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The Blue Zones and Longevity

“What began as a National Geographic expedition to find the longest living cultures evolved into a recipe for living longer”.

In case you’re not familiar with them, the Blue Zones are areas of the world where people live the longest. People in the Blue Zones reach 100 years of age at 10 times the average rate and they appear to be happier. All. Of. The. Time.

So what is their secret?

When you research the Blue Zones theories a number of key characteristics are evident:

  1. Purpose – have something to live for beyond work
  2. Downshift – have a routine to shed stress
  3. 80% rule – stop eating when you’re 80% full
  4. Plant slant – pulses are the cornerstone of a healthy diet. Keep animal products to a minimum.
  5. Moderate intake of alcohol – 1-2 glasses per day seem to promote longevity more than non-drinkers (I secretly think it’s related to point 3!)
  6. Right tribe – social circles and belonging
  7. Community – faith-based service attendance
  8. Loved ones first – put your family first – care for your children who in turn care for their elders, encourage having a partner
  9. Activity – Move all of the time and avoid being sedentary. Maintain activity right into your older years. Be physically active for work and play and don’t sit around watching TV. Walk everywhere.
  10. Environmental awareness – Be connected to your environment. Be connected to the seasons. Grow your own food (or have access to organic produce). Have a consciousness of your environmental footprint and seek to harmonise your activity with nature and not work against it.
  11. Financial wellness – there is a direct correlation between obesity and financial stress. This appears to relate to both poor food choices relating to cost but also due to the impact of cortisol.

The dietary impact for these intriguing cultures show a number of key similarities. All of them focus heavily on vegan based diets (high in nuts, seeds, pulses, oils, vegetables and fruit). They are all low in animal products and grains and interestingly all show some similarities in top foods. Key points include:

  • Sweet potato – from the Okinawaians (Japan), the Ikarians (Greece) or those on the Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica) they all consume vast quantities of sweet potato and consider it a staple part of their diet.
  • Chickpeas – whilst all pulses are a major component of all Centenarian diets, chickpeas rate the highest. Beans and pulses are always included in the diets of all of the communities. They’re cheap, nutritious and delicious if you cook them well. I would encourage you to invest in a pressure cooker. It shortens the cooking time and guarantees a well cooked and tasty final product. Aim to eat at least ½ cup of cooked pulses per day – sprinkle on salads, make dips or make a dhal/stew.
  • Nuts – in all of the Blue Zone communities nuts are a staple part of everyone’s diets and the most common snack. Ensure you choose organic, raw, unsalted and fresh types and eat as whole nuts, nut meals, nut butters and in dips. Aim to have 2 handfuls per day as a general guide.
  • Vegetables and fruits need to account for 95% of your diet. It sounds hard at the beginning but it’s actually very easy. The only way my family consume the quantities we need is by having 2 orders of fruits and vegetables per week. If it’s not in the fridge, it won’t get eaten as easily. Plan your shopping accordingly. Stock up and eat seasonally. Be liberal with cold pressed olive oil, lemon juice, fresh herbs and pink salt to flavour dishes as needed. Assume you need to eat 1 bowl of cooked vegetables and 1 bowl of raw vegetables daily.
  • Don’t be afraid of fats. Liberal amounts of cold pressed oils make every meal. Olive oil is by far the most researched and most nutritious but macadamia, coconut, flaxseed and ghee are great additions.
  • Starchy vegetables. Almost all of the Blue Zones befriend starchy vegetables. Longevity and the humble spud appear to go hand in hand. Potatoes get a bad wrap conventionally but it’s not justified. What I always remind patients is to choose a lovely organic Dutch cream potato with the dirt still on it as opposed to the gassed, aged and ‘dead’ washed chat potato in the plastic bag at the supermarket. Just reflecting on the difference between the two always evokes a sensory awareness of how the Dutch ones are better for you. Choose your starchy vegetables over grains as much as possible. Our house is a little obsessed with toasted sweet potato and cashew butter right now. Bring out the old toaster or sandwich press, cut thinly and watch how good you feel from eating it. Artisana cashew butter is our preference.
  • Low gluten or gluten free grains for any grain consumption. Grains used in the Blue Zones are all lower gluten options or gluten free.
  • Vegetable Protein – Protein choices should focus on vegetarian options over animal derived. Research suggests that 30-year-old vegetarian Adventists will outlive their meat-eating counterparts by as much as eight years. Avoid meat as much as possible and only eat no more than 2x/week if necessary. When you eat meat, ensure it’s organic, grass fed, and for special occasions. Choose the best cut and highest quality you can source. Avoid smallgoods, sausages, beef and processed meats. Choose lamb as your preferred red meat and chicken for white meat.
  • Fresh Fish – Blue Zone communities eat up to 85g (3oz) of fresh fish per day. Choose low mercury options and non-farmed fish as they contain hormones/antibiotics/colourings and pesticides. Avoid overfished species to respect the environment and the fish itself. Choose and encourage fish that is the highest in essential fatty acids (King salmon, trout, mackerel) and Calcium (sardines, anchovies).
  • Keep dairy to a minimum. If you choose to eat dairy products, encourage milk from sheep or goat or buffalo as its superior for essential fatty acid and calcium content. Ensure it is organic, full fat and naturally fermented where possible.
  • Keep eggs to no more than 3/week. Blue Zone research showed that egg consumption was often added to other dishes – folded into a tortilla, boiled in a soup or as a side dish. When choosing eggs ensure they are fresh, organic and pasture raised. Respect the chickens and ensure that they have enough space to roam and aren’t overcrowded. Good egg replacements are Besam flour, chia gel or flaxseeds.
  • Cut out sugar. No surprises here. People in the Blue Zones eat sugar intentionally and not by habit or accident. Save it for special occasions.
  • Fresh herbs and spices make meals tasty. Don’t be bored with food. If it looks and smells good, it’s more likely to taste good too.
  • Eat wholefoods. The saying ‘if you can tell me what it was when it started’ is a great question to ask yourself. If the product has more than 5 ingredients it’s likely that its too modified. Home make your food and reduce packaged products – better for you and the environment.Your Content Goes Here
  • Food Storage  – Look at how you store your food. Avoid plastic wrap, plastic containers and aluminium wrap. Use glass containers, stainless steel, cloth wraps or parchment paper.
  • Ensure you cook with healthy cooking utensils and pots/pans. Utensils made from wood or stainless steel are the healthiest options. Cook in stainless steel, glass or cast iron (uncoated).

