If your goal is to live a long and healthy life, you might want to try the blue zones diet. It’s part of the lifestyle of the people who live in the world’s blue zones, areas known for their residents' longevity.
What Exactly Is the Blue Zones Diet?
The blue zones diet is a way of eating that emulates what people eat in the world’s blue zones:
- Okinawa, Japan
- Sardinia, Italy
- Nicoya, Costa Rica
- Ikaria, Greece
- Loma Linda, California
What Are the Benefits and Risks of the Blue Zones Diet?
Gut bacteria make up your microbiome. “It’s very hard for you to offset chronic diseases unless your microbiome is healthy,” Cassetty says. “Our microbiomes are involved in our health in so many more ways than we ever imagined.”
The blue zones diet may help lower your risk of:
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Some types of cancer, including pancreatic cancerand breast cancer
Our experts didn’t point to any risks associated with the blue zones diet, but both Rajagopal and Cassetty recommend transitioning gradually to the diet if it’s a significant change from what you’re currently eating — it can be challenging to overhaul your diet all at once.
8 Tips for Creating Your Blue Zones Diet Plan
- 100 percent whole grains, such as barley, brown rice, bulgur wheat, whole cornmeal, farro, oatmeal, and quinoa (avoid pearled barley and pearled farro)
- Nuts — aim for around 2 ounces (oz) of a variety of nuts every day
- Beans and legumes, such as black beans, white beans, soybeans, lentils, and garbanzos — aim for 1 cup per day
- Fruits and vegetables — aim for 5 to 10 servings per day
- Sugar-sweetened beverages — they provide little nutrition and are linked with weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
- Salty snacks — they are high in sodium, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports they are linked with heart disease and stroke.
- Packaged sweets — they are linked with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
- Processed meats — the?World Health Organization characterizes them as a carcinogen.
A Complete Blue Zones Diet Food List
People in the blue zones:
- Eat diets that are about 65 percent carbs, 20 percent fats, and 15 percent proteins
- Choose plant-based foods about 95 percent of the time and animal-based foods about 5 percent of the time
- Pay attention to how they feel, and eat until they are about 80 percent full
Enjoy these proteins liberally:
- All types of beans, including black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, fava beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts
Enjoy these proteins occasionally:
Limit these proteins to rarely or never:
- Processed meats
- Farmed fish
Enjoy these oils and fats liberally:
- Olive oil
- Sesame oil
Limit these oils and fats to rarely or never
- Trans fats (these are frequently found in packaged baked goods, margarine, and shortening)
Enjoy all fruits and vegetables liberally:
- Leafy greens like spinach, kale, beet and turnip greens, chard, and collards are tops. Seasonal fruits and vegetables, sea greens and sea vegetables such as seaweed and kelp, and mushrooms are also good choices. There are no limits on fresh, whole fruits and vegetables.
- But limit fruit juices to rarely or never
Enjoy all nuts and seeds liberally
- Try to get mix of nuts and seeds, including almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, walnuts, chia seeds, and pecans
Enjoy these grains liberally:
- Whole-grain bread
- Sourdough bread
- Ground corn
- Brown rice
Limit these grains to rarely or never
- White bread
- White pasta
- Packaged crackers
- Packaged sweet and salty snacks
Enjoy these dairy products liberally
- Soy milk (unsweetened)
Enjoy these dairy products occasionally
- Sheep’s milk or goat’s milk products
- Feta cheese
- Pecorino cheese
Limit these dairy products to rarely or never
- Cow’s milk
- Cheese made from cow’s milk
Enjoy these sweeteners
Limit these sweeteners to rarely or never
- Added sugars such as those found in sweetened beverages, candy, and desserts
Enjoy these beverages liberally:
Enjoy these beverages occasionally
- Green tea
- Herbal teas
- Red wine
Limit these beverages to rarely or never
- Sweetened beverages
- Alcohol (other than red wine)
Enjoy fresh herbs, spices, and seasoning liberally
- This includes Mediterranean herbs, milk thistle, rosemary, turmeric, lemon, garlic, and miso
Your 7-Day Blue Zones Eating Plan
Follow this plan for a week to start eating like a centenarian. There are no recommended portion sizes or calorie counts on the blue zones diet — just be mindful and eat until you’re no longer hungry but not until you are full. Since people in the blue zones eat meat only sparingly, we’ve included vegetarian recipes here.
Breakfast Oatmeal with berries and nuts
Lunch Sardinian-style pizza
Snack Handful of nuts
Dinner Hearty minestrone soup
Breakfast Sweet potato hash with veggies
Lunch Black bean burger with lettuce and tomato on sourdough
Snack A handful of mixed nuts
Dinner Tofu steak with mushrooms
Breakfast Banana nut smoothie
Lunch Grain bowl with veggies and beans
Snack Miso soup with veggies
Breakfast Granola with nuts and fruit
Lunch Black bean and potato soup
Snack Roasted chickpeas
Dinner Ceviche with hearts of palm, onion, pepper, and cilantro
Breakfast Tropical fruit salad with nuts and coconut
Lunch Butternut squash soup
Snack Black bean dip with crudité
Dinner Vegetarian gumbo
Breakfast Veggie hash with corn and onions
Lunch Cream of pumpkin soup with soy milk and pepitas
Snack Hummus with veggies
Dinner Lentil salad with garlic and herbs
Breakfast Banana-berry smoothie with soy milk
Lunch Jackfruit poke
Snack Coconut chia pudding with almonds
Dinner Porcini mushroom risotto
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- Buettner D, et al. Blue Zones: Lessons From the World’s Longest Lived.?American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.?September 2016.
- Food Guidelines.?Blue Zones.
- Vegetarian Diet. MedlinePlus.
- Malik VS et al. Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Cardiometabolic Health: An Update of the Evidence. Nutrients. August 2019.
- New Research: Excess Sodium Intake Remains Common in the United States.?Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 7, 2016.
- Get the Facts: Added Sugars.?Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. November 28, 2021.
- IARC Monographs Evaluate Consumption of Red Meat and Processed Meat.?World Health Organization. October 26, 2015.
- Wenjie Ma, et al. Dietary Fiber Intake, the Gut Microbiome, and Chronic Systemic Inflammation in a Cohort of Adult Men. Genome Medicine. June 2021.
- Martínez-González MA, Gea A, Ruiz-Canela M. The Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Health: A Critical Review. Circulation Research. March 2019.
- Toi PL, et al. Preventive Role of Diet Interventions and Dietary Factors in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: An Umbrella Review. Nutrients. September 2020.
- Schacht SR, et al. Whole-Grain Intake and Pancreatic Cancer Risk — the Danish, Diet, Cancer, and Health Cohort. Journal of Nutrition. March 2021.
- Turati F, et al. Mediterranean Diet and Breast Cancer Risk. Nutrients. March 2018.