I was hugely influenced by the work of Dan Buettner. I don’t know if anyone is aware of the Blue Zones but basically Natural Geographic explorer, Dan Buettner, lead a group of researchers across the globe in search of regions that held the highest percentages of centenarians to discover the secrets to their long, healthy, full lives. The blue zone regions include Sardinia, Okinawa, Loma Linda in California, Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica and Ikaria, a Greek island. His findings were fascinating and inspiring.
For me it just highlights the fact that we don’t need to be spending a fortune on our health and lifestyle. We just need to move enough, eat well, have a purpose in life and be part of a community. And it’s as simple as that!!!
Jamie Oliver has also recently found the blue zones and mimicked recipes in his recent cookbook which I think is great, although for me personally he has a few too many wheat-based dishes.
Essentially the main dietary principles of those living the longest and healthiest seem to be the following:
It obviously isn’t just food that seems to have an impact on longevity and lasting health. Lifestyle is a huge factor and I’ve listed the key elements found among healthy centenarians because I think at times we all need to take stock. Dan found that the key positive lifestyle habits included :
1. Moving Naturally The world’s longest-living people move constantly without thinking about it and many grow gardens. They don’t run marathons or pump iron but are consistently active. This isn’t so easy for many of us with office-based jobs but it is a reminder that movement is so important
2. Having a Sense of Purpose. The research has shown that having a sense of purpose can in fact add seven years extra life expectancy. Having a reason to get up in the morning is so important and has such an impact on well being
3. Down Shift Basically we all have stress to some extent in our lives, however centenarians have found a way to deal with their problems effectively. Some take time daily to remember their ancestors, others take a nap, whilst Sardinians have a happy hour. This is so important because stress has terrible consequences to health including chronic inflammation and many age-related diseases.
4. 80% Rule Blue zone individuals tend to eat until they are 80% full and this is especially true of the Okinawans. Additionally the centenarians tend to eat the smallest meal at the end of the day.
5. Plant Power Beans seems to be a mainstay for many and meat is eaten sparingly, often only a few times a month.
6. Wine This was good news for me. Alcohol is consumed moderately and often daily but only 1-2 glasses. Interestingly, moderate drinkers seemed to outlive non-drinkers. What is really important to point out, especially in our society today, is that binge drinking is a no!!!
7. Belonging Most centenarians belonged to some faith-based community or have a sense of something greater than themselves.
8. Loved Ones The blue zone centenarians put their families first which includes looking after ageing parents and grandparents and investing time and love into their children as well.
9. Right Tribe I love this. Successful centenarians spend time with positive like-minded friends.
I think we can all take something from this. Life doesn’t have to be complicated and we don’t have to spend a fortune and so much time working on perfection. Living in the moment, eating healthy food and enjoying the company of those we love is what we instinctively know to be part of the purpose of living but we can often forget as we get too busy.
I wish everyone good food and good company.
Sources and further information: Dan Buettner (2010) The Blue Zones, www.bluezones.com
We can get so caught up with buying the best healthy snacks but can often forget those already available, Fruit!!!! I thought I’d quickly highlight a few of the benefits of fruit as a reminder of how highly nutritious and beneficial they are to our bodies.
Apples for example are a source of Vitamins A, C, E and K and a good source of fibre. Studies have shown that apples have high antioxidant activity and can help lower cholesterol levels as well as aiding in the reduction of chronic disease. They also contain high amounts of the phytonutrient quercetin, which is a natural antihistamine. Apples have anti-inflammatory properties and also contain a gel-like fibre called pectin which has been shown to bind to heavy metals, safely removing them from the body. Apple pectin also has the ability to build a barrier which controls the amount of fat that our adipose (fat around the middle) tissues are able to absorb.
Bananas are a good source vitamins C, B6, potassium, copper, and manganese. It is a great electrolyte food for those working out and busy on the go. Bananas contain a rich source of the amino acid tryptophan has been shown to help promote sleep. They also contain powerful anti-fungal and antibiotic compounds and support the natural bacteria in the bowel, which helps promote a healthy and digestion and also supports the immune system. Bananas are also superb for athletes because they help replenish energy and revitalize the body instantly.
