The Blue Zone Healthy Lifestyle and Holiday Traditions
There are five “Blue Zones” in the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives. They are Ikaria Greece, Okinawa Japan, Ogliastra Sardinia, Nicoya Peninsula Costa Rico, and Loma Linda California.
People who live in these countries tend to live long lives, sometimes over 100 years old and it’s known they die of natural causes. Of course, there are other factors which include exercise, social connection, and religious/spiritual communities; however, diet plays a major role in their longevity.
You will find that the blue zone communities are 95% plant-based, meaning they do not eat a lot of meat or dairy, nor do they eat a lot of sugar. I found it fascinating to research their typical daily diet and how they treat themselves during certain holidays. I thought it would be fun to look at each “blue zone” country’s typical daily diet and how they may celebrate with certain holiday foods around Christmas.
If you visit the Greek island of Ikaria you will find over 10,000 people with no signs of dementia along with low cancer, and heart disease rates. You have less than a 10% chance of Alzheimer's. Ikarian’s are known for their Mediterranean diet choices. They tend to eat a lot less fish and meat and a lot more vegetables.
Don’t be mistaken they do not indulge in pasta but instead, they include vegetables from their garden in their diet daily. They also include fruit, whole grains and beans and legumes, wine, and olive oil. They include olive oil for the polyphenol properties and monounsaturated fat benefits. They also drink a lot of herbal tea. The herbs are gathered from their garden, and from the wild. The herbs include oregano, dandelion, sage, and rosemary. All very medicinal herbs which support liver detoxification, antimicrobial benefits, and vitamins like vitamin A and C.
Breakfast may include goat’s milk, sage tea or coffee, honey, and bread. Lunch is almost always beans (lentils or garbanzos), potatoes, greens (fennel, dandelion, or spinach-like green called Horta), and the seasonal vegetable that is being produced in their garden. Dinner is simply bread and goat’s milk. At Christmas, the tradition is to enjoy a family pig and to continue eating it over the next several months. They also enjoy traditional cookies which are called Finikia. Finikia is made with very few ingredients which include flour, olive oil, baking powder, orange juice, and a little sugar. After the family pig has been eaten, the Ikarians go back to their traditional diet of very little meat.
The centenarians that are living to 100 years or more are declining in Okinawa because of the change in the diet since the 1960s. Before 1960 people in Okinawa ate fewer calories, including less meat, fish, dairy, and fat. The diet consisted of a Satsamu sweet potato, seaweed, soy, and herbaceous plants which were accompanied by fish and pork and green or kohencha tea. Fish was eaten 2 times a week and pork and chicken maybe once a month. The traditional holiday meal consists of stir-fried veggies, sweet potatoes, boiled pork, maybe some rice and fish, the traditional Christmas Cake, and some red wine. Now the Christmas meal consists of “fried chicken” and you tend to see more people in Japan eating a lot faster food.
Sardinia is considered one of the first “Blue Zones” when a Sardinian scientist from that area proved that there were many people living disease-free over 90 years old. Their diet consists primarily of whole-grain bread, beans, vegetables from their garden which include eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, and fava beans, and fruit and olive oil. They also include a couple of glasses of wine daily and drink goat’s milk and goat/sheep cheese occasionally. They consume very little meat.
On Christmas, you will usually find culurgiones which is made with fresh pasta stuffed with potatoes, cheese (goat or sheep), olive oil, and mint. The dish is covered with fresh tomato sauce. This pasta has a unique shape in that it mimics an ear of corn by pinching the two ends to form a pasta disc. Also included on Christmas is Malloreddus which is gnocchi. This is the time of year they will have a meat dish which includes a pig. It is an unusual pig in that it has been fed milk. Preparing Porceddu is a sacred act in that it is cooked on a spit in a wood oven. The result is a crisp outside finish with tender pork inside. Desserts include Papasan’s which are made up of walnuts, raisins, and wine covered with icing and decorations. Cinnamon and orange and lemon are often used.
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rico
Black beans, bananas, papaya, squash, plantains, pejibaye, yams, and homemade corn tortillas. Their traditional Christmas meal consists of tamales, baked pork legs, and lots of eggnog. Queque navideno is their traditional Christmas cake along with tres leches and rice pudding.
Loma Linda, California
Based on the Seventh-day Adventist church teachings, theirs is a vegetarian diet. More than 50 percent of their diet comes from fruits and vegetables. The remainder of their diet comes from legumes, soy, and grains. Some of their top foods include soy milk, Weetabix, corn flakes, brewer yeast, nuts and seeds, oatmeal, avocados, and vegemite which is made with brewer’s yeast, salt, and vegetable extract (great source of vitamins that support brain health).
What they all have in common
Every blue zone community has strong social connections as well as physical activity which may include gardening daily or walking, but you never see them pumping iron in the gym! Their celebrations include foods that are not eaten during the year, therefore they continue to eat their native foods which means they do not need to go on a diet they just go back to their normal way of eating and continue to live longer and have less disease.
During this holiday season try to pay attention to your daily eating habits and whether a type of food that may not be included in your diet outside of the holiday is eaten and how often. Does this particular food like sugar cookies for example become a daily habit? Are you including eggnog in your diet more or are you including alcohol on a daily basis whereas in the past you might have had a glass or two of wine a week?
Become more conscious of your food choices, move more, and try and slow down. ‘Tis the season to be grateful so let’s choose the type of food in your life that includes fiber, color (phytonutrients), and a balance of plants, grains, legumes, and healthy fats for 2021!
Wishing you Happy & Healthy Holidays,