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Health & Wellness

Healthy Eating Habits from the Blue Zones

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It’s good to be blue. Blue Zones, that is.

These are areas in the world that, according to longevity expert Dan Buettner, have the highest concentration of people living to 100 and beyond while avoiding preventable diseases like diabetes, heart disease and obesity. The Blue Zones include Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Ogliastra Region, Sardinia; Loma Linda, California, and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.

In Buettner’s book, The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People, he shares the dietary habits of the world’s centenarians.

Here are some of his suggested dietary tweaks that are worth considering. They won’t guarantee that you’ll pass the century mark, of course, but they might offer a mid- or late-life correction that may boost your energy, your sense of well-being and may even contribute to shedding some extra pounds.

  1. “Breakfast like a king; lunch like a prince; dinner like a pauper.” This old saying sums up the eating routine that’s pretty consistent throughout the Blue Zones. It’s also the opposite of how Americans typically eat, with our meals getting larger throughout the day. Blue Zoners dig into a big breakfast before work, eat a medium-sized lunch and finish the day with a light, early dinner. Snacking is minimal, a late-morning piece of fruit, a few nuts in the afternoon.
  2. Dine with Others. People in the Blue Zone, Buettner says, “never eat alone, never eat standing up, and never eat with the other hand on the steering wheel.” How you eat, he says, can be every bit as important as what you eat. Wolf down your food on the run and stress hormones might interfere with digestion while you’re more likely to eat past the point where you’re full. Try to enjoy as many meals as you can with friends and family, and when you do eat on your own, make it a ritual, eating mindfully at a properly set table.
  3. Eat mostly plants. Fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds, whole grains and beans make up the vast majority of what Blue Zoners eat. Top longevity foods include a wide variety of leafy greens, like spinach, kale, chard, collards, beet and turnip greens. Meat is consumed sparingly, as a side dish or a way to flavor dishes.
  4. Cut back on sugar. Centenarians typically eat sweets only during celebrations, they sweeten tea with honey and their foods have no added sugar. Their daily tally: about seven teaspoons of sugar. The easiest way to slash sugar is to avoid sugar-sweetened sodas, teas and fruit drinks, watch out for processed foods, such as sauces, salad dressings and ketchup that contain added sugar, and embrace fruit as a sweet treat.

Remember it’s never too late to improve your diet. Buettner points to a 67-year-old Midwesterner whose weight had climbed to 400 pounds. When he got exhausted playing just a few minutes of T-ball with his grandson, he decided it was time to make some changes. He began by watching his portion sizes (changing to smaller plates helped) and joining a group that got together for lunchtime walks. Bit by bit, he embraced other Blue Zone habits and within a year he had dropped 80 pounds. “It works,” he says, “and it’s not that hard.”

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