15 Eating Habits That Make You Live Longer
For more than a decade, I've been working with a team of experts to study hot spots of longevity—regions we call Blue Zones, where many people live to 100 and beyond. They are the Greek island of Ikaria; the highlands of Sardinia; the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and Loma Linda, Calif., home of the highest concentration of Seventh-day Adventists in the U.S. Remarkably, we've learned that folks in all these places share similar rituals and practices surrounding food. (Hint: They don't count calories, take vitamins or weigh protein grams!) After analyzing more than 150 dietary studies conducted in Blue Zones over the past century, we came up with a global average of what centenarians really eat. Here are 15 age-old diet tips to borrow from the longest-living people on the planet.
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Get 95% of your food from plants
Produce, whole grains and beans dominate meals all year long in each of the Blue Zones. People eat an impressive variety of vegetables when they are in season, and then pickle or dry the surplus. The best of the best longevity foods are leafy greens. In Ikaria, more than 75 varieties grow like weeds. Studies found that middle-aged people who consumed the equivalent of a cup of cooked greens daily were half as likely to die in the next four years as those who ate no greens.
Consume meat no more than twice a week
Families in most of the Blue Zones enjoy meat sparingly, as a side or a way to flavor other dishes. Aim to limit your intake to 2 ounces or less of cooked meat (an amount smaller than a deck of cards) five times a month. And favor chicken, lamb or pork from family farms. The meat in the Blue Zones comes from animals that graze or forage freely, which likely leads to higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
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Eat up to 3 ounces of fish daily
Cut back on dairy
The human digestive system isn't optimized for cow's milk, which happens to be high in fat and sugar. People in the Blue Zones get their calcium from plants. (A cup of cooked kale, for instance, gives you as much calcium as a cup of milk.) However, goat's- and sheep's-milk products like yogurt and cheese are common in the traditional diets of Ikaria and Sardinia. We don't know if it's the milk that makes folks healthier or the fact that they climb the same hilly terrain as their goats.
Related: 14 Non-Dairy Foods That Are High in Calcium
Enjoy up to three eggs per week
In the Blue Zones, people tend to eat just one egg at a time: For example, Nicoyans fry an egg to fold into a corn tortilla and Okinawans boil an egg in soup. Try filling out a one-egg breakfast with fruit or other plant-based foods such as whole-grain porridge or bread. When baking, use 1/4 cup of applesauce, 1/4 cup of mashed potatoes or a small banana to sub in for one egg.
Add a half cup of cooked beans every day
Related: 9 Reasons You Should Eat More Beans
Switch to sourdough or whole-wheat
Slash your sugar consumption
Related: 10 Easy Ways to Slash Sugar From your Diet
Snack on two handfuls of nuts per day
This appears to be the average amount that Blue Zones centenarians are eating. A recent 30-year Harvard study found that nut eaters have a 20% lower mortality rate than those who don't eat nuts. Other studies show that diets with nuts reduce LDL, or "bad," cholesterol levels by up to 20%.
Stick with foods that are recognizable for what they are
Up your water intake
Adventists recommend having seven glasses daily, pointing to studies that show that being hydrated lessens the chance of a blood clot. Plus, if you're drinking water, you're not drinking a sugar-laden or artificially sweetened beverage.
RELATED: 7 Easy Ways to Drink More Water
When you drink alcohol, make it red wine
Drink this kind of tea
Get your caffeine fix from coffee
Perfect protein pairings
1 1/3 parts chopped red peppers to 3 parts cooked cauliflower
1 part cooked chickpeas to 3 parts cooked mustard greens
1 part lima beans to 2 parts cooked carrots
1 1/2 parts cooked broccoli rabe to 1 1/3 parts cooked wild rice
1/2 part firm tofu to 1 1/4 parts cooked soba noodles