The Blue Zones are 5 populations which have been studied in detail by medical researchers, anthropologists, epidemiologists and demographers & show the greatest longevity across all human populations on Planet Earth. On average, they live 10 years longer than the average Westerner and their populations have 10x as many centurions (people 100+ yrs of age). These populations are from:
Within these populations, disease & mortality is NOT seen as ‘normal’ & instead, these people see the main cause of death as ‘old age’. I find this mentality very refreshing, don’t you? How different their culture is to Western populations which place greater emphasis on keeping people alive with surgery & medications versus preventing the issue from arising in the first place. People in these populations experience extremely low rates of diabetes, obesity, heart disease & other preventable diseases. They add more years to their life & more life to their years…& they aren’t going out of their way to live to 100 it’s just the normal way of life to them.
Researchers have identified 9 commonalities among the populations:
1. They have a strong life purpose, something to wake up to excited for every day.
2. They eat a largely plant-based diet with the majority of their calories coming from grains, nuts, legumes, fruits & vegetables. Fava beans, black beans, soy beans and lentils are the most common lentils among the centenarians in these groups and are typically consumed daily. Fish and VERY small amounts of cheese (from sheep and goats, not from cows) are the most common animal products these populations consume. On average, 95% of their meals do not include any meat – to quantify this, that is 1 in 20 meals. They consume very small, if any, processed foods.
On average, 65-70% of the calories consumers by these Blue Zone populations come from non-refined whole food carbohydrates. So the people that have been shown over decades and decades to live the longest and healthiest lives did not consume a high fat or Keto diet and, in fact, thrived by consuming mainly unrefined sources of plant-based carbohydrates… amazing, isn’t it!
3. They drink 1-2 glasses of alcohol a day, mainly red wine. They do not binge drink – i.e they don’t save up all week and then have 10-14 drinks on the weekend.
4. They have strong relationships with their family & friends. They take good care of their parents, commit to a loved one for life, and take pride and enjoyment in spending time raising their children.
5. They fast (time not eating) & also finish each meal when 80% full, leaving some food on the plate and tend to eat their larger meals as their first meal of the day and smallest meal at the end of the day.
6. They perform low intensity exercise/movement over long periods. They don’t sit all day and they don’t lift a lot of heavy weight. It’s theorised that, potentially, this low level vibration versus too much exercise induced stress helps to slow down cellular ageing. On average, they are standing upright and moving every 20 minutes during their waking hours.
7. They get enough sleep – they don’t run frantic all day & wake up to an alarm. Many of them also take naps.
8. They are part of a spiritual or faith-based community which promote positive thoughts and behaviours.
9. They naturally mitigate/manage stress well. It’s known that chronic stress leads to inflammation and that inflammation is a contributing factor for the development of many manage chronic illnesses. Specifically some of these groups manage their stress by:
How many of the commonalities among these populations do you and your family share with them? I think we can all agree that even outside of their nutrition there are plenty of lessons or take home messages from the way they live that can help us live a healthier and more fulfilling life.
Everyone is clearly entitled to live as long as they like, but I think we can all agree that of the years we are alive we would prefer to have a high quality of life, taking less medications and being in hospital/at the medical centre as little as possible. Studies has shown that inflammation and high meat intake are associated with higher rates of depression (1,2,3) versus higher vegetable intake being associated with elevated mood (4, 5,6,7). So you may not want to live a long life, but I’m sure you want to live out your years full of life, wellness and happiness without being sick and tired. Over 55% of Americans are taking prescription medications and the chances of the average person developing some form of chronic disease is fairly high – take a look at these statistics (USA statistics, but Australia and UK are not too dissimilar):
– 7 of the top 10 causes of disease in the USA are from chronic lifestyle diseases that can be prevented, controlled or even reversed by proper eating habits.
– Every 34 seconds someone in the USA has a heart attack. 40% of men over the age of 40 have ED (erectile dysfunction) which is often the first sign of cardiovascular disease. 92.1 million American adults have one form of cardiovascular disease. That’s fairly horrific given Dr Dean Ornish showed widening of arteries by going on plant-based diet back in 1990, yet almost 3 decades later and millions of deaths we are just waking up to the fact that processed/refined foods & animal products are cutting our lives shorter than they need to be. We are just coming to grips that non-refined grains & legumes are not to be feared & are in fact disease reversing and preventative… thankfully!
– Each year, over 1.4 mil Americans are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes – and there are many more undiagnosed. Dr Neal Barnard and others have shown that Type 2 diabetes symptoms can be reduced and even reversed with a whole food plant-based diet. Perhaps this is why the Blue Zones have such a low incidence (virtually non existent) of Type 2 diabetes.
– Over 84 million adults (more than 1/3 of adult population) and 17% of the youths in the USA are clinically obese. Obesity is strongly correlated with other chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. WHO (World Health Organisation) promotes diets higher in plant foods as effective for treating obesity. Again, perhaps the blue zones are not seeing these rates of obesity because they eat whole plant foods and minimise exposure to meat or processed foods.
