The concept of longevity has been a hot topic for years among writers, philosophers, and, of course, scientists. They have been endeavouring to figure out why people in some parts of the globe are endowed with living to 100 years while others do not.
The term ‘Blue Zone’ was initially introduced by Dan Buettner in a National Geographic article titled ‘The Secrets of a Long Life’ in 2005. From then on, this distinct name has been associated with five areas in the world where most centenarians live.
Some may argue that exceptional longevity has everything to do only with genetics, however, people of Blue Zones prove them wrong. Long-livers of Blue Zones have unique lifestyles that are filled with a plethora of communication, bonding with loved ones, physical activity and, of course, healthy nutritious and non-restrictive diet.
Let’s have a look at five easy and affordable recipes of Blue Zoners to make their experience of long life even more accessible.
The five Blue Zones are:
Loma Linda, California, U.S.
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Nutrition secrets of the Blue Zones
What are the dietary patterns in the Blue Zones? Even though these five regions are located in different parts of the globe, the diets of the long-livers share various similarities. Some of the fundamental dietary principles in the Blue Zones include:
Incorporating legumes such as chickpeas, beans, and lentils into daily meals.
Consuming whole and unprocessed grains like sourdough or 100% whole wheat bread.
Eating fresh and locally sourced vegetables and greens daily.
Consuming healthy fats in moderation from sources like olive oil, fish, unprocessed dairy, and certain meats.
Reducing the intake of meat and dairy while still including them as occasional celebratory or flavouring elements in dishes. Meat is eaten rarely in the Blue Zones and composes only 5% of the daily ration.
Consuming red wine in moderation (although non-drinkers need not start).
Placing importance on enjoying meals with loved ones, as community plays a significant role.
Most Blue Zoners have a Mediterranean diet as a basis for their nutrition. The diet emphasises the use of fresh, easily accessible ingredients rather than processed foods, commonly found in modern households. What is more, adopting the Mediterranean diet from the age of 20 has been linked to an increase in lifespan, with women adding over 10 years and men adding 13 years.
Top five recipes from the Blue Zones
Recipe 1: Basic cooked beans
Beans are a staple food in Blue Zones. And this is not unreasonable because they are very filling due to their high protein content. While canned beans provide convenience, opting for dried beans offers advantages in terms of cost and sodium content.
Furthermore, using dried beans helps retain more of their nutritional value. Preparing dried beans in advance using a slow cooker is a simple process. You may also try making a large batch of beans, divide into portions and store them in a freezer to use when needed.
450 g (1 pound) of beans of choice, for instance, black or red kidney beans
1 large chopped onion
1 tablespoon (20 g) of minced/chopped garlic
1 teaspoon (5.9 g) of dried thyme
Half a teaspoon of salt (3 g)
1. Put the beans in a spacious bowl and soak them in cold tap water so that they are submerged at a depth of 5 cm (2 in). Let the beans soak in water for 8-16 hours.
2. Drain the soak. Transfer the drained beans to a 4-to 6-quart slow cooker, along with the onion, minced garlic, and thyme. Add 5 cups of water (1.2 L) into the mixture.
3. Cover the slow cooker and cook the beans until they reach a tender consistency, which typically takes approximately 5 hours on high or 9 to 10 hours on low heat settings.
4. Add salt, cover the slow cooker once again, and continue cooking for an additional 10 minutes. Remove the lid and allow the beans to cool. Store the cooked beans, along with their cooking liquid, in small, airtight containers in the refrigerator for a maximum of 4 days or in the freezer for up to 4 months.
Beans cooked this way are perfect to add to salads or just as a side dish to any of your meals. I personally love to make a red bean paste and use it as a spread or filling for Korean-style buns.
Recipe 2: Yakisoba
The stigma of healthy dishes being bland and tasteless has already been dashed by the huge demand and promotion of healthy foods, especially traditional Korean and Japanese dishes. Okinawa soba noodles differ from any Japanese soba as they are not dry, but fresh and made of whole wheat. They are chewy and firm and make a perfect combo with pork tenderloin.
200 g (1⁄2 pound) of pork tenderloin
3 tablespoons (44 ml) of peanut oil
1 medium-size onion, halved and sliced thinly
About half a large cabbage, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
55 g (2 oz) shiitake mushroom caps, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
3 tablespoons (44 ml) yakisoba or Worcestershire sauce
1 package Okinawan soba noodles
1. Cut the pork tenderloin into smaller pieces by slicing it in half horizontally, and then cutting it lengthwise into 2-centimetre-thick (1 in) strips. Further, divide each strip into sticks that are, approximately 2-centimetre-wide (1 in) 1/2-inch wide.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large nonstick wok or skillet over medium-high heat.
3. Add the pork and onion, and stir-fry them until the onions become translucent and the pork is browned on all sides, which should take around 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, cabbage, carrot and sauce. It should take approximately two minutes for the cabbage to start wilting.
