If you want to improve longevity, it only makes sense to follow in the footsteps of the world’s happiest and healthiest people, right? Such is the concept of the increasingly popular Blue Zones diet, created by longevity expert Dan Buettner, who traveled around the world researching people who lived the longest and maintained the healthiest lifestyles, narrowing it down to five locales: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California.
“The Blue Zones concept was created by a National Geographic journalist who found through his travels certain areas where the residents lived very long lives—many over 100 years old—and had rather low disease rates,” says Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN. “He named these areas the Blue Zone.”
The overall idea? “You will be eating and drinking based on what the world’s longest living people ate and drank,” explains Jackie Newgent, RDN, culinary nutritionist and author of The Clean & Simple Diabetes Cookbook.
Meet the Expert
- Keri Gans is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and received her Masters of Science, Clinical Nutrition at New York University.
- Jackie Newgent is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, chef, and author. She attended The Ohio State University for undergrad and went to culinary school at Kendall College.
So What Do the World’s Healthiest People Eat, Exactly?
The Blue Zones diet is primarily plant-based. “Since this is a 95-100% plant-based approach, you’ll be building meals from wholesome, seasonal vegetables, including plenty of leafy greens, seasonal fruits, and whole grains—as well as daily helpings of beans and nuts,” explains Newgent.
While animal foods are not totally off limits, there are limits to the type, quantity, and consistency at which you can consume them. For example, Newgent points out that fish, eggs, and added sugars are given weekly limits. “Fish is allowed but typically no more than a 3-ounce serving, 3 times per week,” says Gans. Dairy and meat have monthly limits. “Think 10 ounces of meat per month max—and not all at once,” adds Newgent.
As for liquids, if you are a fan of sugary or artificially flavored beverages, you are out of luck. Most people who live in the five Blue Zone regions limit their drink options to coffee, tea, water, and one alcoholic beverage. “If you like red wine in moderation, you’re in luck; you can keep enjoying it.” points out Newgent.
Who Is This Diet Good for?
Because this diet really focuses on maintaining a clean diet filled with nutritious, unprocessed foods, the Blue Zones style of eating can be beneficial to most of us. “Blue Zones can be a healthful approach for nearly everyone—especially if overweight or obese,” says Newgent. However, before you attempt to mimic the eating habits of the world’s healthiest people, she suggests consulting with a registered dietician “to make sure you’re following it the right way for, you based on your unique health needs, as well as making sure to plan it into an entire healthy lifestyle approach.”
Eating predominately plant-based, and in this case almost 95% of your meals, can be challenging for many. However, one can’t argue that all of us would benefit from eating more plant-based foods in general.
Additionally, Gans notes that following Blue Zones can be a dramatic lifestyle change for many. “Eating predominately plant-based, and in this case almost 95% of your meals, can be challenging for many,” she says. “However, one can’t argue that all of us would benefit from eating more plant-based foods in general.” However, she does point out that research does not conclusively support a vegan diet (“which this diet is almost”) to be the healthiest choice for everyone in the long run.
And remember: no diet is “perfect” in isolation. “For ideal effectiveness you would pair the Blue Zones way of eating with an overarching healthful lifestyle,” says Newgent. This would include staying active, not smoking, and keeping stress managed. “And, of course, remember that part of your health—around 20%—is based on your genes which, for better or worse, are yours to keep.”