This is just a few stats of many which suggest that as a society poor lifestyle habits are being chosen and really highlights the difference between what is being seen in the populations who eat a standard Western Diet versus a more plant-based diet. Disease for the average Western populations is becoming more common than ‘good health’ & too frequently flippantly blamed on genetics. The simple fact is if we eat like the people around us that are being diagnosed with chronic disease & dying from such conditions then we are setting ourselves up for the same or similar result. That is why chronic lifestyle diseases often run in families – because they share the same eating behaviours, values, beliefs & exercise habits. How many times do we hear about Type 2 Diabetes, heart attacks, various lifestyle cancers and assume it was genetics. Science suggests that around 20% of our health is determined by genetics and 80% is controlled by lifestyle decisions – these lifestyle decisions have the ability to affect gene expression.
Still not convinced? Here is word for word what the Australian Cancer Council has to say about meat:
Did you know that eating more than 700 grams (raw weight) of red meat a week increases your risk of bowel cancer? Or that the risk of developing bowel cancer goes up 1.18 times for every 50 grams of processed meat eaten per day?
The World Health Organization has classified processed meats including ham, bacon, salami and frankfurts as a Group 1 carcinogen (known to cause cancer) which means that there’s strong evidence that processed meats cause cancer. Eating processed meat increases your risk of bowel and stomach cancer. Red meat, such as beef, lamb and pork, has been classified as a Group 2A carcinogen which means it probably causes cancer.
Did you know if you’ve had cancer, maintaining a healthy diet can help prevent it from coming back?
So while you are alive do you want to be fit and firing or do you want to be another statistic in what is clearly an epidemic of poor health, over medication and, quite frankly, premature death.
Whilst they aren’t strictly vegan by definition (some groups within the blue zones are vegan, but overall if we take a broad view these populations aren’t) we have to remember the blue zones have NOT set out to live the longest without disease & medication, their longevity is merely a result of a culture that is inclusive to health promotion. It’s certainly not a title they set their eyes on and developed a diet and life principles around – it’s just happened. But luckily, we have more to go off than just their lifestyle habits – they are a great guide but we have years of detailed clinical science and trials to draw information from as well.
It’s clear now that science has linked animal product consumption with chronic disease & mortality, in particular processed meat & red meat. We also know that plant-based food groups like unrefined grains & legumes have been used in clinical studies to actually prevent & reverse chronic disease (8,9,10,11,12) .
Below is a snippet from an article published in the Journal of Geriatric Cardiology by highly regarded Internal Medicine physician Dr Michelle McMacken:
There is a general consensus that the elements of a whole-foods plant-based diet—legumes, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, with limited or no intake of refined foods and animal products—are highly beneficial for preventing and treating type 2 diabetes. Equally important, plant-based diets address the bigger picture for patients with diabetes by simultaneously treating cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the United States, and its risk factors such as obesity, hypertension, hyper-lipidemia, and inflammation. The advantages of a plant-based diet also extend to reduction in risk of cancer, the second leading cause of death in the United States; the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research recommend eating mostly foods of plant origin, avoiding all processed meats and sugary drinks, and limiting intake of red meats, energy dense foods, salt, and alcohol for cancer prevention (11).
On top of that, we know you can thrive without any animal products at all & that supplements are commonly recommended for BOTH people consuming animal or plant-based diets depending on their stage of life & personal circumstances (i.e Vitamin D, Folate and B12). Many animal products artificially contain these supplements via fortified cattle feed or injections so we are led to believe that meat is the holy grail when, in reality, it’s a second hand source of many nutrients – if an animal-based diet is so ‘complete’ then why do so many people eating a Western diet have deficiencies & buy supplements? It’s best to just agree that supplements may be required whatever diet someone has depending on their circumstances…otherwise supplement shops would only have ever existed for vegans. For me, it’s clear a plant-based diet is full of health promoting food groups and free from disease provoking food groups. Show me a a decent study that says legumes, fruits, veg and unrefined grains cause disease?
Further to this I look at the 5% fish that some these Blue Zone groups consume and know I can get the same nutrients from a plant-based diet without exposing myself to heavy metals, cholesterol, antibiotics, hormones & saturated animal fats. Here is what the Blue Zone website has to say about fish consumption. In addition to that, the group that shows the greatest longevity among the blue zones is the Adventist’s who do not consume any meat at all (purely vegetarian).
TAKE OR LEAVE FISH
In “Blue Zones” areas, people eat fish up to three times weekly. But, modern-day fish has become so contaminated with pesticides and other chemicals that we don’t recommend it as part of a Blue Zones Diet (13).
I recommend you have a look at the rest of their guidelines.
No doubt looking at epidemiological data like we have from the Blue Zones and related studies is just one piece of the puzzle – I can acknowledge that. With that in mind, my rationale for sticking to a 100% plant-based diet is “I can probably go one better than the Blue Zones by using what they have displayed as arguably the healthiest diet and behaviours of humankind combined with what the science is showing us”. But if you choose to eat 95% plant-based with the majority of your calories from plants then honestly that’s a fantastic effort & will certainly be far more beneficial for your health than a diet that consists of a greater percentage of animal products. Health is a spectrum and any move away from over consumption of animal and processed foods is a smart one. I am a realist – how far you want to take it is entirely up to you.
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