’ll want to eat these foods once a day or a few times a week:
You’ll want to limit these foods to once a week or a few times a month:
There are no hard-and-fast rules on avoiding foods, but generally, foods that are not eaten regularly in Blue Zones include:
A hallmark of the Blue Zones diet is eating minimally processed meals — that means you’re cooking from home more. If this is new for you, then gradually ease into this: You can start by cooking at home one more night a week.
If you’re already cooking at home, here are some tips to help you plan for eating Blue Zones-style:
Try this week-long meal plan to kickstart your Blue Zones diet. You’ve got three meals a day plus snacks to choose from:
You can choose two to three snacks daily: