Top Food Choices to Avoid While on the Blue Zone Diet in 2021
There are nine lifestyle factors that the people who live in the Blue Zones reside by to help them live long, healthy lives. These nine lifestyle factor are called the Power Nine and includes habits of moving naturally, living with a sense of purpose, reducing stress, eating only up to 80% of fullness, eating mainly plant-based diets, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol, engaging in religion, prioritizing family above all else, and being active in society (1). The Power Nine not only encourages physical health but also promotes mental health for Blue Zone residents. Blue Zone residents experience reduced levels of depression, higher levels of self-perceived well-being, and better subjective and objective cognitive health (2). While their different lifestyle factors altogether help their mental health, Blue Zone residents tend to avoid certain foods that can be linked to higher risks of mental disorder.
Here are some of the top foods to avoid while on a Blue Zone diet.
Fruit juices are usually drunk as snacks and quick pick-me-ups during the day but oftentimes it does not make you feel full or satisfied for long. That’s because fruit juice is essentially nutritious sugar-water that works to quickly increase blood sugar levels but also drops blood sugar levels just as fast. Because a lot of fruit juices tend to leave out the fiber or don’t contain enough fiber, they tend to make people feel hungry and angry due to the inadequate amount of liquid calories (3). This “hangry” mood often can cause you to eat more than intended and can cause irritable, annoyed, or negative behaviors that can worsen anxiety or depression. The best way to consume fruits is to eat them whole. Whole fruits contain the fiber your body needs to fill you up and slow down the rate at which your blood takes in the energy to make you feel more satiated until your next meal.
Just like fruit juice, regular soda is mainly liquid calories that can quickly alter blood sugar levels. Because there is generally more sugar and less nutrition content in regular sodas than in fruit juices, too much soda can cause sugar rush and crash that can result in hunger, irritability, headache, fatigue, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating (4). It’s best to avoid diet soda as well because of the common artificial soft drink sweetener aspartame, which has been directly linked to a higher risk of depression. Overconsumption of drinks containing aspartame can result in learning problems, headaches, seizures, migraines, irritable moods, anxiety, depression, and insomnia (5). Instead of choosing drinks that contain high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners, it’s best to drink unsweetened beverages, such as tea or just plain water, when thirsty.
Refined carbohydrates, much like fruit juice, are stripped of nutritious fiber content. Highly processed refined grains, such as white flour, create the same effects of fruit juice in that they quickly increase blood sugar levels and quickly bring it back down. This correlates to depressive symptoms of mood changes, fatigue, and increased risk for depression (6). According to researchers in London, people who ate mainly processed foods like sweetened desserts, fried food, processed meat, refined grains, and high-fat dairy products had significant chances of being diagnosed with depression (7). When it comes to carbohydrates, it’s best to stick with unprocessed, whole foods, such as whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables, while on the Blue Zone diet.
Processed foods typically refer to convenience foods, such as fast foods and junk foods, that are high in calories but low in nutrients. While occasional consumption of refined foods is fine, overconsumption or daily consumption of refined foods can attribute to an increased risk for developing depression. The exact link between refined foods and mental health risks have not been yet discovered, but refined foods as part of the Western dietary pattern that are higher in refined grains and processed foods have been found to have an increased risk of mental health risks (8). Several studies have found that people who ate a poor-quality diet or followed the Western dietary patterns that were high in processed meat, chocolates, sweet desserts, fried foods, refined cereals, and high-fat dairy products were more likely to report symptoms of depression (9). On the other hand, people who ate a high-quality diet, such as the Mediterranean Diet, were less likely to be depressed.
While many of these depressive foods are safe to consume as occasional indulgences, but it’s important to remember that overconsumption and high daily intakes of these foods can lead to higher risks for depression and overall lower mental health. Some tips to eat for better mental health is to follow ‘traditional’ dietary patterns, such as the Blue Zone diet, increase the consumption of whole foods, include high consumption of foods rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, replace unhealthy foods with wholesome nutritious foods, and limit your intake of processed foods, ‘fast’ foods, commercial bakery goods, and sweets. Instead of eating foods with little to no nutritional value, try some healthy brain foods to include in your daily diets, such as olive oil, fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrain cereals, nuts, and seeds.
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.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What do the Blue Zones eat?
A :At least half a cup of cooked beans and two ounces of nuts are consumed daily.
Q: Do Blue Zones eat cheese?
A: People in Blue Zones typically avoid meat and dairy, as well as sugary foods and beverages. They also steer clear of processed foods.
Q: What can you eat on the Blue Zone diet?
A: Beans, greens, root vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, and sometimes meat on Special Occasions.