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Eating the Blues Away

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By Patricia A. Woodbury RN, MSN

If you are interested in reaching 100 years of age while still in good health, you may want to take a lesson from the inhabitants of the Blue Zones—five regions around the world found to have a high density of centenarians who enjoy low rates of chronic diseases.  Don Buettner, a National Geographic fellow, with a team of researchers, studied the lifestyles and behaviors of the residents of these five regions.  They were interested in determining what attributed to their good health and longevity.  The Blue Zones they studied were Okinawa, Japan, Sardinia, Italy, Ikaria, Greece, Loma Linda, California and the Nicoyan Peninsula in Costa Rica.

They found that individuals in the Blue Zones move a lot by being physically active every day.  They have strong social connections and prioritize taking care of loved ones.  They take time for themselves so as to relax and destress.  They have a sense of purpose and meaning to their lives. They also have a healthful eating style.

The researchers conducted more than 150 dietary surveys of the centenarians.  They came up with principles and food guidelines that we can adopt.  Blue Zones are best known for a preference for diets high in healthy plant foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

The 10 Blue Zone guidelines they developed are:

  • Lean Towards a Plant Slant.  Make 90-95 percent of your food choices plant-based, limiting animal protein to no more than one small daily serving (1 egg, 1cup milk, 2 ounces cheese or cooked meat). 
  • Limit Meat.  Avoid or consume meat (beef, pork, poultry) no more than once or twice a week.  Avoid processed meats, like luncheon meats, sausages, and hotdogs.
  • Dive into Beans.  Consume one cup of peas and black beans per day. Tofu is a good source too.
  • Include Fish.  Feel free to include up to 3 ounces of fish per day.
  • Decrease Dairy.  Populations in Blue Zones do not regularly consume dairy foods.  Consider switching to plant milks fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
  • Cut Down on Sugar.  Keep added sugars (sugar sweetened beverages, sugary cereals, desserts, and candy) to a minimum (no more than 7 teaspoons per day).  If you do want something sweet, try honey instead of other sugars.
  • Embrace Nuts.  Enjoy two ounces of nuts every day.
  • Be Picky with Bread.  Include up to two slices of 100 percent whole grain or sourdough (made from live cultures) bread per day.  Choose corn tortillas versus flour tortillas.
  • Choose Whole Foods.  Eat whole or minimally processed foods and foods with shorter ingredient lists.
  • Drink Water.  Consume six to seven glasses every day.  Unsweetened coffee and tea count but avoid sugar-sweetened and diet drinks.

Their other suggestions are to eat until 80 percent full to avoid overeating, eat off smaller dinner plates which accommodate less food and plan your smallest meal at the end of the day.  Lastly, sit down with people you care about, as it is not what you put into your mouth but it is also about that social connectedness.

Source:  Environmental Nutrition, The Newsletter of Food, Nutrition & Health. August 2018.