There are five areas around the world where people live longer and tend to be in better health than people in the rest of the world – the so-called blue zones. The blue zones include Okinawa in Japan, Sardinia in Italy, Nicoya in Costa Rica, Ikaria in Greece and Loma Linda in California. Even though these areas are very remote from each other geographically, the people in the blue zones have several things in common when it comes to how they live their lives. For example, they all consume a diet that promotes a balanced and varied gut flora. In other words we can learn a lot from these cultures when it comes to diet and gastric health.
In this article, we let ourselves get inspired by the blue zone lifestyles and provide you with six practical tips for optimising your diet in order to live a longer and healthier life.
People in the blue zones consume a 90 – 100% plant-based diet. Plant-based food is good for both the heart and the gut flora, and even for the brain. Research has shown that a plant-based diet can offset both type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A plant-based diet also supports healthy brain function, as plant-based foods contain lots of antioxidants that protect the brain against free radicals, while at the same time increasing the flow of oxygen to the brain. A plant-based diet is also very good for the gut flora, as this type of diet is rich in fibre. The fibres contribute to a healthy gut flora by feeding the good bacteria in the intestine while at the same time helping to protect against harmful bacteria.
It’s about time that we cut carbs some slack! People in the blue zones get 65% of their daily calorie intake from carbohydrates. Good sources of carbohydrates contain lots of fibre that strengthens the gut flora. They also contain lots of vitamins and minerals which the body needs to stay healthy. It is, however, important that you choose the right kinds of carbohydrates to ensure that you ingest as much fibre and nutrition as possible. People living in the blue zones avoid processed foods and fast carbs. Instead, they choose sources of carbohydrate such as whole grains, vegetables, root vegetables, nuts and beans.
The superstars of carbohydrates are beans. Beans work wonders for your general health, and eating beans on a daily basis is said to be a great way of promoting longevity. People in the blue zones consume about two decilitres of beans per day, and research shows that beans in particular can reduce mortality by as much as 7-8%. In addition to slow carbohydrates and fibre, beans are also a good source of plant-based protein.
People in the blue zones eat meat about five times a month, at times of celebration. Even on these occasions, however, meat is rarely consumed in large quantities, and is often served in portions the size of about a deck of cards. Meat can be a good source of protein, B vitamins and iron, while excessive amounts can cause cardiovascular disease, cancer and other health problems. Research has also shown that an excessive consumption of red and processed meat can lead to increased rates of mortality among both men and women. In other words it’s a good idea to reduce your meat consumption. One suggestion is that you limit your meat consumption to once a week.
Sweet drinks harm the gut flora regardless of whether they are sweetened with sugar or sweeteners. Research has shown that sugar promotes the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut, which creates an imbalance in the gut flora. Sweeteners have been shown to cause damage to the healthy bacteria that are essential to your gastric health. Since the gut flora plays an important role in, among other things, maintaining a healthy metabolism and a well-functioning immune system, both ordinary and artificial sugar can be damaging to your health. The people living in the blue zones avoid sweet drinks. Instead, they maintain a good fluid balance by drinking six glasses of water a day, and enjoy one cup of coffee in the morning and one glass of wine for dinner in the evening.
Intermittent fasting means that you consume all the calories of the day within a window of eight hours. The digestive system thereby gets to spend 16 hours of the day recovering – which has been shown to promote gastric health. In the blue zones, breakfast is the biggest meal of the day, while dinner is the smallest of the day. People in these zones also avoid eating late at night. Intermittent fasting has many positive health effects that contribute to both gastric health and longevity.