The Blue Zones Diet Guide: Live A Longer, Healthier Life

Analyzing The Secrets of the World's Longest-Lived Populations

Almost everyone would like to live a longer and healthier life. For this reason, a lot of attention is paid to identifying lifestyle habits, including diets that seem to promote longevity.

Studies have found that people living in Blue Zones seem to have an average longer lifespan than the rest of the world.1Improvement, R. on P. H., Practice, B. on P. H. and P. H., & Medicine, I. of. (2015). Lessons from the Blue Zones®. In www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. National Academies Press (US). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK298903/

Researchers partially attribute the increased Blue Zone longevity to the diet and eating habits of people living in these areas of the world.

The Blue Zones Diet plan is meant to replicate the typical eating patterns of those living in the Blue Zones.

In this nutrition guide, we will discuss the principles behind the Blue Zones Diet meal plan, how to follow this way of eating, and the foods you should eat to be on your way to a longer, healthier life.

Let’s jump in!

A Costa Rican map and flag.

What Is the Blue Zones Diet Plan?

The Blue Zones Diet plan is designed to support longevity by replicating the traditional eating patterns of people living in Blue Zones of the world.

This is because Blue Zone lifespan averages are higher than in other parts of the world, with a significant number of people living well over 100 years. 

Not only do people in Blue Zones seem to have a longer lifespan, but they also seem to enjoy a healthier life with reduced risk of diseases such as cancer, obesity, heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.

So, where are the Blue Zones located?

The Blue Zone locations include:2Buettner, D., & Skemp, S. (2016). Blue Zones: Lessons from the World’s Longest Lived. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine10(5), 318–321. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827616637066

  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Ikaria, Greece
  • The province of Ogliastra in Sardinia, Italy
  • The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica
  • The community of Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California
A coastal view of Japan.

The Blue Zones Diet plan was created by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow who studied lifestyle habits, including foods consumed most frequently by people in the Blue Zone areas of the world.3Dan Buettner. (n.d.). Blue Zones. https://www.bluezones.com/dan-buettner/

‌He fashioned the Blue Zones Diet plan to include the top foods that seemed consistent among the different Blue Zones, believing that these foods must help promote longevity and support optimal health while reducing the risk of disease.

As such, the Blue Zones Diet plan is almost entirely composed of natural, unprocessed, whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains.

While not entirely a vegan diet or a vegetarian diet, the Blue Zones Diet plan is certainly a plant-based diet since 95% of the Blue Zones Diet calories should come from plant-based foods.

Most notably, all processed foods, as well as foods that have added sugar, refined grains, artificial ingredients, or some other type of unnatural ingredients or excessive adulterating from the original source are removed from the Blue Zones Diet food list.

Greece's shoreline.

What Are the Key Principles of the Blue Zones Diet?

The Blue Zones Diet plan has key principles that help guide your healthy eating behaviors to promote health.

Here are some of the key principles of the longest-lived people’s Blue Zones Diet:

#1: Eat Mostly Plants

People who live in Blue Zones consume almost entirely plant-based foods with little to no meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, or other animal products.

The Blue Zones Diet meal plan should be 95% plant-based, if not higher.

If you are going to have meat, it should be wild-caught seafood, organic cage-free eggs, or wild game meat in very small portions enjoyed only occasionally.

The only exception here is wild-caught fish, which can be consumed in small portions as often as three times per week.

This longevity diet suggests consuming no more than 2 ounces of meat per serving and no more than five times monthly.

A plant-based meal with lentils and vegetables.

#2: Eat Locally and Seasonally

People who live in Blue Zone areas of the world eat local and seasonal foods almost exclusively.

Organic, local produce that is in season should make up the majority of your diet.

Organic produce is free from pesticides and fertilizers, which have been known to be toxic to the body and may be carcinogenic. Consuming conventional produce that is sprayed with pesticides can potentially increase your risk of cancer.

#3: Eat Dark, Leafy Greens

While Blue Zones Diet recipes include a variety of vegetables, dark, leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, watercress, beet greens, Swiss chard, mustard greens, and collard greens should be a regular part of most of your Blue Zones Diet meals.

Dark, leafy green vegetables are not only low in calories but also very nutrient-dense. This means you will get tons of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and potent phytochemicals without consuming many calories.

There is also fiber, a little bit of protein, and key micronutrients like iron, vitamin C, and vitamin A in these veggies.

