Living a long and happy life is a universal human goal, but one that requires a little work to achieve. Recently, the spotlight has been on areas of the world known as Blue Zones, where people live much longer than the average life span and are in exceptional health. Among the many reasons for their health and longevity is diet, the components of which share common denominators even though they are in different parts of the world. So, when considering the best diets for senior health and longevity, consider what Blue Zone residents eat and why these foods are among the healthiest of choices.
Less meat, more plants
We’ve been hearing it for years: eat more fruits and vegetables and limit meat consumption. As plant-based meats are becoming almost normal, even at fast-food restaurants that goal gets easier. But increasing plant-based foods across the board is a proven way to senior health and longevity.
For example, a 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, titled, “Plant‐Based Diets Are Associated With a Lower Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Disease, Cardiovascular Disease Mortality, and All‐Cause Mortality in a General Population of Middle‐Aged Adults,”1 showed a lower risk of “cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular disease mortality, and all‐cause mortality” among those who ate diets with more plants and less animal-based foods. Since heart disease is the leading cause of death among Americans of almost all racial and ethnic groups, lowering that risk alone can go a long way toward extending life.
Senior should expand veggie choices
Vegetables are at the core of a healthy diet for many reasons. They are low in fat, high in vitamins like C, A, B6, K, and others; provide minerals like potassium, manganese, iron, and calcium; and deliver fiber that is essential to keep systems running smoothly. Some also may help reduce blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, and provide antioxidants that reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases.
Although residents of Blue Zones are scattered across the globe, different vegetables compose a significant portion of residents’ diets and those are most often grown near their homes. They eat them raw and cooked and combine them with whole grains, legumes and nuts. The emphasis is on variety and freshness to get all they have to offer. For a look at some of the healthiest vegetables to add to your longevity diet, check out the healthline.com article, “The 14 Healthiest Vegetables on Earth.”
In addition to vegetables, fruits are important to a well-balanced healthful diet, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says only 1 in 10 U.S adults eat the recommended 1.5-2 cups of fruit every day. Like vegetables, fruits provide a range of vitamins and minerals as well as fiber. Eating fruit is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes and can even elevate moods. Eating fruit may also help satisfy a sweet tooth without added processed sugar and corn syrup.
Fruits are perhaps best known for their antioxidant qualities, which only add to their nutritional value. Even the most common fruits, like apples and lemons, pack a punch when it comes to keeping humans healthy. For a list of fruits with high antioxidant values, take a look at the commonsensehealth.com blog, “Top 10 Healthiest Fruit List with Fruit Benefits.”
It’s hard to believe something as simple as a handful of nuts every day can make a big difference in long-term senior health, but it’s true! According to the webmd.com blog, “Health Benefits of Nuts,” nuts contain unsaturated fats that help fill you up, can replace meat or dairy products, can aide in keeping diabetes and heart disease under control, can lower bad cholesterol associated with stroke, and are chock full of vitamins and other nutrients.
Eating nuts in moderation — the American Heart Association recommends 1.5 ounces of raw or dry roasted nuts four times a week — can be great for heart health and provide extra fiber. All nuts have something good to offer but some are higher in calories than others and all should be eaten without extra chocolate, salt or sugar. For a list of different nuts and their caloric and fat content, the mayoclinic.com blog, “Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health,” can help you choose the best nuts for your diet.
Beans are better for seniors for longevity
Beans are the great equalizer when it comes to eating less animal and more plant foods because they are high in protein without all the saturated fat found in meat. Beans (aka legumes) can also help manage cholesterol and blood sugar, have tons of fiber and provide B vitamins and minerals.
Beans include peanuts and peas and come in several varieties that are perfect for a range of recipes as a meat replacement, or just because they are so good for you. In Blue Zones, locally grown beans are a staple part of the daily diet and for the rest of us, beans are available, healthful and inexpensive. Learn more about how to make beans a tasty addition to a longevity diet in the bluezones.com article, “Turn 1 Can of Beans into 27 Easy, Creative Meals.”
What about meat?
When it comes to eating meat, including poultry and fish, less is more. In Blue Zones, meat is the exception rather than the rule and is often absent altogether at the dinner table. At bluezones.com, it is noted that the emphasis is on plant-based foods occasionally supplemented with meat or fish raised locally and enjoyed as part of a celebration or special occasion. Like their fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts, Blue Zone residents eat meat that is raised without chemicals, hormones, or pesticides, so even though they do eat meat, it’s often much “cleaner” and more nutritious, even in small quantities.
In general, the Blue Zone diet recommends two ounces of meat just twice a week, with a preference for organic or free-range. For more about meat and healthy meat substitutes, the bluezones.com article, “Blue Zones Diet: Food Secrets of the World’s Longest-Lived People,” can help.
At Ganton’s Countryside, nutrition is an essential ingredient in our daily menus and we also consider special dietary needs. For more information about Countryside, please call Margaret Nagel at (517) 206-5000 or download our brochure to learn about our care levels, cost, and amenities.