Eat your way to a longer life

Eat your way to a longer life
12 Apr
2017

We all know that eating well is key to a healthy lifestyle.

But did you know your diet could extend your lifespan by 10 or even 20 years?

So-called 'Blue Zones' are small pockets around the world where people tend to live well into their 90s and even their 100s.

Their diets are filled with food picked straight from the land, locally-raised animals, and a variety of spices.

They range from a peninsula in Costa Rica eating dishes of beans and yams to a tiny Californian town where residents follow a 'biblical diet'.

Here we tell you the five places where your diet is guaranteed to ensure you a longer life.

 

1. NICOYA PENINSULA, COSTA RICA

The Nicoya peninsula is an 80-mile stretch of land largely untouched by tourists because the Costa Rican government didn't see upgrading the roads and infrastructure as a priority.

Here, residents live very physically active lifestyles and are often outdoors .

Food is minimally processed and harvested directly from the land.

Popular ingredients include lye-fortified tortillas, yams, rice, beans and plantains - and sometimes a small portion of meat.

While the ingredients may seem rich, the meals are actually very light for lunch and dinner. Breakfast is the heaviest meal.

'It's not just longevity, but also vitality,' David Katz, president of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, told CNN.

Additionally, Nicoyan water has the country’s highest calcium content, which may explain why its residents have stronger bones and fewer hip fractures.

 

2. OKINAWA, JAPAN

The Okinawa diet is named after the largest island in the Ryukyu Islands in Japan.

While the average life expectancy in the US is 78.7 years, it’s 84 years in Japan - and five times as many people from Okinawa live to be 100 years old compared to their peers in the rest of the country.

Many of the residents attribute it all to their diet.

'The Okinawa diet is a lot of vegetables, rice and fish,' Alice Ammerman, professor of public health nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told CNN.

The foods are heavily plant-based and meals are often made up of stir-fried ingredients, producing dishes that are rich in protein but low in calories.

Popular ingredients include bitter melons, sweet potatoes, tofu, brown rice, turmeric, shiitake mushrooms and seaweed.

Okinawans claim they have anti-diabetic, anti-aging, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Mealtime habits also play a role.

'The culture is not one of excess, but instead quality and appreciation of food,' Ammerman added.

 

3. SARDINIA, ITALY AND IKARIA, GREECE

These two locales each hold their own space on the Blue Zone list. But their diet is the same.

Italy and Greece are both known for being home to the 'Mediterranean diet'.

The diet combines the eating habits of countries that border the Mediterranean Sea and is marketed as an eating pattern rather than a structured diet.

It encourages followers to eat less red meat, sugar and saturated fats and to load up on produce, lean protein, nuts and other healthful foods.

Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt are allowed but in moderation.

'[Both of these regions] tend to be working the land, are agrarian and produce their own food,' Katz said.

Producing food off their own land means the ingredients are as fresh as possible. Residents also raise their own animals but, because animals are expensive to slaughter, meat is not eaten often.

According to the Blue Zones project, Sardinians still hunt, fish and harvest the food they eat and the result is almost 10 times more centenarians per capita than the US.

Ikaria, an island in Greece, has been called 'the island where people forget to die'.

The residents, on average, live eight years longer than Americans and experience 20 percent fewer cases of cancer, according to the Blue Zones project.

 

4. LOMA LINDA, CALIFORNIA

A tiny town tucked into San Bernardino, California, Loma Linda is removed from the rest of the nation.

It was founded in the 1840s by members of the Seventh-day Adventist church and has flourished ever since - outliving the rest of the US by nearly a decade.

Health is central to the residents' faith and they have strict rules on diet, exercise and rest.

Meat and dairy is all but avoided and a 'biblical diet', or the way that those who lived thousands of years ago ate, is followed.

It's a vegetarian diet consisting of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Their go-to-snack are nuts. The Blue Zone project says that Adventists who consume nuts at least five times a week have about half the risk of heart disease and live about two years longer than those who don’t.

They avoid alcohol and drink at least five to six glasses of water a day.

 

5. BHUTAN

Traditional dishes in eastern Asian countries like Bhutan use spices that have been proven to have several health benefits.

Though Bhutan is not in the Blue Zone list, its cuisine rests on superfood ingredients that have been proven by medical studies to extend lifespan.

Many entrees include red chili peppers containing capsaicin, which gives the food its heat.

A classic example is a bowl of ema datshi, the national dish of Bhutan, which blends together chili and garlic with fresh cheese.

According to several studies, the endorphin rush from the component makes it an effective remedy for pain.

Capsaicin is also used by people with the skin disease psoriasis to reduce itching and inflammation.

Studies have shown that ginger may protect tissues and organs against oxidative damage and prevent cancer development and growth.

And turmeric is thought to help avert chronic illnesses such as heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimer's disease.

Curcumin, the compound found in the spice, has been shown to inhibit the expression of a specific gene believed to lead to the development and progression of breast cancer.

Other factors could be at play, such as the food those spices are used to flavor.

'If you're eating a lot of turmeric, you're probably eating a lot of vegetables,' said Ammerman.

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