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August 23, 2015

Developing a taste for blue zone foods

by Helene van den Berg

Everyone is born with a taste for sweetness (calories) and an aversion for bitterness (toxins). We’re also born with our mother’s taste for certain foods. If our mothers ate salty foods high in saturated fats and trans-fats while they were pregnant with us, we’re likely to be born with a taste for junk food. Most of our tastes are locked in at about the age of 5. The best time for acquiring new tastes is during the first year of life. Unfortunately, most mothers feed their kids sweetened baby food or porridge, which creates a taste for junk food for life. French fries are the most commonly consumed vegetable for 15-month olds in the US.


  • Don’t force foods on kids- you can turn them off for life.
  • Kids are naturally wary of new foods, therefore prepare new vegetables with a texture familiar and appealing to your child. If your child likes crispy crunchy food, then present new veggies raw.
  • Introduce new foods when kids are hungry.
  • Introduce a variety of foods. Serve small amounts of a half a dozen vegetables at a time and see which ones your kids like best. Prepare those favorites in different ways.
  • Babyled-weaning is a popular method of introducing new finger foods to babies from 6 months onwards.


  • Discover what you like; variety; different preparations.
  • Learn new cooking skills.
  • Take a vegetarian cooking class
  • Host a Blue Zone potluck with your friends.


  • The Always foods must be readily available and affordable.
  • Always foods had to taste good and versatile to include in most meals.
  • The to Avoid foods had to be correlated to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer, as well as being a constant temptation in the average American diet.


Always – Green leafy vegetables

Avoid – Sugar-sweetened beverages

Always – Fruit

Avoid – Salty snacks

Always – beans

Avoid – Processed meats

Always – nuts

Avoid – Sweets and cookies


  • Vegetables – wild greens, sweet potatoes, fennel, shiitake mushrooms, squash, wakame(seaweed), kombu (seaweed)
  • Fruits – avocados, papayas, lemons, bananas, tomatoes
  • Beans/legumes – black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, lentils
  • Grains – brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, whole grain bread
  • Nuts and seeds – almonds, brazils, walnuts, cashews
  • Lean protein – tofu, fish (sardines, salmon, cod etc.)
  • Dairy – feta cheese, pecorino cheese
  • Oils – olive oil
  • Beverages – water, coffee, green/herbal tea, red wine
  • Sweeteners and seasoning – garlic, turmeric, honey, milk thistle, Mediterranean herbs.


You can create your own Blue Zone, from the kitchen, to your bedroom into the yard and into your community. Here are some tips:


  • Post a sign of the 4 Always and 4 Avoid foods on your refrigerator.
  • Keep your healthy fruits and vegetables center/eye level in your refrigerator.
  • Eat on smaller plates (tricks the brain on being satisfied with less food).
  • Drink beverages out of small narrower glasses (think we drink more than we are).
  • Hide junk food from your line of vision.
  • Plate your entire meal and put leftovers away before sitting down at the table.
  • Remove the TV, cell phones and I-pad/computer from your kitchen and dining room (it promotes mindless eating).
  • Put a full fresh fruit bowl in the most prominent place in your kitchen.
  • Use hand-operated kitchen tools (hand and arm strengthening).


  • Own a comfortable mattress and pillows.
  • Sleep at 65ᵒF/18-19ᵒC at night.
  • Dim the lights an hour before bed – prepares your body for sleep.
  • Remove digital alarm clocks with lit-up screens (suppress melatonin production).
  • Keep your room as dark as possible.
  • Remove your cell phone, TV and computer from the bedroom.


  • Place a scale in a prominent place in your home and weigh yourself daily.
  • Have only one TV in your home – we become less active, eat more junk food and tend to be overweight, when we sit in front of the TV. Kids with a TV in their bedroom are 18% more likely to become obese and have lower grades in school.
  • Replace power tools with hand tools. Mowing the lawn or raking leaves burn about the same amount of calories as lifting weights!.
  • Grow and maintain your own garden.
  • Own a dog.
  • Add bicycle riding to your routine.
  • Do your favorite sport.
  • Create a family room upstairs.
  • Have a manual garage door opener.
  • Create an indoor exercise area.
  • Get rid of your TV remote control.
  • Stand, instead of sit at your desk (burn extra 300 calories /day).


For greater health and happiness, socialize more. The Blue Zones Project has shown, the happiest people were the most connected. The sort of people we hang out with has an enormous influence on how happy we are, how lonely we are and how fat we are!.

  • Assess your current circle of friends: do they favor junk food or whole food?. Do they listen as well as talk?. Do you feel better around them than when you are not?
  • Join a club/social organization – it produces the same happiness as doubling your income!.
  • Create your own moai – commit to meet regularly with potluck dinners and walks, support each other and spread the health epidemic.
  • Join a church – religion and longevity go hand in hand. Churchgoers are satisfied with less money, experience less stress and have built-in networks.


The secret to longevity – for individuals or communities – does NOT rest with the federal government; nor does it rest with the medical community. Doctors are better in alleviating our illnesses (make sick people, less sick than they are), than preventing sickness in the first place. They operate on a “fee-for-service model”, in which doctors and hospitals are compensated for everything they do to fight diseases, instead of the “accountable-care model”, in which health care providers are compensated for keeping a population healthy. Physicians and hospitals should be rewarded for producing good outcomes. Pharmaceutical companies are primarily in the business of selling drugs to sick people.

The people in the Blue Zone communities never read labels, counted calories, weighed their protein, or signed up for Weight Watchers. Yet they all ate nearly a perfect diet. They lived in environments that encouraged healthy eating. In the Blue Zones food and lifestyle decisions flowed from the environment and their surroundings provided them with only healthy choices. Fresh fruits and vegetables were affordable and readily available year- round. Sodas , chips sweets and burgers were hard to find. Their neighborhoods weren’t an advertisement for junk food. These people’s homes were set up to make it easy for them to prepare plant-based foods and they had traditional recipes to make the food taste good. The faith-based organizations and social networks supported selecting, preparing and eating the right kinds of foods. Doing these things that helped them maintain a healthy weight, stay connected and keep physically active, weren’t just choices – they represented a shared way of life!.

We need to become aware of the influence of the environment: that radius of 50-60 km or so from our home where we shop, work, walk or drive, attend school, eat at restaurants and spend most of our lives. Here, within this zone, is where we’re constantly nudged into healthy or unhealthy choices.

The answer lies with the people in OUR COMMUNITY: the municipal officials, owners of grocery stores/ restaurants/take-away/cafes, school administrators, the large employers and parents who run households and make daily lifestyle decisions. These are the people who control our living environment. If we arm them with strategies on how to persuade us into healthier eating habits, more natural movement, healthier environment and better social interactions, we will enjoy better health, with longevity as an added bonus. Standing together, in doing the small things right, add up to a huge impact.

The Blue Zone project is a journey. It will take time to change traditions, attitudes and behaviors, but it will be a rewarding journey!. The key to longevity is re-creating the Blue Zones in our lives and communities.

Read more from Longevity

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