Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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Living in a Blue Zone

Ponce de Leon began his quest for the fountain of youth in 1531 and humans have been seeking magical solutions for keeping us younger and living our later years in relatively good health.

In 2009 with the backing of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, AARP and the National Geographic, Dan Buettner established the Blue Zone Project and authored The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the people who lived the longest, He interviewed those who were either centenarians or those in their later years and began to investigate what factors may have contributed to these long lives. He identified five regions that for various reasons had populations meeting this criteria:

  • Sardinia in Italy with the highest concentration of centenarian men.
  • Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California, where some residents live ten more healthy years than the average American.
  • The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica that has the world’s lowest rates of middle-age mortality and the second highest concentration of male centenarians.
  • Ikaria, Greece that has one of the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality and lowest rates of dementia. Only 20 percent of people over 80 showed any signs of dementia, whereas a similar study of long-lived people near Athens showed an almost 50 percent rate of dementia.
  • Okinawa, Japan home to the world’s longest living women.

Remarkably, all the regions had common characteristics that included family and purpose, community and spirituality, stress reduction and physical activity..

One major practice was that all their diets, though not vegan, were predominantly based on plants. Meat and other animal products were either the exception or used as a condiment. Okinawans, practice a philosophy called hara-hachi bu regarding food; they only eat until they are 80% full.

In the Costa Rican Zone, everyone feels like they have a plan de vida or life plan. Even at ages above 60 and 70, inhabitants don’t stop living. They keep themselves busy; they love to work. It provides them a “reason to waking up in the morning” called ikigai. There is no word for “retirement” in Okinawa.

The book introduces some very interesting longevity “superstars.”

  • Marge Jones, at 100 years old from Loma Linda begins every day with a mile walk, a stationary bicycle ride, and some weight lifting. “I’m for anything that has to do with health”, she says.
  • Kamada Nakazitam, 102 years old from Okinawa says “To be healthy enough to embrace my great – great grandchild is bliss.”
  • Ellsworh Wareham, age 91 from Loma Linda, assists during heart surgery procedures, something he does about two or three times a week.
  • Abuela Panchita, 100 year old Costa Rican woman whose 80 year old son, Tommy bicycles to see her every day, spends every day cooking, splitting logs and using a machine to clear brush from her yard.
  • The notion of moai in Okinawa stands for “a social support network. Says 77 year old Klazuko Mann, “each member knows that her friends count on her as much as she counts on her friends.”
  • Tonino Tola, 75 said that “Sardinian men can shed stress by often joking at the expense of one another.” Science tells us a belly laugh a day may reduce stress and actually keep the doctor away.

The final chapters of the book boil it all down into nine lessons and a cultural distillation of the worlds’ best practices in longevity. Beuttner provides credible information available for adding “years to your life and life to your years.”

However, there is a downside. From the author: “Sardinians today have already taken on the trappings of modern life. For example, junk foods are replacing whole-grain breads and fresh vegetables traditionally consumed here. Young people are fatter, less inclined to follow tradition, and more outwardly focused.”

From the author: “I once pressed a 101-year-old woman in Ikaria, Greece to tell why she thought people there lived so long. ‘We just forget to die,’ she said with a shrug. None of them went on a diet, joined a gym, or took supplements. They didn’t pursue longevity – it simply ensued”

Since the first book, Mr. Buettner has published two other books that continue to describe the lifestyles of these regions. They include The Blue Zones Solution and The Blue Zones of Happiness. I’ve enjoyed these books immensely and have often referred to them in various tweets and posts. The first book concludes with a chapter on Your Personal Blue Zone. Other books give us more explicit ways to establish Blue Zones in other areas in the U.S. For videos in Tarrant County, Texas, CLICK HERE.

From the back cover of The Blue Zones Solution – “Propagating the Blue Zones would not only prevent a rise in the prevalence of diabetes (and other such misfortunes); it would allow us to eliminate more than 80 percent of the burden we have now. That’s revolutionary.”

David Katz, M.D., Director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center

All these books are highly recommended, in my opinion. They not only teach us valuable information to remain healthy in our later years, but they also present a relatively comprehensive and colorful glimpse of their individual lives and culture.


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More Blue Zone Wisdom


Health is not just about what we eat diet and how much exercise we get but how we eat and exercise and a host of other inspiring lessons.

