I'm The Founder Of Blue Zones & Here Are My 6 Essential Foods For Longevity
If you're familiar with Dan Buettner, longevity expert, National Geographic fellow, and founder of Blue Zones, you know that he's captivated by the simple yet powerful ways people extend their life span. And in terms of diet, he found that the majority of people who live in Blue Zones (aka, the places where people tend to live the longest and healthiest lives) follow a pretty straightforward eating plan: tons of whole, nutrient-dense plants and grains.
But what, specifically, does a Blue Zones–inspired kitchen look like? Of course, we had to ask Buettner on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. Below, he shares on his own go-to pantry staples whenever he's feeling peckish:
In case you didn't know, Buettner's got a thing for beans. (In fact, he says 120 beans per day is the best longevity "supplement.") Beans boast tons of fiber. Black beans, for example, contain about 10 grams of fiber per cup, which is crucial for maintaining gut health and immunity, thanks to the gut-immune connection.
"One of the best things you can do is load up on fiber," Buettner notes. His approach? A piping bowl of minestrone soup, or what he deems a "longevity cocktail."
"It has three beans, six kinds of vegetables, and provides a rainbow of different fiber species to feed all of those wonderful microbes in my gut," he adds.
2. Whole grains
Whole grains also feature tons of fiber; that's why Buettner includes rice and barley in his Blue Zones–inspired menu. Rice, especially brown rice, is chock-full of vitamins and minerals, like magnesium. Barley contains powerful beta-glucan fibers, which have been shown to support heart health, gut health, and immunity. Feel free to chuck these whole grains into the aforementioned minestrone soup to make the bowl even more filling.
Buettner also keeps sprouted-grain bread in his kitchen: "I like Ezekiel bread because it's got a very low glycemic load, [it's] seven grains, and you can keep it in your freezer."
3. Spices and herbs
No surprise, Buettner's a fan of spices and herbs for longevity. His favorites? "Herbs like oregano, rosemary, and sage—they're all anti-inflammatories, and they're even mild diuretics." Meaning, they cause the kidneys to make more urine, which helps the body get rid of excess waste. (Perhaps that's why natural diuretics have been linked to lower blood pressure.)
Plus, oregano, rosemary, and sage contain tons of healthy phytochemicals—Buettner even likes to stew them in water for a longevity-supporting tea. For example, the flavonoids and phenolic acid in an oregano brew can help manage inflammatory conditions and oxidative stress; rosemary tea is lauded for its antimicrobial properties; and sage has been shown to lower blood sugar levels.
4. Nut butters
"I always have nut butters on hand," he notes. No matter your spread of choice—almond, peanut, et al.—nut butters are full of plant-based protein and healthy fats, making them solid sources of energy. Read: They can help you feel fuller for longer, with no blood sugar crash midday.
"In four out of the five Blue Zones, they're drinking coffee," says Buettner. Although, they're not loading it with cream and sugar; rather, the antioxidants in black coffee have tons of purported benefits—from brain health to heart health to metabolic health.
Of course, it is possible to overdo it on the java. "What a lot of people don't understand when it comes to coffee is that the optimal amount is about a quarter of a cup," Buettner suggests. This smaller amount helps you remain in this caffeine sweet spot where you have elevated attention and productivity without feeling jittery or anxious.
That's why Buettner recommends "about a quarter of [a cup] of coffee diluted in water per hour," a concept known as caffeine microdosing.
The wine conversation is a little more nuanced. See, Buettner doesn't say you should start drinking if it doesn't work for your body or lifestyle. Rather, if you do incorporate alcohol into your lifestyle, "having two glasses of wine or so per day is probably a net positive," he says.
Of course, you'll want to stick to a Blue Zones–inspired diet—you can't just expect to pour a glass of red wine and think the polyphenol content will cut it. But with a healthy, balanced diet, Buettner touts the benefits.
"There's actually some arguments that wine is better than water with the right kind of meal," he explains. Research has found that participants who drank 5 ounces of dry red wine every night (along with a nutrient-dense Mediterranean diet) had increased levels of good HDL cholesterol and sleep quality compared to participants who drank water.
That's not to say you should swap your daily water intake for wine, but it does demonstrate the benefits of drinking a glass alongside a healthy meal—bonus points if you're able to (safely) host happy hour with loved ones, too.
Buettner's essentials for longevity are simple, whole, plant-based favorites. What else could you expect from the founder of Blue Zones himself?
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