One diet worth taking a look at is the one embraced by those who live in the world’s Blue Zones.
These five zones are scattered around the globe from Greece and Italy to Japan, Costa Rica and Loma Linda, California. Their comparatively high percentage of residents who live to at least 100 years old inspired The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner.
The book details the diet and other lifestyle characteristics they share so everyone else can emulate them.
It highlights nine habits people in these areas tend to follow from a sense of community to active movement. Three of them are connected specifically to diet:
Plant-based meals were found to form the basic diet for all five areas, with small (3-ounce) servings of fish consumed an average of three times per week and meat about five times per month (around 3-4 ounces). Buettner recommends we eat 95% to 100% plant-based foods, limit or eliminate processed food and added sugar, and endorses seven foods in particular:
- Beans and legumes — Buettner refers to these as the “consummate superfood” and says we should strive to eat a half to whole cup every day for their fiber and protein.
- Olive oil — The Mediterranean diet as practiced on the islands of Sardinia (Italy) and Ikaria (Greece) includes this oil, widely celebrated for its omega-3 and healthy fat content.
- Dark leafy greens — These are labeled the “best of the best” for longevity, and kale, chard, collard greens, spinach and turnip and beet tops are singled out.
- Nuts — One to two handfuls should be eaten as snacks daily.
- Blueberries — Includes other “purple” berries like blackberries, acai berries and elderberries.
- Steel-cut oatmeal — The least-processed form of oatmeal is a breakfast staple of the Loma Linda group and a great source of filling fiber.
- Barley — A whole grain found to be “the most correlated with longevity” in Sardinia.
Buettner says one thing the people in these regions have in common is a tendency to stop eating when their hunger is satisfied, rather than keep going until they feel completely full. This helps to prevent the weight gain that tends to follow overindulgence.
This practice is a particular cornerstone of the lifestyle in Okinawa, Japan, where this Confucian directive has been followed for some 2,500 years.
A second 80% rule that’s generally followed applies to eating larger meals in the morning or early afternoon and choosing smaller ones in the late afternoon or early evening, with no snacks between dinner and bedtime.
“Wine at 5”
Consuming one to two glasses of wine per day was found to be common among the residents of four of the five zones (the exception is the Seventh-day Adventists studied in Loma Linda, who avoid alcohol as a tenet of their faith. Most also eat an all-vegan diet).
More recent studies are casting doubt on these conclusions. Buettner and other experts don’t say those who don’t drink should start doing so.