By MDB Communications
Not long ago, National Geographic sent author and explorer Dan Buettner and a team of scientists out to discover why, in certain parts of the world, people lived a century or more. They weren’t just old, but healthy, engaged and seemingly content. Buettner and the team found seven areas in the world where people lived longer. He dubbed them “The Blue Zones.” He documented the hows and whys of this in several books, including “The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living like the world’s healthiest people.”
“This was a 10 year project with National Geographic that set out to find the pockets in the world where people lived demonstrably longer, as defined by either the highest rates of centenarian or the highest life expectancy,” Buettner said. He found one in Okinawa, Japan. That’s where the longest living woman lived. The longest living men lived in villages in Sardinia, an Italian Island. One blue zone was located in Ikaria, Greece, where people largely elude dementia. In one part of Costa Rica, people are two and a half times more likely to reach a healthy old age. And in America, it’s among the 7th Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California, that people live ten years longer than the rest of us.
The goal of the project was to find out what they were doing and apply those lessons to our lives.
“The general rule is,” Buettner said, “the longer you live, the healthier you’ve been. In those places, they are not only living longer lives, but the disabled parts at the end of their lives are shortened.”
According to Buettner, he believes that none of the centenarians said at age fifty, “I’m going to get on a longevity diet and live another fifty years.” In every case, longevity happened to them. In other words, it ensued as opposed to being pursued. They lived in environments that nudged them into moving more, eating a little better, living out their purpose, and they tended to have really healthy social networks. “It isn’t one silver bullet that helps them live longer. It’s a silver buckshot.”
Buettner took a deep dive into the diets around the world. Working with the University of Minnesota, they distilled down 155 dietary surveys, in all five blue zones. What were 100 year olds eating for the past hundred years? They distilled that information to easy guidelines. Here is what they found:
• People in Blue Zones eat a high-carb diet centered on whole grains.
It’s a largely plant-based diet with small amounts of meat just four or five times a month. They were eating a very high-carb diet. 65% of what they were eating were carbohydrates. Mostly grains. Oatmeal for breakfast for example. The longest living woman in the world, from Okinawa, ate sweet potatoes.
• Protein is supplied primarily by beans – about one cup a day. “I would argue that’s the best longevity supplement in the world,” Beuttner says. The cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world is beans. Usually lentils. About a cup of beans a day. Ounce for ounce, and more protein than beef at one-fifth the cost.
• People in the Blue Zones eat smaller quantities. The takeaway: Stop eating before you’re full.
• They eat the largest meals of the day earlier in the day – your late afternoon or evening meal should be the smallest.
• Blue Zoners do drink alcohol on a regular basis – one or two glasses of red wine per day.
• Those glasses of wine are part of a social occasion. Blue Zoners eat communally. “If you’re technically lonely in this country, it shaves about eight years off your life expectancy,” Beuttner points out. His team created small groups of people who committed to getting together for plant-based potluck dinners over a period of 10 weeks; some took walks together. In Alberta Lea, more than half of those groups are still together five or six years later.
Beuttner says, “If your three best friends are obese and unhealthy, there’s a good chance you will be obese and unhealthy yourself.”
Of course, other old-timers have different advice.
Denmark’s Christian Mortensen had the longest lifespan on record, dying at the age of 115 years and 272 days. His secret? “Friends, a good cigar, drinking lots of good water, no alcohol, staying positive and lots of singing will keep you alive for a long time.”
The British war veteran Henry Allingham had a little different advice. He felt he owed his longevity to “cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women.” He died at the age of 113.
George Cook, who gave up smoking at 97, lived until 108. He believed that garlic was the reason he lived so long. “It keeps the blood thin.”
David Henderson credits porridge, prunes and never going to bed on a full stomach.
Emma Morano lived to 117, owing her longevity to eating two eggs a day, one cooked and one raw.
Southern Belle Besse Cooper died at the age of 116 in Monroe, Georgia. Her secret? “I mind my own business, don’t eat junk food, work hard, and love what I do.”
Jeanne Calment was 117 when she passed. She smoked for 100 years. She believed in olive oil, which she poured on all her food and rubbed on her skin. Her diet also included port wine and over two pounds of chocolate every week.
Finally, 115 year old Emiliano Mercado Del Toro credited his longevity to funche, a dish made of boiled corn, cod and milk, which he ate every day.