Blue Zone themed recipes


  • 1 bunch fresh basil
  • 1 bunch fresh flat leaf parsley
  • Big handful of rocket (wide leaf)
  • Olive oil
  • Pink salt
  • 200g pine nuts

Whiz in a vitamix or similar until you get the consistency you want. Serve with zucchini pasta or quinoa pizza base and vegetables.

Amine free, salicylate free, gluten free, vegan, wholefood


  • 200g soaked raw cashews (soak for at least 6 hours, rinse well)
  • 500g roasted sweet potato (cut into 1/8ths and roast in a little olive oil)
  • ½ bunch coriander
  • ½ bunch flat leaf parsley
  • 1 small red chilli
  • Pink salt
  • Olive oil

Whiz in a vitamix or similar until you get the consistency you want. Serve with cut up vegetables and flax crackers.

Amine free, salicylate free (omit chilli), gluten free, vegan, wholefood


  • 250g soaked raw cashews (soak for at least 6 hours, rinse well)
  • ½ bunch chives
  • ½ bunch flat leaf parsley
  • ½ bunch dill
  • Pink salt
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice to taste

Whiz in a vitamix or similar until you get the consistency you want. Serve with cut up vegetables and flax crackers.

Amine free (omit lemon juice), salicylate free (omit chilli), gluten free, vegan, wholefood


  • 2 cups dried chickpeas (soaked overnight, rinsed well, do not cook)
  • 1 large or 2 medium garlic cloves
  • 1 medium Spanish onion
  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley
  • ½ bunch coriander
  • 1 heaped tablespoon tapioca starch
  • 2 teaspoons pink salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • fresh black pepper to taste
  • 1 small red chilli
  • Olive oil for frying

Whiz in a food processor until very well blended. When you think its blended, whiz for another 5 mins. The longer you blend the more the mixture comes together. Keep scraping down the sides and combine everything. Scoop the mixture into tablespoon’s worth and roll into a bowl and fry in hot oil (I just use a wok). Watch closely as they cook fast. Remember to turn over. Place on a plate with some paper towels.

Serve with an Israeli style salad (finely chopped cucumber, red capsicum, parsley, red onion, tomato, olive oil, lemon and salt) and a tahini dipping sauce (tahini, lemon juice, water and parsley).

Amine free, gluten free, vegan, wholefood

Image: Okinawa, Japan