Eating Your Way to Centenarian Status: 4 Places with the Highest Percentage of Centenarians
Greetings, and thanks for stopping by the blog series, “A Longer Life,” where the latest updates, news, and studies are explored, with the goal of giving you health tips on how to live longer and healthier, just by eating right!
I recently came across the work of Dan Buettner, an American educator, explorer, world record-holder (in endurance bicycling), and author of the book, The Blue Zone: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest. Buettner spent several years researching, studying, and visiting various spots across the globe where there are a disproportionately high number of centenarians – those who live 100 years or more. Interestingly, Buettner discovered that the four areas, which he calls “Blue Zones,” with the highest percentage of centenarians (note that this doesn’t necessarily mean these places have the highest life expectancies) were spread throughout the globe, from four different continents.
One of the primary areas of research that Buettner focused his efforts on was finding out what the typical diet consists of in each of the four Blue Zones.
You’re probably wondering which four areas across the globe have the highest percentage of centurions. Here they are . . .
Sardinia is a secluded island off the coast of Italy, and the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (Sicily is the largest).
So what is the typical diet of this island’s inhabitants, who have one of the world’s highest percentage of people living over the age of 100?
Sardinians tend to consume a diet containing beans, fruits, homegrown vegetables, whole-grain breads, and mastic oil, which is cultivated from the Mastic plant. Mastic oil has been linked to lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol, which explains the Sardinian population’s low prevalence of heart disease.
The people of Sardinia regularly drink goat’s milk, which is not only an excellent source of calcium, but also is rich in protein vitamin B2, phosphorous, and potassium. I’ve had goat’s milk once when I was younger, and I remember it tasted slightly sweet and a bit salty, so you really have to develop a taste for it, especially if you’ve drank cow’s milk your whole life, but goat’s milk is definitely worth the health benefits.
You’ve probably heard many times that a daily glass of wine is beneficial. My grandma, for instance, who just turned 84 years old this month, swears by a glass of red wine every night. It turns out there may be something to a daily dose of wine. Most Sardinians who have surpassed the 100 year mark in age, drink moderate amounts of wine every day, especially Cannonau wine, which is native to the island, and contains 2-3 times the level of flavonoids as found in other wines. Why is this noteworthy? Well, research has shown that flavonoids have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory potential.
If you were paying attention in history class, you recognize the name Okinawa because of the battle that took place there during World War II. Okinawa is composed of 161 islands, each abundant with flora, fauna, and lush rain forests.
As another location with one of the globe’s highest percentage of centenarians, let’s explore the foods and nutrition common in this region.
Okinawans’ diet is made up primarily of vegetables, and most of these are either homegrown in a family’s garden or bought at the local market. Typical meals in Okinawa incorporate stir-fried vegetables, sweet potatoes, tofu, and Goya. Meaning “bitter melon,” Goya (shown in the picture on the right) is unique to Okinawa, and is an extremely bitter vegetable, full of vitamin C, antioxidants, and compounds that lower blood sugar.
Most Okinawan centenarians do not consume that much meat, as ceremonies and celebrations are typically when they do indulge in something like pork. So the next time you’re eating pork chops, remember that Okinawans consider this to be a treat!
The typical Okinawan diet embraces soy-based foods, including miso soup and tofu, both of which contain flavonoids that may help prevent breast cancer and boost heart health.
Loma Linda, California
Located 45 minutes inland from the Pacific Coast, Loma Linda is a Seventh Day Adventist community, located near two national forests.
As one of the world’s areas with a high percentage of centenarians, the diet of the people of Loma Linda should be further examined.
Like Okinawans, residents of Loma Linda consume little meat, but large quantities of vegetables. The people of Loma Linda also consume nuts quite frequently, and this is one of the reasons they experience far fewer cases of heart disease than the rest of the world.
The people of Loma Linda tend to eat the most at the beginning of the day and less as the day wears on. They also tend to drink water quite frequently throughout the day, as centenarians of Loma Linda tend to drink 4 to 6 glasses of water a day.
Compared to the rest of the world, Loma Linda experiences fewer cases of colon cancer, lung cancer, and ovarian cancer. Researchers believe this is the result of their emphasis on vegetables, their high fruit intake, and their high consumption of legumes, such as beans and peas.
Nicoya, Costa Rica
The fourth area identified by Buettner as a hotspot for centenarians, is Nicoya, Costa Rica - a beautiful peninsula, full of marine wetlands, wildlife, and picturesque rocky cliffs.
The inhabitants of Nicoya drink hard water, and the water found throughout their peninsula is chock full of calcium, which may partially explain the strong bones and low rates of heart disease and hip problems, among Nicoyans.
The staple of the Nocoyan diet is corn and beans, a traditional combo dating back to the peninsula’s indigenous people, the Chorotega. Black beans are especially popular among the Nicoya people, and provide many nutrients, including magnesium and dietary fiber; black beans are heart-healthy, and help prevent diabetes, heart attacks, and cholesterol.
A traditional meal in Nicoya is called Casado (pictured below). It is a dish consisting of rice, chicken or beef, an egg, beans, and cabbage, sprinkled with lemon juice.
If you want to reach triple digits, part of your quest should be to eat healthy. I hope you will use the four areas identified as having the highest percentage of centenarians as a guide for healthy eating.
What are your thoughts? Of the four areas, which has a diet you are most likely to incorporate into your own eating habits?