Nutrition and The Blue Zones: Can We Eat Our Way to 120?
Nutrition and blue zones.
A brief look with Jackson into anti-aging and longevity.
Longevity science is some fascinating stuff. What I’ve learned in my studies over the past two years has made me come to believe that we may one day conquer both ageing and death.
It’s kind of frightening how quickly things are beginning to move.
In fact, some scientists believe that somewhere in the near future, humans will not be completely human at all but some cyborg-like creatures, half human, half robot.
Seriously, it boggles the mind. Kind of makes me glad I just missed this approaching shift in humanity buy a couple of centuries.
And it’s kind of disturbing to think that we may soon be downloading our consciousness to The Cloud to live forever outside of our corporeal bodies like they do in a certain favourite Black Mirror episode of mine called San Junipero. In that episode, instead of risking going to heaven when you die, you can choose to be uploaded to whatever decade you want. These ladies choose Spandau Ballet, the Go-Go Girls, the Bangles, and the 80s.
But until then, we of the human-human generation, need to take care of ourselves in a very broken world. How do we do that?
Well, a little book called the Blue Zones written by Dan Buettner is beginning to make us question our previously held notions about nutrition. In fact, although I am a devoted, dedicated ketogenic eater, it does give me some pause that most of the longest-lived peoples eat more carbohydrate than I feel comfortable eating. In fact, scientists are busy trying to puzzle out exactly why certain societies are living to be 110-120 today.
If you read my article on epigenetics on my old blog, you’d have learned that we are now beginning to think that humans begin adapting and evolving to their environment much more quickly than we had previously thought.
In fact, if you read that article, you’d have learned about a town in Sweden that was barricaded off from all human contact during WWI and, furthermore, it was one of those 6 months constant sun/constant daylight areas of the world, like Alaska, where light greatly limited the town’s inhabitants’ abilities to grow food.
So, these people literally starved during the winters of this siege, when there was no way to get food shipped in from friendly allies. Their offspring, in fact, were always obese, as if their bodies were pre-padding themselves against the oncoming famine.
But does adaptation necessarily lead to longevity? If we become more adapted to our polluted environment to our decaying ozone layer leaving us so vulnerable to the sun’s rays it will burn through our eyes like soft wax?
Scientists are looking to fish, algae, and mammals like the whale and the shark to answer fundamental questions such as these.
Can we adapt to a decayed world?
Can we live to be 200 years old if we master certain keys to nutrition and healthy living?
What scientists learned is that starvation in one generation leads to obesity in the next. That our genes record traumatic experiences like these and literally program the next generation to prepare for these kinds of traumas in whatever, not necessarily healthy, ways they can.
I mean, if it were all about strength, build, and stamina folks, simple birds like parrots wouldn’t outlive us.
But if we know one thing about longevity science there is this one important factor you cannot dismiss: lifestyle is the strongest determinant of how many years you’ll spend on the planet.
Even if you’re a badass mo-fo Greenland shark with an attitude—if you sit and simply mope about and eat bad, cheap ass protein-empty, refined carb polluted seed—which is what most of our grains, are then chances are you’ll live a shorter live than a cockatiel in Greece feeding on nuts, berries, and thriving in a happy environment.
What we have learned is this—no matter what the allure of Ancestry.com or 23 and Me what scientists really attest to– beyond all shadow of a doubt—is that it’s not just simple genetics.
It’s what we do every single day that shapes our destiny.
And that’s my most important point today.
Surrounding and immersing yourself in an environment of nutritious food, good people, generosity, good will, kindness, and freedom.
What it really comes down to is whether
All these factors have MUCH more to play when it comes into how long we live.
Yes. Some people are long lived. Some whole families even.
They’ll have strong genetic profiles where the doc will tell you something like “just stay away from carbs, cigs, alcohol and you’ll live to be 120.”
Scientists have now found, in fact, that genetics only contributes to lifespan some 20% to 30%. In fact, 25% of lifespan, according to recent research.
One interesting fact ….
Is Calorie Restriction Key?
Back in 2000, scientists mutated this gene within fruit flies and manipulated it. They were able to lengthen their life from 40 to 70 days. But how? By calorie restriction. Today, we are calling this intermittent fasting—a method of restricting calories to a very small windows each day that causes the body to rebounded and repair itself in the absence of food. It’s proven profoundly healthy for every condition that plagues modern man from diabetes to chronic fatigue.
Not to mention, causes the body to run on its on fat stores and stimulates collagen-stimulating fat burning IGF-1—but I digress,
Today, scientists hope by learning more about calorie restriction and other forms of hormesis (cold showers, hypoxia, exercise, saunas—extremes of temperature, diet, and
In fact, never fear.
The one, most robust, well-funded area of research in science today is in longevity. Because we now have the science and understanding, the technology and capability to untangle our DNA, genome, mitochondrial profile—all of it. And I’m excited about where it’s going.
