Can a ‘Blue Zone’ diet help you live to 100?

Nancy Clanton
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

There are five “Blue Zones” around the world, and the people who live in these areas are 10 times likelier than Americans to reach age 100. The name comes from the blue circles researchers drew on the map when identifying them.

“According to research published in Nutrients in May 2018, people living in these regions also enjoy lower rates of chronic disease than those living elsewhere, and their diet is believed to be a major component of why,” Everyday Health wrote.

Blue Zone diets are based on local and regional offerings while limiting processed foods, added sugars, meat and dairy, and focusing more on plant-based meals. While residents of the five areas tend to live longer and be healthier, Everyday Health reports, each place is different.

Okinawa, Japan: Older Okinawans rely on gardens, which not only provide fresh produce but also exercise and stress relief.

Okinawa, Japan, home to the Southeast Botanical Garden, above, is one of five global “Blue Zones” where people are more likely to live to 100 years old.

Sardinia, Italy: Sardinians limit meat consumption to Sundays and special events. The rest of the time they eat whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruit. They also indulge in a glass or two of red wine each day.

Nicoya, Costa Rica: Nicoya residents tend to eat a light dinner earlier than Americans do. In addition, older residents eat a lot of squash, corn and beans.

Ikaria, Greece: Residents of Ikaria subscribe to the Mediterranean diet, which was deemed the best diet of 2022. As Greek Orthodox Christians, fasts are a frequent part of their religious practices.

Loma Linda, California: Loma Linda is home to a community of Seventh-day Adventists. Its longest living residents are vegetarians or pescatarians who eat a very little sugar, salt and refined grains.

Blue Zone diets aren’t just about what you’re eating, however. They’re also about how you eat.

“One of the principles is to eat until you’re satisfied rather than completely full,” registered dietitian Samantha Cassetty, co-author of “Sugar Shock,” told Everyday Health. “We have a tendency to eat quickly and not be so in touch with our bodies’ hunger and fullness cues. It takes practice and getting used to, but you come to see that (eating until you’re satisfied) fuels your body with the right amount of food, so you maintain good digestion and energy balance.”

According to a 2016 study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, experts believe nine traits are responsible for the health and longevity of Blue Zone residents, and three of those pertain to diet.

The 80% rule: In Blue Zones, people tend to stop eating when they’re 80% full. They also have their bigger meals early, opting for lighter fare later in the day.

Plant slant: Blue Zone residents focus on fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. They tend to avoid meat or eat it only on special occasions.

Wine at 5: Although the research on the health benefits of even moderate amounts of alcohol is controversial, most people living in Blue Zones enjoy one to two glasses of wine daily.

Although Blue Zone diets are more about healthy living than losing weight, they are based on whole foods, which “tend to have fewer calories than processed forms of carbohydrates, protein or fats,” Dr. Selvi Rajagopal, an internal medicine and obesity specialist with Johns Hopkins, told Everyday Health. “So (this diet) tends to help people maintain a healthier weight because overall, calorically, they’re not taking in as much.”