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How to Live 100 Years: the Blue Zones Revealed!
An interesting book to read, now almost a classic, is called “The Blue Zones” which researched areas of the world that have an unusual concentration of centenarians (people reaching the age of 100).
I first became aware of this research when I was living in Costa Rica and a group of researchers came to the Nicoya Peninsula to discover that this area of the world was one of those coveted “Blue Zones” where there’s a very high percentage of centenarians compared to the United States.
What I really liked about the book was the fact that it was based on actual, verifiable research.
In the past, many people have claimed that certain cultures have lived a very long time, such as the Hunzas in Pakistan or the Vilcabamba residents in Ecuador. The problem is that the record keeping in those areas was very poor and there was no way to verify the ages of the alleged centenarians. Someone could claim to be 110 years old and in fact be only 90. In fact, this kind of exaggeration was very common.
With The Blue Zones, the researchers had new scientific techniques that could verify someone’s age, and using DNA data they could also trace back the ancestry of the people they met. Combined with verifiable birth certificates, they have located five areas of the world where people have managed to outlive Americans by often a decade or more.
A lot of people who are proponents of specific diets, such as the paleo diet, like to refer to some unproven, anecdotal advice on the “good health” of certain tribes, such as the Inuits. When in fact there are many other people who lived far longer and healthier than this example.
The Blue Zones is the first set of data that looks at populations that have an unusually high number of centenarians. Often these areas have been overtaken by fast food and the health of new generations is poor. But those people that managed to live 100 years or more are from a different era, and have kept the same lifestyle practices that they had in their youth.
Those four groups are covered in the book. But last year the group of researchers also uncovered another Blue Zone, on the island of Ikaria in Greece, where nearly 1 out of every 3 people make it to their 90s (Which is very unusual).
Before I go into the characteristics of these people, I want to point out one important point for all those people out there on low-carb, paleo, meat-eating, “hunter-gatherer” diets (or whatever you want to call them).
All of the longest live people in the world — without exception — live on a high-carb, plant-based diet!
You will not find anywhere in the world a group of people — with documented evidence — living that long and that well on a high-fat, high protein, animal-based, low carb diet.
Also, the research done on the 7th Day Adventists debunks the myth that there are no long-lived populations on a vegan diet (more on that later).
What did these people eat?
From the book: “Shepherds and peasants in Sardinia have an exceptionally simple diet, which is extraordinarily lean even by mediterranean standards”, a 1941 survey reported. “Bread is by far the main food. Peasants leave early in the morning to the fields with a kilogram of bread in their saddlebag… At noon their meal consists only of bread, with some cheese among wealthier families, while the majority of the workers are satisfied with an onion, a little fennel, or a bunch of radishes. At dinner, the reunited family eats a single meal consisting of a vegetable soup (minestrone) to which the richest add some pasta. In most areas, families ate meat only once a week, on Sunday (…). Interestingly for a Mediterranean culture, fish did not figure prominently into the diet”
Also, the Sardinians consumed goat’s milk and not cow’s milk.
It doesn’t take much nutritional knowledge to see that the diet described above is plant-based and very low in fat, and high in carbohydrates.
When a 102-year old woman (who apparently looks like she’s in her 70’s) describes her routine, she says:
“I wake up at about 6 a.m. and make a pot of jasmine tea and eat my breakfast, usually miso soup with vegetables. (…) At noon, Kamada said, she wanders into the kitchen garden behind her house to harvest some herbs and vegetables for her lunch. “I’ll use mugwork to give my rice flavor or tumeric to spice my soup, she said. “I don’t eat much any more. Usually just stir-fried vegetables and maybe some tofu.” And meat, I asked. “Oh yes, I like meat, but not always. When I was a girl, I ate it only during the New Year festivals. I’m not in the habit of eating it every day.”
She eats a very light dinner before 6 p.m. that might include some fish soup, whatever vegetables are in season, some spring onions, salad and rice. She’s usually in bed by 9 p.m.
When the researcher asks her daughter if she ever drank a Coke, we find out she never once did that in her life, and when she first saw a hamburger she had asked “What do you do with that?”
The typical diet of these Okinawan centenarian was again very simple: vegetables from the garden, green tea, and maybe a little fish, with some rice and tofu.
They also have the interesting habit of saying hara hachi bu, before each meal. It’s a Confucian adage that these elders say before they eat to remind them to eat until they are 80 percent full.
“(…) Adventists who are what we call lacto-ovo vegetarians, meaning they eat eggs and other dairy products, still are an average of 16 pounds lighter than Adventists of the same height who are non-vegetarian. And Adventists who are strictly vegan, which is only 4 percent, are 30 to 32 pounds lighter than non-vegetarian Adventists of the same height. That has a huge impact on cardiovascular disease, on blood pressure, on blood cholesterol, on inflammation related to hormones and the way it stimulates cells in the body.”
For those who think there are no documented populations of vegans in the world who live a long life, they are wrong. The 7th Day Adventists prove exactly that.
From the book: “They asked centenarians what they ate and heard “beans, rice, tortillas and fruit” over and over. (…) A few characteristics of the Nicoya’s diet stood out. Like the people in most other Blue Zones, Nicoyans ate the emblematic low-calorie, low-fat, plant-based diet, rich in legumes. But unlike other Blue Zones, the Nicoyan diet featured portions of corn tortillas at almost every meal and huge quantities of tropical fruit. Sweet lemon, orange, and a banana variety are the most common fruits throughout most of the year in Nicoya.”
An interesting fact of the Nicoyan diet is that Nicoya have the lowest stomach cancer rate out of the country of Costa Rica. For some reason, Costa Ricans have one of the highest stomach cancer rates in the world. The conclusion by the researchers was that the high amount of fruit consumed in Nicoya helped prevent stomach cancer.
If you want the full story, you can read the book, but let me outline a few important points about diet that stood out for me.
Of course, diet is only part of the answer. Other important points outlined in the Blue Zones include:
Obviously, if you’re 35 you can’t follow the diet of a 102 year old lady. But as we get older, we must progressively reduce the amount of food we eat if we want to live a long life.
The big question everybody will ask is obviously this one: how come none of the long-lived people on the planet eat a raw-food diet?
You have to keep in mind that except for the 7th Day Adventists, none of these long-lived people actually consciously chose their diet and lifestyle. It was something that evolved naturally and that they did due to the environment of where they lived.
But the 7th Day Adventist study showed that when a group of people consciously decides to improve their diet as a whole, that they can significantly increase their lifespan and the quality of their lives.
The 7th Day Adventists did not have particularly good genes. They just were part of a religious group that had the particular feature of discouraging bad habits such as eating meat or drinking caffeine.
The 7th Day Adventists who ate a vegetarian diets lived longer than those who still ate meat, and those who were vegans lived even longer. Who knows what would have happened if some of them also ate a mostly-raw or all raw diet?
We actually don’t know what would happen if a population of people ate a raw food diet because it’s never been done and documented before.
However, based on the current studies done on long-lived people with the Blue Zones, we know that:
So if you wanted to try a raw-food diet for longevity, it would have to at least meet those requirements.
Which means potentially the best diet in the world would be a diet of fruits and vegetables, with some nuts and seeds, where most of the calories come from fruit.
How many of you are ready to live 100 years or more?
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