As it happens, last weekend I attended a presentation given by a US dietician at a neurocognition conference where she looked at the world’s Blue Zones (regions in the world where people live much longer than average) with the aim of learning from them about longevity.
What are Blue Zones?
This a term first coined by Dan Buettner within a National Geographic story in 2005. Five regions were identified as Blue Zones, Okinawa (Japan), Sardinia (Italy), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Icaria (Greece) and the Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, California, these places have the highest concentration of people living into and beyond the age of 100 years. Do not picture these centenarians packed into nursing homes unable to care for themselves, but rather visualise a place with a high concentration of fit and vital people in their 70s, 80s and 90s still enjoying life.
Longevity lessons from the Mediterranean
So, let’s take two of these areas Sardinia and Icaria, and look to understand what the people who live here are putting on their plates and what is their connection with food that helps them live longer than average. We already know the traditional Mediterranean diet is associated with reduced cardiovascular risk factors, improved cognitive health and associated with healthy ageing, but what additional secrets do Sardinia and Icaria hold? Here are the key aspects of their diets:-
The understanding is that many of these foods contain beneficial plant actives such as quercetin (fennel, chives, onions, garlic, capers, olives, tomato), genistein (broad beans), resveratrol (red wine), sulforaphane (wild greens, asparagus, rocket), capsaicin (chilli peppers) and caffeic acid (fennel, olive oil, herbs such as oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme) that reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, which underpin many chronic diseases.
The importance of human connectivity
Common lifestyle traits within these Blue Zones beyond the diet included:-
I know that there are lessons I can take from these Blue Zones into my own life, whether it be dialling up the variety and amount of greens I consume, spending more time in nature and making more time to connect (in the real sense of the world) with my community and loved ones. Also, Sardinia and Ikaria have been added onto my holiday destination wish list – discovering fresh local and traditional foods is for me one of the joys of life.