Blueberries are a good source of vitamins C and K, along with copper, manganese and fibre. They are packed full of high levels of phytonutrients and have received a bit of a celebrity status as a superfood recently. Studies have shown that blueberries can improve memory and reduce DNA damage. They are useful in fighting urinary tract infections and are essential for eyes and digestive tract health. Blueberries also strengthen the circulatory system and support immune health. Blueberries can be frozen because freezing retains most of their nutrition.
Grapes are a rich source of vitamins A, C, and B-complex, calcium, magnesium, copper, boron, manganese, iron, selenium and potassium. They contain high levels of phytonutrients which are anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-microbial and anti-ageing. Grapes are a low GI food that benefit blood sugar levels by providing great insulin regulation and blood sugar balance. Black grapes are the most nutritious of all varieties.
Raspberries contain vitamins C, A, E, K, B-complex, iron, copper, calcium, and magnesium. They have powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties and also contain a compound called raspberry ketone that research has shown increases the metabolism of fat cells. Raspberries are able to be frozen because they retain most of their nutrition.
Juices or smoothies?
Juices and smoothies are becoming more and more popular and I’m so pleased to see that it’s becoming normal now to have a juice or smoothie for breakfast or lunch. They’re an amazing way to quickly pack in an abundance of nutrients into a quick and easy drink, and are in my opinion the ultimate in fast food. I tend to alternate between juices and smoothies for breakfast and sometimes lunch and thought I’d quickly talk about the difference between the two.
Juicing is a process that extracts the nutrients and the water easily from plants. This process allows the body to absorb the nutrients quickly because the digestive system doesn’t have to work so hard at breaking foods down. The nutrients are then easily released into the bloodstream.
I love juicing and would recommend you looking up Jason Vale, aka the Juicemaster. Last January I followed Jason’s 28 day juice plan after a particularly gluttonous Christmas period. I felt really low in energy and bloated at the start of the year, and after an uncomfortable 5 or so days, whilst my body detoxed, my energy levels soared, my skin glowed and I felt great, with the added benefit of losing over a stone. It’s amazing how the body can heal itself when you remove the junk. To this day a favourite breakfast of mine is a Jason Vale recipe:
Jason Vale Oxygen Elixir Juice:
It’s velvety, gorgeous and will keep you going until lunchtime.
My kids are now teenagers and have a passion for every junk food establishment they can find, so I’ll often make them a few tasty blends to make sure they at least have some goodness going in after a weekend of teenage junk heaven with their friends. This also allows me to feel my parenting guilt going down a notch or two on one level at least.
Blending is slightly different in that is also contains the pulp of the fruit and vegetables and this fibre has the benefit of slowing down the release of nutrients in the bloodstream, keeping you fuller for longer and avoiding any sugar spikes.
At home we often give the kids a smoothie for breakfast as it’s such a good way to start the day and I know that some good has gone in before they buy chips and whatever teenage junk heaven they find in secondary dinner halls and college canteens.
As for myself, I also love them and this morning for example I quickly threw together a smoothie containing the following:
You may have noticed that I added baobab to the mix. It has been getting a fair amount of press lately as another of the “superfoods”. It’s an African fruit which is ground into a powder. I first tried Baobab a couple of years ago whilst working as a nutritionist for a supplement company and found a new love. This fruit has been found to contain six times more vitamin C than an orange, more antioxidants than blueberries, twice the amount of calcium as a glass of milk and more potassium than a banana. What a great way to start the day.
I’m a real gadget queen and have two juicers and two blenders but to be honest whatever you use is great. I watched a juicing expert say that the best juicer to have is the one that you’ll use and I think that is so important to remember. So take your gadgets out of the cupboard and make yourself amazing fast food for breakfast this spring!!!