What You Need to Know About the Blue Zone Diet
Have you heard of the Blue Zone Diet? It is a diet that originated from five locations around the world labeled as “Blue Zones.” The locations are Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan and Loma Lindo, California. These areas are known for their populations living long, happy lives and have the highest number of people reaching the age of 100 or older. Developers of the Blue Zone Diet looked at traits of eating and lifestyle practices from these areas and compiled them into a strategy that has been adapted and used around the world by individuals who want to live a long, healthy lifestyle. Read more to learn some of the key practices of this potentially life-boosting diet!
Focus on Plant Foods
Incorporating a variety of plants into your everyday diet can help prevent disease and promote a longer life. About 95% of foods consumed in the Blue Zone Diet come from plants or plant products that are locally sourced. Some commonly consumed plant foods are greens (especially dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, chard, and collards), sweet potatoes, fruits, nuts and seeds. Beans are also a main part of the Blue Zone Diet with individuals consuming at least one-half cup of cooked beans daily. Beans are a great source of protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. The diet also recommends eating two handfuls of nuts per day.
Incorporate Whole Grains
Whole grains are nutrient dense containing a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They are also another major player in the Blue Zone Diet. Grains and breads within the Blue Zones consist of whole grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. Within these areas, people usually replace common, processed breads, found in modernized countries, with sourdough or 100% whole wheat bread. Additionally, the whole grains that are used within these populations are usually unprocessed including grains like brown rice, quinoa.
Drink Water, Coffee, Tea (and some wine!)
In the Blue Zones, water, coffee, tea, and red wine are also widely consumed and each have a unique purpose. It’s recommended to consume around seven glasses of water daily, which helps to keep us hydrated and promote proper blood flow. Coffee is also widely consumed and has been referenced to extend life expectancy and reduce the risk of mental diseases. Individuals in the Blue Zones also frequently consume tea, especially green tea, which has been shown to lower the risk for heart disease and cancer. Tea can also be brewed with different herbs and spices to increase antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. And lastly, red wine, in moderation, is a staple within the Blue Zones. People typically consume one to three 5-ounce glasses daily during mealtimes or with friends. Wine has been found to reduce stress and provide a variety of antioxidants.
Limit Animal Proteins, Except Fish
Within the Blue Zones, fish is the main source of protein. Fish provide a lean source of protein and can also provide omega-3 fatty acids, making it an ideal choice for our heart and brain health. On a daily average, these populations consume around three ounces of fish. The most common types of fish consumed are sardines, anchovies, and cod. Other sources of protein like eggs, milk, and dairy are also consumed, but in more limited quantities. The Blue Zone Diet recommends minimizing consumption of cow’s milk and dairy, and limiting eggs to a maximum of three per week. Additionally, most red meat consumption is limited to no more than two times a week and with a serving of about two ounces. People within the Blue Zones consume meat sparingly, usually only eating it for celebrations. The most common sources of meat are pork, chicken, and lamb and they are normally free-ranged animals. Limiting animal proteins, helps reduce the intake of saturated fats, which is beneficial for our heart health.
Overall, the Blue Zone Diet promotes integration of nutrient- and antioxidant-rich food choices and limits intake of saturated fats, helping to reduce our risk of disease and increase longevity. It also promotes a good balance of the food groups and encourages a variety of foods in the diet. Even incorporating just a couple of the principles of this diet can help you to reap the health benefits!
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Written by: Corey Haack, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern