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People that live in blue zones live on average twelve years longer than people living in the United States. Currently, five blue zones have been identified and they are Sardinia, Italy; Acciaroli, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Icaria, Greece; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and a region in southern Sweden. Researchers studying these blue zones have found that the diets of people in these regions primarily consisted of mostly an organic plant-based diet, but also consisted of moderate and regular alcohol consumption. The other significant characteristic of these blue zones were the isolation due to geography or religion, which cut off access to modern consumption habits and built a stronger sense of community among the areas inhabitants. Wellbeing can be the result of many factors including diet and community, which are largely dictated by the geography of the area in which you inhabit.
Geography is one of the more interesting and noticeable aspects of the blue zones. Three of the blue zones are islands and one is a peninsula. Loma Linda has been identified as a blue zone largely due to being the home to the largest concentration of Seventh-Day Adventists in the world. Acciaroli and southern Sweden are both located on the coast in small isolated towns. The isolated nature of these areas has prevented and discouraged changing the lifestyle and diet practices of these areas. The isolation forced many of these areas to become self-sufficient, resulting in growing their own food and not relying on imported foods that are filled with preservatives and other additives. The lack of abundance of food also played a role in preventing over-consumption of food. The idea that you shouldn’t eat past the point of fullness is common in these blue zones. There is also a more meaningful sense of community in these blue zones where there are typically smaller populations. Regular community gatherings through religion or food are commonplace in blue zones.
While the diet of people living in blue zones can be boiled down to being typically plant-based, the types of plants consumed vary among regions. In the Nicoya Peninsula, the people there consume primarily the three staples foods that are native to Mesoamerica, which are corn, beans, and squash. Various fruits like yams, papayas, and peach palms supplement their diets and eggs are popular companions on any dish in Nicoya. In Okinawa, tofu, garlic, brown rice, shiitake mushrooms, and seaweed are commonly eaten along with rice. It is well known that alcohol consumption is negatively correlated with longevity. The blue zones contradict this as moderate consumption of alcohol is common in the blue zones. Drinking 1-2 glass of wine every day is fairly commonplace in Icaria, Sardinia, and Acciaroli. Another interesting finding is that these areas consume a lot of high-quality fats from foods like olive oil, avocados, and cheese.
Okinawa has the highest rate of centenarians in the world with approximately 6.5 centenarians per 10,000 people living on the island. Okinawa and Sardinia distinguish themselves from the other blue zones by having relatively large populations of over one million people. In contrast, Acciaroli only has a population of 645 and Icaria has only 8,423 inhabitants. Despite the large populations, Okinawa and Sardinia are known to have strong social groups. Moai, which means “meeting for a common purpose,” are social support groups common in Okinawa. Some of these groups provide assistance regarding spirituality, financial, and health. In Sardinia, the mountainous regions isolate various communities, which forged stronger bonds among families and neighbors. It is common for family members to take time off from work to take care of an elderly relative.
People that inhabit the blue zones live longer and healthier lives than the average American. Several characteristics have been found in these blue zones. The diets consumed in this area are generally plant-based, small servings of meat, and surprisingly regular and moderate consumption of alcohol. The geography of these areas dictates the type of food they eat and the isolated nature of these places force the people to become self-sufficient and fosters a stronger sense of community. While blue zones confirm many of the lifestyle habits that we view as positive, they also contradict some long-held beliefs and shows the importance of social interaction and community to our wellbeing.