“Let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be food.”
-Hippocrates, Greek physician: 440 BCE
Your spoon is a powerful tool. The food you eat has amazing abilities to nourish your body and aid in the inevitable aging process. More research is being published on how feeding and treating our bodies well correlates to living long and healthy lives.
Does living until you’re 100 sound like a realistic dream? Well in several places in the world, called the Blue Zones, that’s fairly normal. This article explores how people of the Blue Zones eat, and some of the latest research on the “longevity diet.” We’ll look at what nutrients our bodies need to age well, and what foods to avoid.
Quick Facts About the State of Nutrition Today
- 93% of American adults are metabolically unhealthy.
- Only 1 in 10 American adults are eating the recommended daily fruit and vegetable servings.
- The U.S. life expectancy has declined to 76.4 years–the shortest it’s been in two decades.
We live in an age where convenience is king, which often means we sacrifice quality–specifically, in the way we eat.
Key Nutrients Needed for Longevity
There are a few key nutrients our bodies need to age well. It’s important to note that everyone’s nutritional needs differ depending on their biology and lifestyle, and these are general recommendations.
Good fats are defined as the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in our diets—omega-3 fatty acids, for example. Our bodies–specifically, our cells–love these fatty acids. Cell walls composed of omega-3s are more flexible and can communicate more efficiently. They also help your body produce prostaglandins, which lessen inflammation in our bodies.
Some examples are healthy fats are fatty fish (salmon & sardines), flax & chia seeds, brazil nuts & walnuts, and avocados.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an enzyme that plays a major role in the cell’s energy and ability to communicate with other cells in the body. CoQ10 levels naturally drop as we age. Some studies show that low levels of CoQ10 are associated with chronic illnesses like neurodegenerative disorders, diabetes, cancer, fibromyalgia, muscular and cardiovascular diseases.
Foods that contain CoQ10:
- Organ meats (e.g., liver, kidney, heart)
Polyphenols are plant-based compounds that help our bodies out in a multitude of ways. They defend us from ultraviolet radiation and aggressive pathogens like cancer. They offer protection against cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases–and ultimately aging!
Polyphenols are a type of antioxidant and they’re most abundant in:
- Fruits like grapes, cherries, and berries
- Coffee, tea, and red wine
- Dry legumes
Whether you get these nutrients from your diet or high-quality supplements, it’s crucial for aging well.
Inflammation: The Silent Killer
A hallmark sign of the aging process is inflammation—a complex physiological response that can have a significant impact on our overall well-being. It can be triggered by a multitude of factors ranging from dietary choices to environmental influences, and even the sedentary routines we adopt. When the body is in a continuous battle against inflammation, it can lead to autoimmune diseases, chronic illnesses, and the inability to fight off pathogens.
Some foods that cause inflammation are:
- Ultra-processed foods
- Red meat or processed meats (like lunch meat)
- White flour and gluten
- Trans fats
Where these might be present in your diet, try swapping them out for some of these inflammation-fighting foods instead:
- Omega-3 foods
- Vitamin C (found in most fresh fruits and vegetables)
How to Eat Like the “Blue Zones”
Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow, founded the Blue Zones when seeking out the areas where people live the longest and are the healthiest. They are:
- Okinawa, Japan
- Sardinia, Italy
- Nicoya, Costa Rica
- Ikaria, Greece
- Loma Linda, California.
These 5 areas share similar philosophies that have proven to be key to living a long and healthy life. Here are some practices we can learn from:
The 80% rule
The 80% rule is the practice to stop eating when your stomach feels 80% full. The 20% gap between not feeling hungry and feeling full could prevent gaining excess weight. People in the Blue Zones often eat their smallest and last meal of the day in the late afternoon or early evening.
Eat more plants
The Blue Zone diets' focus on beans, fresh vegetables, and a mindful approach to meat consumption emphasizes the profound impact that dietary choices can have on longevity and well-being. Beans and colorful, fresh vegetables are the cornerstones of the Blue Zones diets. Meat, if any, is only eaten approximately 5 times per month.
Enjoy that glass of wine
In the Blue Zones, wine finds a regular place on the table for many inhabitants (excluding Adventists in Loma Linda). Averaging around 1-2 glasses of wine per day, these communities have integrated wine into their routines as a potential contributor to their remarkable health. Interestingly, the wine variety that stands out in this context is the Cannonau wine from Sardinia, known for boasting the highest concentration of antioxidants among all wine types.
So What Diet Should You Follow?
Nutrition is not , and will never be one size fits all. Everyone is biologically different, thus having different needs. While there is no perfect diet, there are a few principles to stay mindful of when eating.
- Try to give your body at least a 12-hour digestive rest
- Eat the rainbow! Try for all different colors when enjoying your produce.
Prioritize local, organic, regenerative farming options. (If eating all organic is not practical for you, try to stick with buying organic at least for the “dirty dozen.”)
- When it comes to oils, only use extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil.
If you have more questions about eating for longevity, make an appointment to chat with a holistic nutritionist or functional medicine provider.