4. Place the pork and vegetables on the sides of the wok, leaving a well in the centre.
5. In the wok, pour the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and add the soba noodles. Stir to coat the noodles with the oil.
6. Put the pork and vegetables on top of the noodles, cover, and cook for two minutes.
7. Toss well and garnish with pickled sushi ginger.
Recipe 3: Horta – longevity greens
The term Hortofagos originates from Greek and refers to a vegetarian diet. It signifies someone who consumes weeds. The island of Ikaria boasts over 150 different edible green varieties, it is no surprise that locals incorporate them into their daily meals.
Incorporating leafy greens into one’s diet is crucial for health as they may boost brain function, decrease heart disease susceptibility and lower blood pressure. Cooking Horta can become one of the ways of adding more greens to your nutrition plan.
8 cups mixed leafy greens. Opt for ones that you like such as kale, beet greens, spinach, etc.
8 cups mixed leafy greens. Opt for ones that you like such as kale, beet greens, spinach, etc.
3 tablespoons (44 ml) of fresh lemon juice
A quarter teaspoon of salt
A quarter teaspoon of ground black pepper
1. Place roughly chopped greens in a big bowl of cold water and agitate them. Let them sit for a little while, then take out the greens, making sure that all the dirt is left in the water. Repeat this process until there is no sand in the bowl.
2. Add the greens to a large pot of boiling water and cook, uncovered, until the leaves become limp, it takes one or two minutes.
3. Drain in a large colander set in the sink, reserving some of the water to make tea, if desired. Transfer to a serving platter or bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon, then season with salt and pepper to serve. Drain the water and place the leafy mix in a bowl. Add some olive oil, lemon, pepper and salt. You may also keep the water from greens and drink it as a tea.
Recipe 4: Miso soup
Besides being a comfort food, miso soup might also help you live longer. Researchers found that middle-aged and older men who ate fermented soy frequently had a 10% lower risk of premature death. And an 11% lower risk of premature death was associated with women who ate the most fermented soy.
Long-livers of Okinawa, Japan take advantage of this soup so can you.
3 tablespoons (40 g) of miso paste
1 and a half tablespoons (22 ml) of unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1 large peeled garlic clove
A 1 cm (0.5 in) piece of fresh ginger, peeled
200 g (half a pound) of firm tofu, cut into 2 cm cubes
100 g (0.25 pound) of fresh shiitake mushrooms, with the stems removed and the caps thinly sliced
2 cups of roughly chopped pea shoots (approximately 85 g or 3 oz)
6 medium scallions, thinly chopped
2 teaspoons (10 ml) of toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon (5 ml) of soy sauce
1. In a food processor or large blender, combine the miso, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, and 1 cup of water. Cover and process or blend until the mixture becomes smooth, making sure to scrape down the sides of the container as needed.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine the miso mixture with an additional 4 cups of water. Add the tofu, mushrooms, pea shoots, and scallions. Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir often until it reaches a simmer. Once simmering, reduce the heat to low and let it simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the sesame oil and soy sauce before serving.
Recipe 5: Slow-cooked oatmeal
If you have oatmeal as your permanent breakfast choice, you may consider yourself on one step closer to longevity.
Seventh-day Adventists often enjoy oatmeal as their go-to breakfast. To blue zone your oatmeal, opt for steel-cut oats instead of quick-cooking or regular rolled oats. Prepare your breakfast in a slow cooker the night before, so it’s ready for you in the morning. When reheating in the microwave, add a splash of soy milk to make it creamy again.
1 and a half cups (180 g) steel-cut oats
1⁄2 teaspoon (3 g) salt
In a 5-to 6-quart slow cooker, combine the oats, salt, and 6 cups of water. Give it a good stir. Cover the slow cooker and set it to cook on low for 6 hours. Once it’s done, you can keep the mixture covered and on the keep-warm setting for up to 2 hours.
The concept of a longevity diet, as observed in Blue Zones, offers valuable insights into healthy eating habits that promote a longer and healthier life. By incorporating regional foods and following simple recipes inspired by the Blue Zones, such as cooked beans, yakisoba, Horta (longevity greens), miso soup, and slow-cooked oatmeal, individuals can embrace a diet rich in whole foods and local ingredients. These meals not only provide nourishment but also emphasise the importance of enjoying meals with loved ones and prioritising community. So, why not embark on a culinary journey inspired by the Blue Zones and experience the benefits of a longevity diet firsthand?
Not enough? Here is more
In the book The Blue Zones Solution by Dan Buettner, the author shares invaluable insights and practical strategies to improve your health by adopting the nutrition, lifestyle, and fitness habits observed in the Blue Zones. Drawing from his extensive studies of communities with the world’s longest-lived individuals, such as Okinawa, Sardinia, Nicoya, Ikaria, and Loma Linda, Buettner presents a comprehensive guide on how to transform your well-being.
Healthypedia gives credit to the Blue Zones recipes from Buettner’s book, as they’ve inspired this article’s creation.
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