Which brings me to diet.
One fascinating thing we’ve found abut longer-lived peoples is that they tend to all coalesce – gather, reside—all that – around these five areas called the Blue Zones.
So, is it diet? A cleaner Atmospheres? A less stressful atmosphere? A combination of all these?
I find these societies fascinating because here in these communities where the normal age of death is 100 to 120– not 81-86, could we not all not benefit from a closer look at what they’re eating, doing, loving like to promote such longevity?
On to the Blue Zones …
After studying the Blue zones, which are
I do see certain patterns emerge in terms of what they eat.
For one thing.
Nuts and olive oil reign supreme in most blue zones—save Japan. Otherwise, they’re all snacking on nuts and sprinkling HIGH quality, first cold pressed olive oil on everything.,.
Most Blue Zone dwellers eat a predominantly vegetable-based diet—period.
Very little protein—hardly any cattle-based meats. If any protein –it’s typically fish, fish, fish. Rarely do they eat chicken and if beef—never or once or twice a year at holidays.
As much as people might like to make hasty assumptions like average Italian’s meal looks like—it’s not a plate of sausage and tomato sauce laden pasta—it’s a plate of lean fish, veggies, and olives.
Recent studies by Harvard researchers who analyzed the diets, DNA, and telomere length of 4,605 women, discovered that those who ate a Mediterranean diet had the longest telomeres. Telomeres, as we have mentioned before, are those long, tendril-like caps on your DNA that correlate to lifespan. The longer they are, the longer you live.
So why is the Mediterranean diet so longevity-promoting?
For one—they eat lots of phytochemical loaded fruits and veggies.
Two, they eschew red meat.
Their diet is full of Omega-3 rich oils and nuts and seeds.
They have lower stress.
We will look at some of the foods in the Mediterranean diet that promote longevity in a moment.
First, let’s discuss the Mediterranean diet, period.
The Mediterranean is a long, vast area of the world, encompassing a long region that runs from Africa up through France and Italy. The Mediterranean Sea is a gargantuan sea and is surrounded by many European countries with highly different cultures, from France, to Spain, to Italy, not to mention countries in Africa on the other side, like Algiers, Libya, and Egypt.
But these coastal Mediterranean regions contain fertile lands where produce grows easily and fresh seafood is readily available. Cattle (though meat proteins are rarely eaten—neither is conventional dairy) graze on vitamin and mineral-rich grasses and many people grown their own gardens and eat an array of fresh vegetables at dinner, including phytonutrient-rich wild grasses like dandelion.
But when people talk about the health value of a traditional Mediterranean diet, they are typically not thinking about the African regions of the Mediterranean—but the Blue Zones of Sardinia, Italy and Ikaria, Greece, islands where the average life expectancy is well beyond 100 years of age.
The traditional Mediterranean diet then, is chiefly whole foods diet, a primarily plant based one, with lots of fish and seafood, fruits, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and occasional meat and poultry consumption. Red wine and organic coffee are consumed regularly, and more whole grain sourdough bread is eaten than pasta.
Indeed–although people may stereotype the Italians as pasta-eating maniacs, eating pasta even for breakfast, a typical meal in Sardinia looks more like this:
The Mediterranean diet eschews virtually all refined flours and grains, includes little sugar and completely avoids saturated fats, trans fats, fast foods, deep fried foods, refined sugar, refined flours, convenience foods, and other unhealthy staples of the Western diet–especially here in America.
If you want to eat a healthy Mediterranean diet yourself, you need to fill your grocery cart with (organic) produce, and nuts, seeds, olive oil, lots of dark leafy greens, legumes, fruits, grapes and red wine (to get those polyphenols in the form of quercetin—or supplement).
If you want to throw in some longevity-promoting life behaviors long-lived Sardinians and Ikarian’s swear by try less worrying and work and try more walking and enjoyable forms of exercise, like gardening. Strive for relaxation with an afternoon nap after lunch, and enjoy more hobbies, happiness, and socialization with friends and family.
All of these lifestyle habits are frequent mentions from centarians who live in these regions as the secrets to a long life. For more on this, read a great article in the New York Times’ Magazine titled “The Island Where People Forgot to Die” (2012).
Besides lengthening lifespan, researchers have found that the diet has endless benefits for human health including preventing numerous conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cognitive decline, obesity and metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diseases caused by inflammation, and cancer.
Scientists are busy studying this diet, trying to “tease out” exactly what is so longevity- promoting that these Grecians and Italians eat.
In an article titled “The Mediterranean Diets: What is So Special About the Diet of Greece?” Simopoulos notes,
Extensive studies on the traditional diet of Greece (the diet before 1960) indicate that the dietary pattern of Greeks consists of a high intake of fruits, vegetables (particularly wild plants), nuts and cereals mostly in the form of sourdough bread rather than pasta; more olive oil and olives; less milk but more cheese; more fish; less meat; and moderate amounts of wine, more so than other Mediterranean countries.
