You Should Know About the Blue Zones

You Should Know About the Blue Zones

What are Blue Zones?
I think this research is really cool. Dr. Dan Buettner is a researcher and writer who has identified 5 areas in the world where people seem to live, on average, significantly longer and healthier than the rest of the world, and he has studied what makes these people unique. There are some solid insights we can use to help us live healthier lives.

The five Blue Zone regions he identified are:
•    Sardinia, Italy
•    Okinawa, Japan
•    Loma Linda, California (Seventh-Day Adventist community)
•    Icaria, Greece
•    Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

Take Away Lessons
Dr. Buettner reported 9 lessons related to the lifestyles of the Blue Zone cultures. These are factors that are common among the 5 Blue Zone cultures, and seem to contribute to their longevity:

1.    Moderate, regular physical activity. They generally have low to moderate intensity activity but frequent throughout the day. Think lots of walking, getting up and down off of the ground, and food collection and preparation.
2.    Living with purpose. They know why they get up each morning.
3.    Stress reduction. They have daily rituals to reduce stress part of culture (think taking one hour to nap, read, or otherwise decompress).
4.    Moderate calorie intake. The Okinawans have an expression, hara hachi bu, which roughly means stop eating when you are 80% full.
5.    Plant-based diet. They eat mostly plants, and commonly legumes (beans) are a major component of the diet.
6.    Moderate alcohol intake. Alcohol is consumed in 4 of 5 of the Blue Zones, but limited to mainly one 5-oz. glass wine per day. (The Loma Linda people do not consume alcohol.)
7.    Engagement in spirituality or religion. Belonging to a faith group and attending services is associated with increased lifespan.
8.    Engagement in family life. They put family concerns ahead of other concerns.
9.    Engagement in social life. People of all ages are socially active and part of the community.

A fundamental conclusion of the research is that people in these cultures don't have to "choose" to be healthy. Their lifestyle is such that regular walking, nutritious food, and good social interaction are part of the culture. Healthy choices are engineered into the lifestyle. Our society generally is not this way. We have engineered comfort into our lives, sometimes at the expense of our health (for example, the TV remote reduced our energy expenditure by 50 calories per day!).

10 Guidelines for Blue Zones Eating
The suggestions came from the book "Blue Zones Solution*" and were common factors seen among the Blue Zone cultures.
For me, I think they are best viewed not as hard and fast rules to follow, but rather suggestions we can use to say, "Hey, what I can I take from these to use in my own life?" Feel free to pick and choose what seems most realistic and approachable for you. The book goes into extensive detail about each step regarding practical ways to use the guidelines in your own life.
Blue Zones Food Guidelines:

1.    Plant Slant. See that 95% of your food comes from a plant or plant product.
2.    Retreat from Meat. Consume meat no more than twice per week.
3.    Fish is Fine. Eat up to 3 ounces of fish daily.
4.    Diminish Dairy. Minimize your consumption of cow's milk, cheese, butter, and dairy products. (This one is hard for me personally!)
5.    Occasional Egg. Eat no more than 3 eggs per week. (Hard personally!)
6.    Daily Dose of Beans. Eat at least a half cup of beans daily. (Okay, here's one that I've been trying and I like! In the past two weeks I've made each of these - lentils and black beans - and they are delicious. I like them for breakfast with about 2 cups of greens and some raw carrot for texture.)
7.    Slash Sugar. Consume no more than 7 added teaspoons per day.
8.    Snack on Nuts. Eat two handfuls of nuts per day.
9.    Sour on Bread. Replace common bread with 100% whole wheat or sourdough.
10.    Go Wholly Whole. Eat foods that are recognizable for what they are. That is, something typically with one ingredient, raw, cooked, ground, or fermented, and not highly processed

Four Always and Four to Avoid
Here is another list I thought intriguing. This also came from the book "Blue Zones Solution*" and comes from a section on making the kitchen as friendly as possible to making healthy diet choices. It is a list of four foods to always have available, and four foods to always avoid (don't have them in the house). Here they are:

Four Always:
•    100% whole wheat bread (or sourdough bread). I was surprised by this one, with our culture's anti-carb bent. The idea was that bread can be a part of the diet, in moderation, but it should be whole-wheat or sourdough which have lower gluten content and lower glycemic index. Best is if you make it from scratch yourself!
•    Nuts. A handful per day.
•    Beans. High in fiber and nutrients.
•    Fruits. Whole fruit, not juices or dried fruit.

Four to Avoid:
•    Sugar-sweetened beverages. Enough said.
•    Salty snacks. Think anything in a box or bag like crackers, pretzels, chips, etc.
•    Processed meats. Blue Zone cultures eat small portions of meat (except Loma Linda - vegetarian) about 4-5 times per month!
•    Packaged sweets. Cookies, pastry, etc.

Concluding Remarks
As you  keep in mind that my general approach is to find a nutrition plan that works for you, the Blue Zones approach is just one option I've been exploring. So, if you've cut out bread and are making great strides, please don't feel like you need to add whole wheat bread back in. Keep going with what works!

Overall, I think the Blue Zones cultures are worth knowing about and exploring, as there are practical lessons we can use in our own lives easily. If you would like more information about Blue Zones and health, try these links here and here.

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* Affiliate link. If you make a purchase using this link, I may receive a small commission from Amazon. My foremost concern is your trust, and I won’t recommend anything that I don’t think is worth your time and money.


Christopher Fox