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  • Writer's pictureDerrick W. Spell, MD FACP

What Are The Blue Zones?

Updated: Feb 12, 2020

In Dan Buettner’s book The Blue Zones Solution, he describes five regions in our world that have extraordinary lifespans. Experts believe that longevity is mainly determined by environmental influences and not genetics! Interestingly, all five of these Blue Zones share very similar lifestyles and diets. All five of these areas also contain exceptionally high rates of people that live well over the age of 90! The five Blue Zones include Icaria in Greece, Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica and the Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, California.

You should not be surprised to learn that these five groups eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet that is naturally low in animal products and refined carbohydrates. Mr. Buettner goes further and proposes specific food guidelines to promote longevity. He aptly calls them the Blue Zones Food Guidelines. I believe that these guidelines are very effective for weight maintenance as well. I can confirm their efficacy because I have successfully maintained my weight over the last several years by eating in a very similar fashion. (When The Blue Zones Solution was published in 2015, I was astonished by the resemblance between the guidelines for longevity and my personal strategies for weight maintenance.)

The core of the Blue Zones Food Guidelines is that 90-95% of your food should be plant-based. Mr. Buettner refers to this as a “Plant Slant.” He advocates eating plenty of beans, greens, fruits, nuts, and whole grains. He suggests eating about one cup of beans every day. He also proposes eating two to three servings of fruit each day as well as two ounces of nuts per day. Leafy greens, whole grains and other vegetables should be eaten frequently. The guidelines discourage the consumption of too many potatoes, sweets and chips. Specifically, Mr. Buettner recommends eating potatoes and sweets less than two times per week.

The Blue Zones Food Guidelines also recommend that you “Retreat from Meat.” Mr. Buettner suggests eating meat no more than two times a week. He reveals that most people in the Blue Zones eat meat scarcely, typically using meat as a festive food or a method to flavor dishes. Mr. Buettner reports that the average meat serving in the Blue Zones was about two ounces or less. He also describes that people in the Blue Zones ate meat an average of only five times per month. The Blue Zones Food Guidelines do not categorize fish as a meat! In fact, Mr. Buettner states that you can eat up to three ounces of fish, but no more than once a day. He advocates eating mainly middle-of-the-food-chain fish like trout, snapper, grouper, sardines, anchovies and cod.

Mr. Buettner describes four foods that you should always eat and four foods that you should always avoid. The four always foods include 100 percent whole wheat bread, nuts, beans and fruits. These are all foods that should be eaten each day. The four foods that you should always avoid are sugar-sweetened beverages, salty snacks, processed meats and packaged sweets. Other useful dietary suggestions include using fewer dairy products, eating no more than three eggs per week, drinking more water and consuming alcohol only in moderation.

The Blue Zones Solution gives additional guidance for everyday life. The incorporation of exercise into your routine is an absolute necessity! In fact, natural movement (like 15 to 20 minutes of walking or yard work) on a daily basis is essential as we mature. Getting adequate rest is also advised. There are many other helpful suggestions throughout the entire book, so I highly recommend you add The Blue Zones Solution to your reading list.

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