In recent decades, talk of Blue Zones—regions where people not only live the longest, but also experience lower rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and Alzheimer’s—has permeated longevity discussions. Researchers have found numerous contributing factors that these regions share, but perhaps the most important commonality is diet.
In America, the No. 1 cause of death is heart disease, and what Americans eat greatly contributes to this. Close to 70 percent of packaged foods in the U.S. contain added sugars, which can be identified by up to 56 names. In addition to cane sugar, these empty calories commonly go by words ending in “ose”: fructose (think high-fructose corn syrup), dextrose, sucrose, and maltose to name a few. Processed foods are also a large part of American diets. Processed meats, cookies, chips, and sweets are all packed with sodium, preservatives, and chemical additives. Refined sugar and processed products are the worst foods for longevity.
Blue Zones residents aren’t counting calories or religiously reading labels—in fact, they rarely eat anything with a label at all. Longevity diets center around whole foods. The less processed a food is, the more efficiently the body can absorb the nutrients and use them to fuel cells. The body thrives on lean sources of protein, beans, nuts, and whole vegetables, fruits, and grains. Key things to consume on a regular basis include leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards, chard), fiber-rich foods (apples, berries), and fats derived from plants (olive oil, avocados) as they are much healthier than animal-based fats.
It’s also wise to limit meat consumption to no more than twice a week. When you do eat meat, make sure it is pasture-raised and therefore free of hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics and much richer in heart-healthy omega-3s. In general, choose fish or plant protein over meat, limit mercury-rich fish like swordfish and tuna, and avoid farmed fish that are high in antibiotics, pesticides, and artificial coloring.
Read on for my secrets for longevity and more.
Secrets for Longevity
Eat mostly plants. Aim to make plants 90 percent of your diet. Use olive or avocado oil over butter and choose nut milks and nut cheeses over cow’s milk. Incorporate plant protein sources like beans, nuts, and seeds instead of meats and whey protein powders.
Don’t eat anything that contains more than five ingredients or any ingredients you can’t pronounce. If you don’t recognize it, neither will your body.
If you’re not hungry, don’t eat. I like to think of the space between meals as sacred. Giving your body a break from digestion and time to clean and turn over cells is hugely beneficial to your health.
Exercise regularly. Not only is it good for cardiovascular health, but it’s also wonderful for brain and bone health.
Plant-Based Charcuterie Board
2 cups chickpeas
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup lemon juice (1 large lemon)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2–1/3 cup tahini
1/4–1/3 cup ice water
» Rinse and strain chickpeas. In a saucepan, add chickpeas, baking soda, and enough water to cover by 2 inches. Boil for 20 minutes. During this time, add lemon juice, garlic, salt, and cumin to a blender or food processor and let it sit while the chickpeas boil. This neutralizes the garlic a bit. When the chickpeas are done, rinse and strain again and set aside.
» Add tahini to the blender and pulse a few times. This is the most crucial step for getting super creamy hummus: While running the blender with the lemon, garlic, tahini, and salt combo, slowly add in the ice water. The texture should be thick and creamy. If it’s too thick, add a little more ice water.
» Toss in chickpeas and cumin and blend for 1 minute, scraping sides down as you go. If it’s not creamy enough, you can always add more ice water, but it really needs to be ice cold.
Herbed “Cheeze” Ingredients
2 cups raw macadamia nuts
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. nutritional yeast
1 tbsp. parsley
1 tbsp. chives
1/2 cup water
» Add all ingredients except water to a high-speed blender. Blend until creamy, adding water gradually and scraping down sides as you go. Serve with sliced raw vegetables.
Eggplant “Salami” Ingredients
1 eggplant, sliced crosswise into round discs
1 tbsp. coconut aminos
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
2 tsp. maple syrup
3 tbsp. avocado oil
Salt and pepper to taste
» Whisk together coconut aminos, smoked paprika, maple syrup, and avocado oil. Arrange eggplant discs on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, brush mixture onto each side of the discs. Broil on high for 15 minutes, flipping halfway.
PB&J Plant Protein Smoothie
1 1/2 cup frozen strawberries
2 tbsp. chia seeds
2 tbsp. hemp seeds
2 tbsp. ground flax seeds
1 tbsp. peanut butter
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
» Blend all ingredients in a high-speed blender until creamy.