Every single one of us is aging, but some people seem to age better than others. While you can point the finger at genetics, longevity may actually start with what you put on your plate. "Healthy eating behaviors, both what you eat and how you eat, are really one of the key ingredients to health," says Margaret Adamek, Ph.D., a food policy expert with the Blue Zones Project.
To find out what these healthy behaviors are, look no further than folks living in so-called blue zones, communities around the world where people live the longest and are also the healthiest. "These communities have built elements into their culture that support and sustain health for a long time," says Adamek. In 2005, the five original blue zones were identified: Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; the Italian island of Sardinia; Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula; and the Greek island of Ikaria. Since then, 37 more communities have become part of the Blue Zones Project, seeking to restructure their environment so it is easier to live healthier.
Below, Adamek reveals seven strategies from blue zone dwellers to increase the quantity and the quality of your life.
- Follow the 95/5 rule.
Load 95 percent of your plate with fruits, vegetables, grains, greens, and beans. Why plants? "We get numerous nutrients from plant food, and it's more gentle on our cardiovascular system than animal protein," Adamek says. Meanwhile, limit meat to once or twice a week.
- Befriend beans.
An excellent source of protein, beans provide fiber, which is good for your digestive health. They've also been shown to help reduce cancer, and they can play a role in managing and stabilizing your blood sugar, both key in preventing diabetes, says Adamek. Aim to add beans to at least one of your daily meals.
- Stick with the five-ingredient rule.
If you're following the first rule, you'll be eating mainly whole foods, which are healthier than the processed foods that make up the standard American diet. You can get by, however, with a few lightly processed foods, as long as they have five ingredients or less.
- Go nuts.
Just as you need a regular dose of beans, you also need a daily handful of nuts. Meet this recommendation and you'll reap numerous rewards. "People who eat nuts every day are less likely to develop certain types of cancer," says Adamek. "Nuts also contribute healthy fats for brain health." The one caveat? Skip sugar-coated nuts.
- Green it up.
Dark, leafy greens and brassica vegetables (like cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower) have been shown to help prevent cancer. Plus, their abundance of nutrients will keep you healthier long-term. Eat at least one serving daily, says Adamek.
- Say yes to grains.
Think grains are bad if you're an otherwise healthy individual? Not so. Whole grains promote longevity. Note the word "whole," as you should eat grains in their purest form possible, so for instance, opt for brown versus white rice. Also, because each grain has different benefits, experiment! Some options to consider may not even technically be grains, like wild rice, which is a grass, or quinoa and amaranth, both seeds.
- Introduce your palate to turmeric.
While many herbs and spices have powerful effects on health, one that has stolen the spotlight lately is turmeric—and for good reason. "One aspect of the blue zones dietary framework is that it reduces inflammation in the body," says Adamek. Inflammation has been linked to chronic conditions—like obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer—and turmeric works as a powerful anti-inflammatory in the body.
If you adopt all of these behaviors, you'll be on your way to living a longer, healthier life. Yet changing your dietary habits is just the first step. "It's not only what you put in your mouth but also the context around those meals," Adamek says. Blue zone dwellers don't just prepare their own food; they sit down and enjoy those meals with loved ones.