December 09, 2018
Selection of healthy food

Blue Zones: Who Eats What?

by Jeanine Barone  

The diets and lifestyles of the long-lived people in Blue Zones have many things in common, but the specifics depend on the location.

Okinawa

Though we think of Japan as a country with high seafood consumption, on Okinawa only 1 percent of the diet consists of fish. The traditional Okinawan diet—lower in calories than typical American diets—includes lots of soy, sweet potato, goya (bitter melon), brown rice, seaweed, shiitake mushrooms, and turmeric (as a spice and tea). Pork (all cuts of the pig, not just the lean ones) is a big part of the diet. Elder Okinawans have typically been lean throughout their lives. At meals, they eat only until they are 80 (not 100) percent full, a Confucian practice known as hara hachi bu.

They also have a sense of purpose (referred to as ikigai) and a strong social network (moai) that provides emotional, spiritual, and financial support. Physical activity is a natural part of their lives. People in their 90s (and even older) can be seen riding mountain bikes; practicing karate, kendo, or tai chi; working in the garden; and even playing soccer. Celebrations are held at age 99, with commemorative family photos taken.

Sardinia

The traditional Sardinian diet is low in calories and consists largely of whole grains, beans, and potatoes that are grown locally, along with nuts, herbs, small amounts of fruit, little meat, some sheep or goat cheese, limited wine, and no fish. In present-day Sardinia, however, the diet veers from the traditional, with a lot of olive oil, more fish and meat, fewer beans and potatoes, and more calories—similar to the Mediterranean diet we often associate with the rest of Italy.

Ikaria

On Ikaria, Greece, the traditional diet is rich in vegetables and fruits and includes legumes, some fish, olive oil, red wine, and limited amounts of meat, sugar, and dairy (except for goat milk). Relatively few people smoke.

Nicoya Peninsula

The Nicoyan diet in Costa Rica is rich in corn and beans as well as colorful fruits such as marañón, the fruit of the cashew tree that’s rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants. The diet is high in fiber and low in dairy.

Loma Linda

Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda typically avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. Those who are consistently vegetarian (about 40 percent of that population compared to 5 percent of the total U.S. population) have a diet that’s rich in legumes (including soy), nuts, and whole grains.