Applying the principles of longevity and health learned from the Blue Zones to our present lifestyles is not easy but for a lot of them doable. There are two more books available by Mr. Dan Buettner that give us solutions and ideas  in addition to the original The Blue Zone: Lessons for Living Longer.

His investigations into these five zones were not clinical trials; however, they reflect the lessons of life using data from people who have actually lived and aged successfully.

Here are few quotes from the books:
“A doctor may know more than a peasant, but a peasant and a doctor know more together.”
—Dan Buettner, Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way
“Drink without getting drunk
Love without suffering jealousy
Eat without overindulging
Never argue
And once in a while, with great discretion, misbehave”
—Dan Buettner, Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way
“The average American now consumes 46 slices of pizza, 200 pounds of meat, and 607 pounds of milk and other dairy products, and washes it down with 57 gallons of soda pop a year. We consume 8,000 teaspoons of added sugar and 79 pounds of fat annually. We eat 4.5 billion pounds of fries and 2 billion pounds of chips a year.”
—Dan Buettner,  The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People
“Integrate at least three of these items into your daily diet to be sure you are eating plenty of whole food. 1. Beans—all kinds: black beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, black-eyed peas, lentils 2. Greens—spinach, kale, chards, beet tops, fennel tops 3. Sweet potatoes—don’t confuse with yams. 4. Nuts—all kinds: almonds, peanuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts, cashews 5. Olive oil—green, extra-virgin is usually the best. Note that olive oil decomposes quickly, so buy no more than a month’s supply at a time. 6. Oats—slow-cook or Irish steel-cut are best. 7. Barley—either in soups, as a hot cereal, or”
—Dan Buettner, The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People

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Eating Less for Longevity?

A new study says that eating less can contribute to a longer life and even more importantly, a longer healthy life. Previous research with many species has supported this hypothesis.  Additional support can come from the “Blue Zones”, a study of five cultures around the world with the greatest number of healthy centenarians in their populations. An example is the Okinawan practice called “hara hachi bu” that promotes eating only until you’re 80 percent full.


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A Lesson from the Blue Zones

The Blue Zones give us many perspectives on the lessons of health and longevity;  however, one example shows us what  can actually occur when real life populations adapt many of the principles found in the longest-living areas of the world. A famous case is found in Finland.


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How to Live Longer?

It’s not just diet but other lifestyle habits as well. The results of a recent study were  quite impressive in the number of years gained by adherence to five simple guidelines. Now the challenge should be how to get people to adhere to the recommendations.


For a link to the study, CLICK HERE.

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Alcohol and Longevity ???

NEWS: Drinking a Glass of Wine and Taking a Walk May Be Key to Longevity

Two Types Of Wine White Wine Glass Grapes

Centenarians from the “Blue Zones” regions of the world often drink up to two glasses of wine every day as a way to “downshift” from the stressors of daily life. Drinking a glass of wine with a plant-slant meal and a group of your closest friends can only enhance the experience and the benefits.  Read the link HERE.

Ever heard of the glymphatic system in the brain?  I never had even with about 20 years of  teaching Anatomy and Physiology. I first thought it was a misprint but after some searches found out it is very new concept (actually around for a hundred years, but apparently no one had the tools to study it. ) You can read about in more depth HERE.

So a new study found HERE caught my attention and may shed some light on why it may be beneficial – wine drinkers rejoice??? And it may have something to do with the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease since theories often describe that disease is associated with toxin -induced inflammation that builds up as amyloid plaques in certain parts of the brain involving cognition and memory functions. But this may be all conjecture?

There are many cautions about studies like this. Many people can read a headline and misinterpret its message. The title of the article is “Low levels of alcohol good for the brain, study shows.” The key here is “low levels” which is a moderate intake defined in the study as about 2 glasses a day. In other words, a higher intake did NOT curb inflammation but rather added to the problem. In addition this was an animal study (sorry, volunteers for the next study).  Of course, the results cannot be applied to humans as everyone should realize. There have been some studies, however, that modest amounts of alcohol have shown some cardiovascular health benefits, but again, these results always are accompanied by the common sense cautionary warnings.











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Looking at Lessons from the Blue Zones


Check out this 28 minute video that tells us what the author of The Blue Zones found out from his experiences with the longest living people of the world. Some interesting lessons emerge (it’s not so much about food).