Everything You Need To Know About The Blue Zone Diet
Blue Zones are identified as geographic areas where residents live longer than average lifespans. Currently, there are five labeled “Blue Zones” around the world: Ikaria, Greece; Loma Linda, United States of America; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and Sardinia, Italy. Within these regions, researchers have found a combination of different lifestyle characteristics that contribute to the longevity of the residents (1). While there are various contributors to good health and long lives, diet plays an important part across different Blue Zones around the world.
The Greek island of Ikaria lies in the Eastern Aegean Sea and is characterized by its Mediterranean climate and rocky topography. Because of these characteristics, Ikarians mainly follow the Mediterranean Diet for their centenarian lifestyle. For Ikarians, their Mediterranean diet focuses largely on lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, potatoes, and olive oil. Specifically, the typical Ikarian diet includes olive oil, red wine, fish, coffee, herbal tea, honey, potatoes, garbanzo beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, and a limited amount of meat, sugar, and dairy products (2). The particular emphasis on unsaturated fats from olive oil has helped Ikarians in lowering rates of heart disease and dementia (3).
Loma Linda, California, United States of America
Loma Linda is a city located inland within California and is America’s only Blue Zone. Unlike the other Blue Zones, the geographical environment of Loma Linda isn’t the major contributor to the resident’s centenarian lifestyle. For Loma Linda residents, their know-how to longevity lies in their engagement in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Many of the residents are Seventh-day Adventists and follow strict lifestyles that restrict alcohol, caffeine, and smoking. In terms of their diets, the residents follow the Adventist diet, or the Garden of Eden diet, which emphasizes whole plant foods, such as nuts, fruits, grains, vegetables, and legumes, and discourages animal products as much as possible. The top foods of the Seventh-day Adventists include avocados, nuts, beans, oatmeal, whole wheat bread, and soy milk (2).
Nicoya, Costa Rica
The Nicoya Peninsula is located on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific Coast and has a warm, sunny climate almost all year-round. Similar to other Blue Zone diets, the traditional Nicoya diet, or Mesoamerican diet, is mostly plant-based but incorporates a lot more tropical fruits and vegetables. The traditional Nicoya diet consists of black beans, bananas, corn, fish, plantains, papaya, rice, squash, homemade corn tortillas, and yams (4). Many of these foods are loaded with essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, such as potassium and vitamins A, B, and C. Among these vitamins and minerals, Nicoyans particularly get plenty of Vitamin D through their exposure to the sun and through the high levels of calcium within the Nicoya peninsula that help Nicoyans fight against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Okinawa is the largest of the 150 Ryukyu islands in Japan and is roughly located between Taiwan and mainland Japan. Traditionally, the Okinawa diet was low in calories and fat, but recent modernization has led the diet to include more protein and fat. Some of the staple foods within the Okinawa diet include seaweed, kelp, bamboo shoots, daikon radish, bitter melon, rice, noodles, tofu, miso, natto, edamame, and seafood. Most of these foods are rich in antioxidants and fiber to help lower levels of free radicals in the body and reduce risks of chronic diseases (5). However, compared to other Blue Zones, Okinawans do not intake as much as legumes, fruits, nuts, and seeds because of Okinawa’s island geography that restrict certain foods from growing there.
Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and lies west of the Italian peninsula. Many residents of Sardinia also follow the Mediterranean diet which consists of olive oil, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and unrefined cereals. Some staples of the Sardinian Mediterranean diet include Cannonau Wine, sourdough bread, flatbread, goat milk, and a lot of olive oil (6). For Sardinians, Extra Virgin Olive Oil is used to season many dishes and foods and is the main fat used in the diet. Olive oil is particularly big in the Mediterranean diet because it is rich in unsaturated fat and can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, neurodegeneration cancer, and other chronic diseases (7).
Despite the difference in the geographical environments, the Blue Zones share similar plant-based diets with limitations on meat, dairy, fish, and processed food products. All the Blue Zone diets have shown to include vegetables, legumes, nuts, fruits, whole grains, and plant-derived oil that help lower disease-risk and promote longevity.
Written by Jimin Im
Reviewed by Kelly Powers, MA, RDN, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who takes a holistic approach to nutrition and health. Kelly is a recipe developer with a food blog highlighting whole foods, simple recipes, and her life in San Francisco. She’s the creator of 52 Weeks, a weekly meal plan program that helps users get back in the kitchen and feed themselves well. Kelly is also a co-founder of Olivaio.