BLUE ZONE POPULATIONS, PLANT-BASED DIETS & LONGEVITY

 
Blue Zone populations live longer than anyone on earth and they eat a plant-based diet. They are located in California, Costa Rica, Italy, Greece, and Japan.  
 

Blue Zones are places in the world where people live longer and healthier than anywhere else on earth. On average they have lifespans 10 years longer than Americans and 10 times as many centenarians (people who live over 100 years). These magical places are:

  • Loma Linda, California
  • Costa Rica’s isolated Nicoya Peninsula
  • Island of Sardinia, Italy
  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Isolated island of Ikaria, Greece

In the book The Blue Zones Solution, National Geographic author Dan Buettner explores these areas to try and unlock the secrets of their longevity. After five years of study the answer was clear: lifestyle. Lucky Blue Zone inhabitants live a lifestyle that includes a healthy diet, daily exercise,  and a low stress life that incorporates family, purpose, spirituality, and meaning. Dan's book is great and we highly recommend checking it out. For now we'll focus on the healthy diet part.

Turns out the Blue Zones diet is remarkably similar to the whole food plant-based diet! Here's the cliff notes and some comments:

  1. They get 95% of their food from plants or plant sources. We'd argue for 100% but 95% is a great start and WAY more than the average "healthy" person.
  2. They minimize dairy consumption. The science is pretty clear that dairy "does a body bad" when vegan, paleo, and keto diets can all agree on it.
  3. They eat at least a half cup of legumes per day. We're looking at you Bulletproof, keto, and paleo. (Yeah, all three of these ridiculous diets are anti-legume.)
  4. They consume little to no added sugar.  However about 60-70% of their calories come from carbs in whole foods. The keto diet might flash quick weight loss in your face, but it's not sustainable and even worse it's horrible for longevity. And high protein diets like paleo render the same results but in a different manner. There's proven studies that if youth and longevity are what you're after, excess protein is not the way to go. 
  5. They eat two handfuls of nuts per day. Only thing we'd say is have some seeds, too!
  6. As far as bread, they only consume sourdough or 100% whole-wheat bread. We love all of the above.
  7. They avoid all processed foods. Preaching to the choir.

Eating a little meat and dairy here and there isn't going to kill you, as evidenced by the Blue Zone diet. The 7th Day Adventists in Loma Lima, California are the only group in the bunch that eat a 100% plant-based diet. We'd guess that the occasional animal products the other four Blue Zones consume are more a product of culture and historical coincidence. But again, it's less than 5% of their caloric intake, whereas the average Westerner is consuming anywhere from 50-75% of their calories from animal products. The occasional meat and dairy might not do immediate harm to the body, but neither will smoking a cigarette every once in a while, right? See our point? We cut it out as a whole. We don't need it. So why even bother? 

The takeaway here is that there's diets out there like keto that can help you lose weight. But at what cost? There's no legitimate science that supports paleo or keto in regards to longevity. It's actually the complete opposite. With the Blue Zones we have real data that proves plants are the answer, and not just for weight loss, but longevity as well. 

No one thing explains longevity in the Blue Zones. It’s really an interconnected web of factors—including what we eat, our social network, daily rituals, physical environment, and sense of purpose—that propels us forward and gives life meaning.
— Dan Buettner
HealthChris Lambrou