Analyses of the dietary pattern of the diet of Crete shows a number of protective substances, such as selenium, glutathione, a balanced ratio of (n-6):(n-3) essential fatty acids (EFA), high amounts of fiber, antioxidants (especially resveratrol from wine and polyphenols from olive oil), vitamins E and C, some of which have been shown to be associated with lower risk of cancer, including cancer of the breast.
Let’s look at some of the longevity promoting compounds in foods eaten in Blue Zones like Ikaria, Greece!
Wild edible greens.
In Ikaria, Greece, one of the primary staples they eat daily is wild greens like purslane, spinach, dandelion, and local grasses like hindbeh and mulukhiyah. These greens are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals such as flavonoids that have potent antioxidant capabilities and support mitochondrial health, cardiovascular health, and cognitive health and are very effective at purging inflammatory toxins from the bloodstream.
One of the most plentiful flavoinids in wild edible greens is quercetin, which has been found to not only have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties but also life-extending ones as well.
Recently, scientists discovered that quercetin kills senescent cells (defective cells that have stopped dividing as they should and, therefore, accelerate aging). In fact, you’re going to be hearing a lot about super-super foods like dandelion greens and watercress—foods that literally slay cancer cells.,
One thing that traditional Mediterraneans eat a lot of is olive oil. They dip sourdough breads in it. They pour it over their wild greens—they eat it on everything. And maybe this is one of the smarter things they do that some Americans might balk at saying, “all that fattening oil, really??”
Olive oil, see, is not only rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, it’s also rich in antioxidants that destroy free radicals, preventing aging and damage to cells—especially damage to mtDNA. Recently, scientists discovered that consumption of 25 ml of olive oil (1.7 tbsp.) a day reduces oxidation of DNA, which can lead to the development of cancer and aging.
In a recent study, rats were split into two groups: one group was fed olive oil while the other was fed sunflower oil. Over 40% of the rats fed sunflower oil died while there were few deaths in rats fed olive oil. They also found a reduced risk of cancer with olive oil consumption.
A number of similar studies have found that animals live longer healthier lives and have a reduced risk of cancer when fed a diet of olive oil.
Seafood (DHA and EPA)
Fish and seafood is apparently longevity promoting—whatever our hesitations about eating it.
Societies where fresh fish is eaten in abundance tend to live much longer than societies where red meat is the preferred protein.
Just look at Okinawa, Japan, where raw fish is eaten daily.
People live longer there than any other city in the world!
Scientists have now found that regardless of taking fish oil capsules, people who eat fish regularly, at least twice a week, reduce risk of mortality but 27% and reduce risk of heart disease by 35%. In fact, those study participants with the highest levels of three fatty acids in their blood, EPA, DHA, and DPA were less likely to have a stroke and lived two years longer than the other 64 year old participants 16 years after the study began.
Fish is rich in fatty acids like EPA and DHA, which are profoundly healthy for the mind and body, helping us fight inflammation and protect the heart and brain from premature aging. In studies, Mice fed a diet rich in DHA lived longer and had better cognitive function than those fed a diet high in saturated fats.
But fish is also rich in carotenoids, a flavonoid (here’s those important phytochemicals again—are you seeing a pattern here?), that helps prevent damage to DNA, which causes aging at a cellular level. Other studies have found that eating fish and/or getting fish oil into the diet helps promote autophagy, activating cell turnover and increasing lifespan.
Nuts are a powerhouse of nutrition rich in monounsaturated fats, protein, vitamin E, minerals, phytochemicals, and a rich array of antioxidants. They have also been found to be very longevity-promoting.
A recent study of 120,000 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study and the Physician’s Health Study that staggered the participants into six categories—ranging from a group who never ate nuts all the way up to those who ate nuts more than 7 times a week. The more nuts consumed, the lower the risk of death. This is yet another reason the Mediterranean diet may be so longevity promoting.
Berries like raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries are rich in polyphenols, an antioxidant that prolongs lifespan. In studies, when blueberry extracts were fed to fruit flies, they lived 10% longer than those not eating berries.
In another study, researchers collected surveys from 807 men and women, ages 65 and older, and followed the subjects for 12 years. Those subjects who consumed the most dietary polyphenols and whose urine test highest for these were art a 30% lower risk of death. Furthermore, they were also less likely to develop chronic disease.
Overall, the Mediterranean diet is a great diet to embrace for a long list of healthy reasons.
Although ultimately, I prefer the ketogenic lifestyle, I think for some persons, carbs are necessary and healthy. I’ve had so many clients who say they feel absolutely sick doing keto and paleo to the point that they have no grains coming in. If your body cries out for those—then yes, give it to it. Your body always tells you what it needs.
I love you,