During our recent family dinners, the Blue Zone lifestyle has come up on several occasions. My mom bought Dinner Table Doctor a copy of The Blue Zones Kitchen – 100 Recipes to Live to 100, by Dan Buettner and we have been trying out several of the recipes. Because DTD sees so many people, especially men right around his age with health issues, he’s constantly attempting to live a healthier lifestyle. As I’ve told you many times, he also attempts to convince his family to do the same, with mixed results.
Blue Zones are areas of the world where people seem to live the longest and healthiest lives. Some of these people live up to a decade longer than the average American, with the lowest rates of dementia. The areas are called Blue Zones because the gentlemen who originated the concept when studying villages around Sardinia, Italy literally highlighted the villages on a map with blue circles. Since then, the Blue Zone areas have come to include:
Loma Linda, California
Nicola, Costa Rica
In each of these areas, people are living longer and better lives, and many medical experts have been studying them to see why and how residents achieve such a healthy longevity. Naturally DTD was thrilled to receive this book. Although he had heard of the Blue Zones, he didn’t know much about them, and now he fully appreciates their lifestyle. Many of the reasons it is a healthier lifestyle correlate perfectly with advice DTD has been giving his patients for years.
Studies show that the longevity of Blue Zone residents has nothing to do with medicine or supplements and everything to do with lifestyle. These people are very active both physically and mentally. They have a sense of purpose and are involved in their community, developing relationships as a result, so they are not lonely. They are far from sedentary, since walking, gardening, cooking, socializing are all part of their daily lives.
Naturally diet is also a big part of Blue Zone success. Residents have had a healthy diet for most of their lives. Instead of eating processed foods, they eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains – all the things DTD is constantly preaching about at home and at work. The book he received is full of wonderful and delicious recipes from these regions.
Sadly, the current residents who make up the younger generations in these areas are not necessary living longer lives, and many experts believe that is because the old ways are being largely forgotten. Processed foods, junk food, sodas, etc. have all been introduced into the Blue Zones, and lifespans are shortening as a result. But the old residents have shared their experiences through the years and many experts believe the following habits can lead to a healthier, longer life:
1. Move frequently – they rarely sit for more than 20 minutes during their day.
2. Eat lots of vegetables, especially cruciferous ones like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
3. Eat beans! In the Blue Zones, beans are spiced up and included in soups and stews to become the main part of a meal, rather than meat. They are cheap, versatile and high in fiber, and you know how important fiber is to DTD! As a matter of fact, if you ever invite us to dinner, there’s a very real possibility that you will get a long and passionate speech about the virtues of fiber.
4. Use olive oil, herbs and spices to make everything yummy and nutritious.
5. Drink red wine, in moderation of course.
6. Stop eating when you are full. Enjoy your meals and don’t rush.
7. Interact with other people, whether it’s family or friends or even strangers through involvement in your community. Having a purpose and having relationships are essential in the Blue Zone lifestyle.
There are lots of resources about the Blue Zones. In addition to the cookbook mentioned above, you can find guidance for a healthier lifestyle as well as recipes on the Blue Zone website.
If you want to watch a very entertaining summary of this phenomenon, there’s a travel show on Netflix called “Down to Earth” and episode 4 is about the Blue Zone in Sardinia.
One of our favorite recipes from this cookbook is “Chickpea Soup with Lemon and Herbs” from Ikaria, Greece. It is so easy. The results look like not much, frankly, but the taste is delicious and it’s filling and so good for you. We used canned chickpeas which made it even easier. Top it with a drizzle of high-quality olive oil – not the olive oil you use for cooking, but the more expensive and robust kind. It makes all the difference. Give it a try!