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How Celebrating Indigenous Foods Can Help You Live A Longer Life

Jason Wachob
Author:
December 15, 2022
Jason Wachob
mbg Founder & Co-CEO
By Jason Wachob
mbg Founder & Co-CEO
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth.
Dan Buettner
Graphic by Dan Buettner / Dan Buettner
December 15, 2022
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According to longevity expert and National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner, the secret to longevity is simple: Stay active, cultivate purpose, and eat lots and lots of plants. In fact, he says most humans followed a plant-based diet for thousands of years. "They were gathering mostly roots, tubers, berries, nuts… They probably knew 150 plants they could eat that we don't even recognize anymore," the Blue Zones founder says on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast.

So for his latest book, The Blue Zones American Kitchen, Buettner wanted to celebrate the ingenuity of Indigenous people, highlighting their rich cultures and time-tested, plant-based recipes. Below, he shares some of their healthiest food staples:

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1.

Beans. 

OK, beans aren't exactly underrated, especially for Buettner. However, he says we have lost our appreciation for the fiber-filled pantry staple.

"Two cups of beans a day will give you all the fiber you need," he shares. "Fewer than 10% of Americans get enough fiber… Beans will cover that. They are a fantastic protein, especially when paired with a grain." Buettner even claims a cup of beans a day can add about four years to your life expectancy.

But the real kicker? They're versatile—you can add beans to pretty much any tasty recipe. "Americans don't know how to make beans taste good," Buettner jokes, since other regions of the world (namely, Blue Zones) prepare beans in such delicious, creative ways. "[Beans] are in every one of these cultures, and in many cases, there are 400 years of trial and error to learn how to make these beans taste delicious," he adds. Consider whipping up a pot of hearty minestrone soup, à la Buettner.

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2.

Carolina gold rice.

"In the Carolinas, the Gullah Geechee people cultivated a type of rice that came from an African seed, and the rice they harvested is called Carolina gold," says Buettner. And like its name suggests, it's the gold standard of rice: "It's nutty. It almost has a hint of vanilla to it," he adds.

It's fluffy, clean, and sweet—and according to Buettner, it's a little bit healthier than regular rice. "It's got the whole germ in the middle," he says, whereas traditionally that germ gets removed during the milling process. He recommends purchasing Carolina gold rice from Anson Mills (you can order it online), which also features some tasty recipes on their website.

3.

Benne seeds. 

Benne seeds have also been a longtime staple in Gullah Geechee recipes. They're a close relative to sesame seeds, but they have a totally different flavor. "The Gullah Geechee [community] will ferment them," says Buettner. "And it takes on this sort of pungent characteristic that's redolent of truffles or miso… So they're hugely healthy [with] probiotics." (And gut health and longevity go hand in hand.)

Again, you can snag these seeds from Anson Mills—they also have an heirloom bennecake flour option! 

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4.

Bitter melon. 

After speaking to some of the Hmong elders living in Minnesota, Buettner discovered their love for bitter melon (also referred to as Goya). This cucumber-like fruit comes from the gourd family and is packed with phytonutrients and vitamins, namely vitamins C, A, and E, as well as B vitamins, including folate and B2. Plus, it contains specific compounds that can help balance blood sugar1.

You can cook bitter melon in many ways, but according to Buettner, "they scrape out the middle and make a delightful beverage out of it." As its name suggests, the drink tastes pretty bitter. "But in the same way people often don't like beer the first time they taste it, but then they really like it, bitter melon is the same way," he adds.

The takeaway. 

These foods are by no means "new" or "trendy." They have been cooking staples in a variety of cultures for thousands of years—and Buettner wants to shed some light on their health benefits. At the end of the day, just adding more plants to your plate is a solid first step, even if you can't get your hands on some bitter melon.

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We hope you enjoy this episode! And don't forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or Amazon Music

Jason Wachob
Jason Wachob
mbg Founder & Co-CEO

Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.