Fresh fruits and vegtables.

#4: Eat More Berries

Berries, such as blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries, are packed with antioxidants and anthocyanins.

Other fruits, such as pineapple, papaya, green bananas, and pomegranate, are also an important part of the Blue Zones Diet food list.

#5: Befriend Legumes

Legumes such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, and organic soybeans should be part of your daily Blue Zone Diet meals.

Legumes provide complex carbohydrates, fiber, and plant-based proteins to help keep you satiated, improve digestion, and support gut health.

#6: Use Healthy Oils

Generally, the Blue Zones Diet plan is pretty low in fat, but healthy plant-based oils such as extra-virgin olive oil are a mainstay in some Blue Zone areas such as Greece.

Grains and legumes.

#7: Eat Whole Grains

Whole grains such as brown rice, barley, whole oats, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, and amaranth should be part of your Blue Zones Diet meals.

Whole grains have been shown to help reduce the risk of chronic diseases, support weight loss, and help manage blood sugar levels.

You can also have whole-grain bread and sourdough bread made from 100% whole-grain flour.

The Blue Zones Diet food list suggests whole-grain sourdough bread as the preeminent choice for the best bread to eat.

It has probiotics due to the fermenting process, which helps nourish the healthy bacteria in your gut. Whole wheat flour provides B vitamins, fiber, protein, magnesium, and iron.

You should remove all refined flour, processed bread, starches, cereals, pastas, and pastries from your diet.

#8: Eat Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds can provide healthy fats along with minerals such as magnesium, zinc, and potassium.

The Blue Zones Diet plan suggests a variety of healthy nuts such as almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, and Brazil nuts.

You should have raw, roasted, or soaked nuts rather than commercial nuts off the shelf that have been seasoned with salt and cooked in industrial oils.

A variety of vegetables.

#9: Limit Dairy and Eggs

While the Blue Zones Diet plan doesn’t have to be a vegan diet in that you can consume some animal products in moderation, the quality and quantity of the animal products need to be considered.

If you want to have dairy products, you should have organic dairy or fermented dairy only, including goat’s milk and sheep’s milk.

Consume an egg no more than three times per week. 

#10: Hydrate

You should be drinking plenty of water every day so that you are peeing a light, clear color.

Sweetened beverages and beverages with artificial sweeteners, such as diet soda, should not be consumed.

You can also have black coffee, unsweetened herbal tea, green tea, black tea, and red wine in moderation.

#11: Remove All Processed Foods and Avoid Sugar

As much as the Blue Zones Diet meal plan is about consuming the “healthiest foods“ or the best foods for weight loss and health,“ a cornerstone of the Blue Zones Diet plan is removing all highly processed foods from the diet.

Cut back on sugar (even natural sweeteners) as much as possible.

You cannot eat processed meat such as sausage, hotdogs, deli meat, pepperoni, bacon, etc. 

The Blue Zones Diet food list also removes excessive alcohol, artificial colors, artificial flavors, fried foods, and foods with industrial oils such as palm kernel oil.

A person eating fruit.

#12: Stop Eating When You Are 80% Full

The Blue Zones Diet eating plan extends beyond which healthy foods to eat and which foods to avoid but also aims to replicate some of the eating habits of people living in the Blue Zones.

This includes behaviors such as eating mindfully, sitting down and enjoying your food in the company of others, stopping when you are only 80% full, preparing your meals at home with the best ingredients rather than eating out or eating on the go, and savoring your meals as nourishment.

These practices can help cut down on overindulging and emotional eating, which may help you lose weight on the Blue Zones Diet.4Weight Loss Depends on Less Calories, Not Nutrient Mix. (2015, May 22). National Institutes of Health (NIH). https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/weight-loss-depends-less-calories-not-nutrient-mix

‌Overall, the Blue Zones Diet plan is a sensible, well-balanced approach to optimizing your nutrition to enjoy a long and healthy life.

Following the Blue Zones Diet plan may potentially help reduce your risk of certain chronic diseases such as obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

The Blue Zones Diet’s health benefits are largely attributable to eating nutrient-dense, whole, unprocessed foods and removing ultra-processed foods from the diet.

A similar approach yet more flexible approach to this style of eating is the Mediterranean diet. For our guide, click here!

A post it note that says good health, good life.

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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