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There is no miracle pill or supplement that is going to be the “panacea” for living to be 100 years old.
So says Dan Buettner, who has spent decades discovering the secrets of healthy living among the world’s oldest people.
Buettner, a leading ‘Blue Zone’ researcher, explorer and National Geographic fellow, believes the secret to longevity is much simpler: a healthy diet.
Blue areas, such as Sardinia in Italy and Okinawa in Japan — are geographic areas that are home to unusual numbers of centenarians.
As such, some believe that the key to a long, disease-free life is to replicate the eating and activity patterns of the areas’ people. Although the concept was first promoted 20 years ago by Buettner himself, it has since exploded, with hundreds of books and even a Netflix documentary dedicated to exploring the phenomenon.
However, some experts question the blue zone theory, saying it is “nonsense” and arguing that Buettner has no medical or research experience.
What is unquestionable, however, is that people in places like Sardinia and Okinawa tend to eat slightly differently…
People live about eight years longer without discernible dementia on Ikaria, an island in Greece (pictured left). Men in Sardinia (pictured right) are statistically the longest-lived in the world.
You may be surprised to learn that it’s not just leafy greens that are at the center of every longevity diet on the planet. Legumes, Buettner says, should top the list.
Legumes such as beans, lentils and peas are easy to cook and inexpensive.
In addition, they provide essential nutrients, being full of fiber and protein.
“The cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world is beans,” Mr. Buettner told the ZOE Science and Nutrition podcast.
“And if you eat a cup of beans a day, it’s probably associated with about four years longer life expectancy than less healthy protein sources.”
He suggests that the real foods that help people live long and healthy lives are “peasant foods” and “cheap things that everyone can afford.”
Fiber- and protein-rich legumes, such as beans, lentils, and peas, may be simple and inexpensive, but they provide essential nutrients. They can even add years of skin to your life expectancy.
Many African countries eat beans and rice, Latin Americans make beans and corn tortillas, and Italians make pasta fagioli, which consists of pasta and beans.
All of these dishes contain fiber, complex carbohydrates and amino acids, explains Buettner.
Professor Tim Spector, a renowned dietitian and co-founder of ZOE, explains that beans and legumes can improve our gut health and, in turn, strengthen the immune system.
Foods rich in fiber feed the microbes in our gut, as do polyphenols, a plant compound with antioxidant properties.
These polyphenols improve our gut health, which is vital for immune system health, Professor Spector said in the podcast.
“If you can have a healthy immune system, then that immune system is continually repairing your body, it’s fighting cancer early, it’s repairing cells, it’s making sure you live to an old age by catching problems early,” said the Professor Spector. saying.
Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan and Ikaria in Greece are home to some of the oldest populations in the world.
Variety is a key part of the diet of people who live in blue zones.
It’s not spaghetti and noodles that feed these healthy nations, but the spices, herbs and vegetables added to them, says Professor Spector.
For example, in Japan there are hundreds of varieties of mushrooms and onions, beans, pickles and other fermented foods that add variety to your diet.
Mixing this variety of ingredients into delicious soups and stews is common in blue zone regions.
Eating a variety of foods means you’re more likely to get the different vitamins, minerals and nutrients you need, the two experts said.
The oldest family in history eats the same minestrone filled with a variety of vegetables and beans every day.
Buettner discovered that the Melis family in Sardinia, who had nine siblings and a combined age of 860, prepares the soup with three beans, greens, carrots, celery, onion, oregano, red pepper, potatoes or barley, and extra virgin olive oil. .
Dietary surveys conducted in the five blue zones over the past 100 years show that people in these areas do not eat a large amount of meat. About 90 percent of the foods they eat are whole, plant-based foods.
Eating cheese may also boost your gut and immune system.
Professor Spector explains that many Mediterranean countries, including those with many blue zones, eat a lot of goat cheese, yoghurts and other dairy ferments.
Similarly, fermented soy products such as tempeh, soy sauce, and miso are popular in Japan.
Until about 1960, people in Sardinia ate mainly bread and cheese, Buettner explained.
According to ZOE, fermented foods can improve digestion and reduce the risk of certain diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Research has also shown that fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir, can provide good strains of bacteria that add diversity to the gut and help prevent these diseases, according to a 2018 study. study by researchers in Switzerland.
Historically, people living in blue zone areas only ate meat about five times a month and rarely ate fish, Buettner says.
Dietary surveys conducted in the five blue zones over the past 100 years show that people in these areas do not eat a large amount of meat, he explained in the podcast.
About 90 percent of the foods they eat are whole, plant-based foods.
“The five pillars of every longevity diet in the world are whole grains, wheat, corn and rice, greens and, of course, greens,” said Mr. Buettner.
Although meat is a good source of protein, eating too much red meat can raise cholesterol, increasing the risk of coronary heart disease, according to the NHS.
But Buettner emphasizes that it is not necessary to eat meat to be healthy. As demonstrated by many blue zone locations around the world, you can get all the protein you need from plant sources like beans and legumes.
Professor Spector also argues that eating meat takes up “space on the plate”, leaving less room for other vegetables and legumes that keep these populations so healthy.
A communal meal encompasses many aspects that are important for longevity, such as eating slower and de-stressing, explains Professor Spector.
Blue zone populations prioritize family and social connections and not only eat well, but do so as part of a community.
A communal meal encompasses many aspects that are important for longevity, explains Professor Spector.
In Mediterranean countries, people gather to enjoy a glass of wine with a meal and spend two or three times as much time as the average American on a meal.
He believes this contributes to better digestion, the ability to communicate with others and eliminate stress.
Professor Spector adds that studies show that mental stress can have a physical effect on the body and increase inflammation, which affects overall health.