Eating for Longevity
Written by Elisa Iglesia, a Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences dietetic intern
When it comes to living a long and healthy life, diet plays an important role. Eating for longevity is something that many people strive for, and one way to do this is by following a Blue Zone Diet. The term “Blue Zone” was coined by National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner, and refers to specific geographic regions that are home to individuals who have lived exceptionally longer and healthier lives than the average person, including the highest concentrations of centenarians (those who have lived 100+ years). There are now 5 areas dubbed as “Blue Zones” which include Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria Greece; and Loma Linda, California.
The diets of these Blue Zone populations vary slightly from region to region, but they all share some common characteristics. A blue zone diet typically consists of whole, unprocessed foods that are high in nutrients and low in unhealthy fats and sugars. Plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes/beans, nuts, and whole grains are all staples of a blue zone diet. These foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can help protect against disease and promote overall health. Furthermore, blue zone diets may include lean proteins such as fish, poultry, and eggs, but red meat is rarely consumed. Dairy products are also limited or avoided altogether.
In addition to the prominence of plant-based foods, blue zone diets also emphasize healthy eating practices. Blue Zones are known for eating mindfully and wisely, savoring their food and following what Dan Buettner termed the “80% Rule”. This rule comes from the Okinawan Mantra “Hara hachi bu” which translates to “Everything in moderation”. The Confusion inspired mantra is often said before meals to remind oneself to only eat until 80% full. Research has found that it takes about 30 minutes for the stomach to alert the brain once it’s full, therefore this powerful mantra can used as a tool in avoidance of overindulgence and to promote eating slowly.
The benefits of Blue Zone diets are numerous. Studies have shown that people who follow these dietary habits tends to have lower rate of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. They also tend to live longer and healthier lives than those who eat diets high in processed foods, added sugars, and red meats. The key to eating for longevity is to focus on whole, unprocessed foods and to practice mindful eating. By following the principles of a blue zone diet and eating for longevity, you can improve your health and potentially extend your life.
Choosing Whole Foods for a Healthier You
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I happen to be a patient at Loma Linda Medical. One day my husband and I tried to have lunch at their cafeteria. No other way to say it – it tasted awful. Perhaps this way of eating is an acquired taste.
Hi @thisismarilynb – It can be so frustrating to have a bad meal. Hospitals and medical centers are often dealing with very tight food budgets, even though we know how important this aspect is to our health. What about at home? Do you and your husband include some of the foods suggested when you make your own meals?
Unhappily my husband passed away last August. So my meals are kind of slapdash. On good days I try to cook something. On bad days, it's just a sandwich. It has been very hard for me because shortly after his death, I had to have a complete hip replacement. Going through this alone is not for the fainthearted. Between Covid and my hip replacement I could not make plans for his commitment until October. It really wasn't until I had to leave him there that I began to grieve.
I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. I hear that you are taking it a day at a time (or a meal at a time), and that is more than reasonable. Especially with a major surgery thrown in there! I hope you have a support system around you during this challenging year(s).
Thank you for your kind words. This is my support system. In other words, I have none. Right now in California we are having a lot of rain. This makes it more difficult for me to go out. I use a cane to walk but I am afraid to walk on wet and slippery grounds. On Tuesday I had a biopsy on my scalp. Still I was able to drive the 23 miles back home. I spent most of yesterday just lying still in bed. As it's raining again today, will spend the day in the house. I am thankful to be able to live independently. I have visited two facilities that offer independent and assisted living. I do not think I could live there. I am going to stay in my home to the end.
I'm glad you found Mayo Clinic Connect! This can be such a lovely community to be part of. On these rainy days we're stuck inside (it's raining right now in Rochester too!) do you have friends, family, or community members you could connect with via FaceTime, or other virtual modalities?
I skype with my older son once a week. That is it.
You are going through the same thing that many Seniors have to endure: system failures, loneliness, and minimization by society. Still, I like your focus on maintaining your independence and regaining your health. Thank you for sharing your challenges as it parallels my own and your resolution bucks me up as I deal with hip replacements, muscle loss, etc. My plan is to live at least another 25 years and I am reconciled that those will be marked by physical pain and discomfort. It seems the solution to all of that is to focus on exercise, rehabilitation, meditation, supplements and personal growth. I hope that you find your own path and that it works well for you. You are in my prayers for restoration and peace of mind.