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August 22, 2015

Blue zone food guidelines

by Helene van den Berg


  • Rule of 95/5 – 95% PLANT-BASED/ 5% ANIMAL BASED.
  • 65% CARBS – MORE beans (1 cup/day); greens veggies (1 cup/day); fruit (2-3/day); whole grains (daily) LESS potatoes; NO chips, sweets, soda pop.
  • 20% FAT – MORE Olive oil (2 T/day); Nuts (1/2 cup)/day; LESS – animal fat products; NO trans fats.
  • 15% PROTEINS – MORE beans (1cup/day); tofu (1/2 cup); fish (2x/wk); LESS meat (1x/wk); dairy


Plant slant – ensure that 95% of your food comes from a plant or plant product. The best longevity foods are leafy greens ( spinach, kale, beet, etc.). Olive oil increases good HDL cholesterol and lowers bad LDL cholesterol. Combined with seasonal fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans, dominate Blue Zones meals all year long.


  • Keep a variety of your fresh, favorite fruits and vegetables in your kitchen (frozen ones are also fine).
  • Use olive oil, like you would use butter. Sauté vegetables over low heat or drizzle steamed/baked vegetables with olive oil.
  • Stock up on low-gluten grains like brown rice, oats or quinoa. Wheat did not play a big role in their diet.
  • The right kind of protein is just as important as the right amount of protein (46-56grams/day). Meat and eggs provide all of the 9 essential amino acids we get from our diet, but they also deliver fat and cholesterol. The Blue Zone way emphasize combining the right plant-based foods , to get all the essential amino acids you need.

Some favorite Blue Zone food pairings:

  • Snack : ¼ cup walnuts + 1 ½ cups cooked edamame.
  • Low –calorie combo: 2 cups chopped carrots + 1 cup cooked lentils/ 1 cup cooked black-eyed peas + 1 ¼ cup cooked sweet yellow corn
  • Extra filling dishes – 1 ¼ cup cooked brown rice + 1 cup cooked chickpeas/ 1 ½ cups broccoli + 1 1/3 cup cooked wild rice .

MEAT- eat meat once a week in a deck-of-cards-size portion. Favor free –range chicken, beef or lamb and avoid processed meats (sausages, cold meats or hot dogs). In most Blue Zones people ate small amounts of pork, chicken or lamb, mostly with festival celebrations.

FISH – The Pesco-vegetarians ate a plant-based diet including a small portion of fish, once a day, the size of a deck of cards. Favor mid-chain fish like sardines, anchovies, cod, grouper, snapper, trout. Avoid predator fish like swordfish or tuna. Avoid overfished species. Avoid “farmed” fish, which contain antibiotics, pesticides and coloring.

DAIRY – consume less cow’s milk and dairy products (cheese, cream and butter). Instead of relying on milk for calcium and protein, people in the Blue zones got these nutrients from plant-based sources. A cup of cooked kale or 2/3 of a cup of tofu provide the same amount of calcium as a cup of milk. Naturally fermented yoghurt with no added sugars, fermented goat’s or sheep’s milk products (cheese, yoghurt, sour milk) and Greek feta, are good choices. They contain lactose, but also contain lactase, an enzyme that helps the body digest lactose.

EGGS – eat no more than 3 eggs per week. The free-range eggs are free of hormones and antibiotics and higher in omega-3 fatty acids. Eggs are the complete protein containing all the essential amino acids, plus B vitamins, A, D and E vitamins and minerals such as selenium. Note: diabetics should be cautious about consuming egg yolk.

BEANS – eat ½ cup of cooked beans daily. Beans are a SUPERFOOD and the cornerstone of every Blue Zones diet!. They are cheap and versatile and are packed with more nutrients per gram than any other food on earth!. They consist of 21% protein, 77% complex carbohydrates and only a few percent fat, provide most of the vitamins and minerals you need and the high fiber content in beans help healthy probiotics flourish in your gut. Note: when buying canned beans, make sure to read the label: the only ingredients should be beans, water, spices and a small amount of salt. Avoid the brands with added fat or sugar!. Use pureed beans as a thickener to make soups creamy and protein-rich. Add beans to salads. Delicious Mediterranean bean recipes include carrots, celery, onion, peppers, seasoned with thyme, garlic, pepper and bay leaves.

SUGAR – consume a maximum of 7 added teaspoons a day. Too much sugar in our diet suppress the immune system, spikes our insulin levels, which leads to diabetes and lower fertility, cause overweight and obesity and shorten your life. Replace sugar with Manuka honey (anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antimicrobial). Avoid sugar-sweetened sodas, fruit juices and teas. One can of soda pop contains 9-10 teaspoons of sugar!!. Soft drink consumption may account for 50% of America’s weight gain since 1970!. Watch out for processed foods with added sugar like sauces, salad dressings and ketchup. Watch out for low-fat products, which are sugar-sweetened. Some low-fat yoghurts contain more sugars than soda pop!. Tip: try Stevia to sweeten your tea or coffee.

NUTS – snack on 2 handful of nuts/day. Nuts reduce bad LDL cholesterol, contain copper, fiber, folate, vitamin E and arginine (amino acid). The optimal nut mix is : almonds (high in vitamin E, magnesium), walnuts (the only plant-based food with omega-3 fatty acids), Brazil nuts (high in selenium – protect against prostate cancer), cashews (high in magnesium). Add nuts to your salads. Eat nuts before a meal to reduce the overall glycemic load.

BREAD – replace common bread with sourdough bread or 100% whole wheat bread. Authentic sourdough bread consist of a healthy bacteria “lactobacilli”( digest the starches and glutens) and an acid – the sour in sourdough. Sourdough bread has less gluten, lowers the glycemic load of meals and has a longer shelf life. Choose whole-grain rye or pumpernickel over whole wheat, because they have a lower glycemic index. Avoid rye breads that list wheat flour as their first ingredient. Avoid those breads where you can squeeze it in a ball -look for the heavy, dense ones.

WHOLE FOODS- one that is made of a single ingredient, raw, cooked, ground, fermented – NOT highly processed with artificial preservatives. Shop for foods at community-supported farms; Avoid – factory-made foods, foods wrapped in plastic, foods with more than 5 ingredients, ready-to-eat meals.


Integrate at least 3 of these items in your daily diet:

  • Beans
  • Greens
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Nuts
  • Olive oil (green, extra-virgin)
  • Oats (organic)
  • Fruits
  • Herbal teas
  • Turmeric


  • Water – 7 glasses/day. No sodas, energy drinks, fruit juices, artificially sweetened drinks (carcinogenic)
  • Coffee – research associate coffee drinking with lower rates of dementia and Parkinson’s disease. Avoid coffee after mid-afternoon as it interferes with sleep.
  • Tea – Okinawans drink green tea, Ikarians drink brews of rosemary, wild sage and dandelion.
  • Red wine – people in Blue Zones drink 1-2 glasses/day with a meal and with friends, to relax. Red wine contains the antioxidant, resveratrol.
Read more from Longevity

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