by CFP Intern Gwen Schoch
Throughout the day there are hundreds or thousands of decisions to be made. These decisions range from how to react to particular situations, to what time we get up in the morning; our lifestyle is formed by the choices we make. There are five communities throughout the world which have been marked as Blue Zones, distinguishing their way of life to promote longevity. Each of the five communities have a high concentration of centenarians; they are Loma Linda, California; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; and Okinawa, Japan.1
Healthway’s Blue Zones Project has distilled the characteristics of all five lifestyles into nine habits: move naturally, know your purpose, down shift, the 80% rule, plant slant, wine at five, right tribe, community, and loved ones first.2 Blue zones have a holistic approach to healthy living, but for the purposes of this article we will look deeper into the communities’ approaches to eating.
The roots of each community’s dietary habits vary widely, but one staple holds true: homegrown, nutritious fruits, vegetables, and grains dominate the diet. The Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California follow the teachings of the bible, “but flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat” Genesis 9:4.3
In Nicoya, Costa Rica the traditions of the indigenous Chorotega tribe persist in their modern diet. Their lands have provided legumes, rice and yellow corn for decades and maintain their staple status. Fruits and vegetables supplement the grains, with the occasional addition of meat.4
The culture in Sardinia, Italy never lets food stand alone. Nutrients are simply part of the overall dining experience. Penn State research provides information from Francesco Branca, from the Istituto Nazionale di Ricerca per gli Alimenti e la Nutrizione that says a little over fifty five percent of the diet in Italy consists of grains, while fruits and vegetables account for another twenty percent.5 The Mediterranean diet, as it has become known as globally, is known for its simplicity, however, the Italian food is always associated with an overall dining experience. There is food, social interaction and even exploration, with a stroll following the meal.6
Dining and entertaining play a large role in the Greek culture. A well respected Ikaria, Greece native, Diane Kochilas, writes in a post on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 Blog about the simple meals consisting of fresh, local, seasonal foods her family ate as main courses at lively meals and gatherings.7 Within the cultures of Blue Zones, food must always be considered in context. Tradition is a part of food for the Seventh Day Adventists, the Chorotega tribe, Italians and Greeks. Food is far more than simply nutrients.
The people of Okinawa, Japan have a saying Hari hachi bu. This means eat until you are eighty percent full.8 By constantly reminding themselves hari hachi bu, they are able to stay keep everything in moderation, which explains why the population has a BMI range of 18-22.9 Food is not something they put into their bodies mindlessly, rather there is purpose and reason for this fuel entering their body.
You may notice that some of these cultures consume grains. These cultures also do not live a Westernized culture of lack of sleep, high stress, high inflammation, and the foods they eat are not highly processed. This should make one question if it is our culture which makes the foods we eat detrimental to our health. For many of us, the lives we live do not follow the 9 habits these cultures thrive on. Does this stress interfere with our bodies ability to deal with inflammatory insults? Or is the preparation and ritual surrounding food something which is “anti-inflammatory”, especially since these grains are not the product of manufacturing or genetically modified. While grains are a staple of some of these diets, there are much more nutrient dense options which we recommend you choosing, especially since most of us do not live by the 9 habits.
What is the take home point? In today’s modern Western Culture, we have become so far removed from our food roots. The idea of picking a tomato off the vine right before dinner seems completely foreign to us. The challenge for you is to compose one meal a week which consists purely of ingredients grown within a 100 mile radius of your home. Getting in tune with the rhythms of nature could be the key to unlocking healthy lifestyles. Be conscious of your habits.
1 Healthways. Blue Zone Project. http://www.bluezonesproject.com/originals
2 Healthways. Blue Zone Project. http://www.bluezonesproject.com/power9
3Seventh Day Adventist Dietetic Association. Biblical References to Diet. Retreived from http://sdada.org/biblical.htm
4 Lipton, J. M.D. Barash, D. Ph.D. (2012, March 7). The Chorotega Diet: Two Grains and a Legume [Web log post] Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/pura-vida/201203/the-chorotega-diet-two-grains-and-legume<http://www.psycologytoday.com/blog/pura-vida/201203/the-chorotega-diet-two-grains-and-legume>
5Pacchioli, D. A Taste of Italy. Penn State Online Research. [Web log post] Retrieved from http://www.rps.psu.edu/taste/dispatch01.html
6 Pacchioli, D. A Taste of Italy. Penn State Online Research. [Web log post] Retrieved from http://www.rps.psu.edu/taste/dispatch01.html
7 Kochilas, D. (2009, April 22). Ikarian diet a key to health and longevity [Web log post] Retrieved from http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2009/04/22/ikarian-diet-a-key-to-health-and-longevity/
8 Blue Zones. http://www.bluezones.com/live-longer/education/expeditions/okinawa-japan/
9 Okinawa Centenarian Study. http://www.okicent.org/study.html
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