By identifying what he calls the “Blue Zones,” National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner has pinpointed (and thoroughly researched) the regions of the world where people live the longest.
From Ikaria, Greece and Nicoya, Costa Rica to Okinawa, Japan to and Sardinia, Italy, years of investigative research have helped to identify the diets and lifestyle habits of people who, on average, are living to an age of 100 at a rate 10 times greater than in the United States.
Surprisingly, though, one Blue Zone is actually located within the United States. According to Buettner’s research, members of the Adventist community in Loma Linda, California outlive the average American by 10 years.
So, in addition to living active, socially-engaged lives, what types of healthful, nutritious foods are people from these areas including in their diets?
Here’s a look at some of their staple items as identified by Buettner and a few other researchers.
1. Olive Oil — Ikaria, Greece
Buettner reported that the Ikarian diet consisted mainly of vegetables harvested from their gardens, legumes, leafy greens and “plenty” of olive oil. “Their diet was also typical: a breakfast of goat’s milk, wine, sage tea or coffee, honey and bread,” Buettner wrote. “Lunch was almost always beans (lentils, garbanzos), potatoes, greens (fennel, dandelion or a spinachlike green called horta) and whatever seasonal vegetables their garden produced; dinner was bread and goat’s milk.” Additionally, according to Buettner, Ikarians are known for drinking many antioxidant-rich herbal teas made with ingredients like wild mint or rosemary.
2. Fish — Okinawa, Japan
When Michael Booth, a reporter for The Guardian, visited Okinawa to investigate the population’s diet, he was fed “rice and tofu, bamboo shoots, seaweed, pickles, small cubes of pork belly and a little cake at the local ‘longevity café.’” Dr. Craig Willcox, co-author of The Okinawa Program and a long-time researcher of the Okinawan diet told Booth, "The Okinawans have a low risk of arteriosclerosis and stomach cancer, a very low risk of hormone-dependent cancers, such as breast and prostate cancer. They eat three servings of fish a week, on average ... plenty of whole grains, vegetables and soy products too, more tofu and more konbu seaweed than anyone else in the world, as well as squid and octopus, which are rich in taurine – that could lower cholesterol and blood pressure."
3. Goat’s Milk — Sardinia, Italy
The Sardinian people eat a mostly plant-based diet for the majority of their lives, Buettner told Today reporters Linda Carroll and Jake Whitman.. However, according to a report from NPR, when Buettner worked with a researcher to dig deeper into the Sardinian lifestyle, they found that the area’s shepherds, who drive livestock from the mountains to the plains, were most likely to live to 100. According to Buettner, the shepherds eat lots of goat’s milk and sheep’s cheese. “Also, a moderate amount of carbs to go with it, like flat bread, sourdough bread and barley,” NPR reporter Eliza Barclay wrote. “And to balance those two food groups out, Sardinian centenarians also eat plenty of fennel, fava beans, chickpeas, tomatoes, almonds, milk thistle tea and wine from Grenache grapes.”
4. Fruits and Vegetables — Loma Linda, California
According to The Guardian, people living in this community mainly follow a vegetarian diet, and NPR reports their food choices are somewhat “biblical,” with a large focus placed on grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables. Some eat small amounts of fish and most avoid non-natural sugars entirely. (Pictured here, Fresh strawberries at a street market; Loma Linda, California.)
5. Beans — Nicoya, Costa Rica
Beans are a staple in the Nicoyan diet, according to The Guardian, and Buettner says the “big secret” is the “three sisters” of Meso-American agriculture: beans, corn and squash. “Those three staples, plus papayas, yams, bananas and peach palms (a small Central American oval fruit high in vitamins A and C), are what fuel the region's elders over the century,” NPR reported.