Are you hoping to live to see your 100th birthday? I met a lady at the hospital last week who is turning the big 1-0-0 next month so asked her about her secret to her long, healthy life (she was expecting to be discharged back to her retirement village the next day). She believes that getting outdoors to walk daily, lots of laughs and plenty of fresh foods is the answer! Sounds like a good combination to me!

Dan Buettner is famous for his research into the ‘blue zones’. Blue zones are communities which have been identified as having the greatest number of centenarians. Famous blue zones include a tiny Aegean island called Ikaria in Greece, an Adventist community called Loma Linda in California where people outlive the average American by a decade, Sardinia in Italy, the Okinawa islands off Japan where the world’s longest living woman lived and Nicoya in Costa Rica. Dan believes that 80% of how long we live for is in our control. So what’s the secret to a long, healthy life?

1. A diet rich in plant food: As we age, the telomeres in our DNA naturally shorten, however people who eat more plant-based foods find that their telomeres shorten at a slower rate. Make wholegrain, vegetables, fruit and legumes the basis of your diet.

2. Include small portions of meat: Centenarians living in the blue zones only eat meat in small portions and on rare occasions. The average amount of meat for Centenarians living in blue zones is 85-110g meat five times each month.

3. Have a sense of purpose: One of the most interesting findings from Dan’s research is that the Centenarians had a sense of purpose. They knew why they were here and the impact that they wanted to make upon the world.

4. Have a good social network: According to Dan, those who live longest have a good social network. They put their family first, have life-long monogamous relationships with their partners and spend quality time with those they love. I think this is an aspect of eating that we often forget in our busy, fast-paced lives. Food is not just about filling the hole in our stomach, but also filling our heart by sharing quality time with loved ones preparing, then eating a meal. There’s not a lot of quality time putting a frozen meal into the microwave, and then eating it in front of the television.

Be inspired by the dietary staples of these communities….
Ikaria, Greece: Goat’s milk, legumes, honey, greens, fruit and small amounts of fish, feta, herbs, goat meat (infrequently)
Okinawa, Japan: Tofu, seaweed, sweet potato, herbs/spices, bitter melon, brown rise, mushrooms, garlic, green tea
Sardinia Italy: Goat’s milk, sheep’s cheese, breads (flatbread, sourdough), grain (barley), legumes, vegetables (fennel, tomatoes), nuts, wine
Loma Lina, Calif, USA: Avocados, salmon, nuts, beans, oatmeal, whole wheat bread and soy milk. Avoided sugars, particularly processed ones and instead consuming those in fruit, dates or figs

*Was also found that pesco-vegetarians (having a plant-based diet and approximately one serve of fish per day) in this community lived 10 years longer than the vegans in the community

Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica: Beans, corn, squash as staples and papayas, yams, bananas and peach palms

So, if you’re going to live a long, healthy life, what changes do you need to make?