You don’t have to live in a blue zone to live over a century. “Blue zones” are known to have the densest population of people that live to be over 100—located in five different communities around the world. And yet, while these communities are known for being the healthiest and living the longest, the truth is, you don’t have to be a community member to reap the same benefits. While genetics do play a role in longevity, setting healthier habits also significantly increases your chances of living long enough to reach that three-digit number.
So what’s their secret? If you were to place a microscope on these communities, you would notice that their diets include a variety of real, whole foods. They also focus on eating at the table, sharing meals with others, and regularly moving their bodies.
But what’s exactly on their plates? We spoke with a few registered dietitians to look at some of the healthy eating habits that can help you to live over a century, and these tips line up closely with the type of lifestyles lived by those in blue zones. Here are the healthy eating habits you can incorporate into your life today in order to have a happier, healthier tomorrow. Then, be sure to check out our list of The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.
“It is well-known that fruit and vegetables are good for you, but it’s important to remember that it’s more than just that,” says Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD. “Colorful fruits and veggies provide the body with various vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and plant compounds that help the heart, the gut as well as keep your immune system strong and more! Each color of produce contains a different nutrient package.”
“While everyone’s body and natural genetics are different, fueling your body appropriately is a crucial component if you would like to live over a century,” says Ricci-Lee Hotz, MS, RDN at A Taste of Health, LLC and Expert at Testing.com. “Ensuring that you consume a varied diet with a range of different fruits, veggies, lean proteins, whole grain, high fiber carbs, and healthy fat, and balancing them appropriately at each meal and snack is crucial to make sure your body is getting everything it needs to function at its best. In addition, keeping your stress levels down (especially surrounding food) can always help your body stay as healthy as possible, too.”
“Following a plant-based diet is one of the best possible dietary choices to live a life with greater quality and quantity,” says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, and a registered dietitian at Balance One Supplements. “For many who turn to a plant-based diet, their goal is overall health and reduced risk of chronic disease, which culminates in longer life. Among the many benefits of a plant-based diet, including, heart health, weight loss, and diabetes prevention a new secondary benefit is emerging; reduced cancer risk.”
Best points out research from the American Institute for Cancer Research which states that one of the best ways to prevent cancer is through dietary means. Focusing on nutrients like fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients into your diet is key, and can be found in foods like vegetables, fruit, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds.
If going plant-based does not feel like something that is attainable for you, Best also recommends focusing on a flexitarian approach if you want to live over a century.
“For many, this can be a daunting task and a flexitarian approach may be the best option,” she says. “Regardless of where you fall, reducing animal protein in your diet will improve your longevity.”
“The healthiest of people fill their plate with nutrient-rich foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, dairy, and healthy fat, but they also allow for pleasure foods,” says Goodson. “The key to a long, happy life is balance. The majority of the time, 80%, eat foods to fuel your body and keep it strong. Then 20% of the time enjoy vacations, holidays, and desserts with the people you love. It’s the best plan for the body and the soul.”
It’s all about setting healthier habits for yourself! Here are 5 Healthy Dessert Habits For A Flat Belly.
“It’s important to not overeat,” Rachel Paul, PhD, RD from CollegeNutritionist.com. “Overeating calories, even of healthier foods, leads to weight gain. Those with overweight or obese bodies are more likely to develop diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers, which can lead to premature death.”
One of the best ways to combat overeating is to start paying attention to your body’s hunger and fullness clues, portioning out your meals, and setting specific times for meals and snacks throughout the day. Overeating and mindless snacking can easily come hand-in-hand, so it’s important to set healthy snacking habits that will help you feel full, prevent overeating, and help you ultimately live over a century.
“As we age, we typically lose 2 to 3% muscle mass per decade,” says Goodson. “That can lead to falls, bone breaks, and instability as we age. The key? Power up with lean protein at all meals and snacks. Protein helps and builds and repairs muscles helping to keep your body strong as you age. Including foods like lean beef, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, beans, and legumes can all help you amp up your protein.”
“As a dietitian, I’m always telling people to ‘eat the rainbow’ because all the different colored foods represent different phytonutrients that help keep us healthy as we age,” says Mackenzie Burgess, RDN and recipe developer at Cheerful Choices. “One beneficial type of phytonutrient you’ll find in colorful fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods are compounds called ‘flavonoids.’ In fact, recent research has proven these flavonoids to be helping in maintaining our brain health long-term. Flavonoid-rich foods include onions, berries, dark greens, herbs, broccoli, cauliflower, dark chocolate, soy, and citrus fruits.”
To easily incorporate flavonoid-rich foods into your diet, Burgess says “For breakfast try mashing together berries and chia seeds to make your own jam. Then, for lunch, blend cauliflower into rice or find it in flatbread form to pair with your favorite protein. Finally, for dinner, try stirring extra onions and herbs into a one-pot curry.”
“To keep our brains sharp and to prevent cognitive decline, what we eat can make a difference,” says Lisa R. Young, PhD, RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim and a member of our medical expert board. “Foods high in certain vitamins, antioxidants, and phytochemicals may help to boost brain health. Deep red foods such as tomatoes and watermelon contain the antioxidant lycopene which fights free radicals that come with aging. Leafy greens such as kale and spinach are rich in vitamins E and K which may prevent memory loss and help reduce our ‘brain age.'”
“As we age, our metabolism tends to slow down so it is important to watch calories and exercise more to avoid weight gain,” says Young. “It turns out that maintaining a steady weight and avoiding yo-yo dieting is equally important. The centenarians from Okinawa, known to live long and healthy lives, were known to keep their calories down and their weight steady. Maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) has been associated with lower rates of heart disease and certain cancers.”
For more, be sure to read our list of The 6 Best Diets That Will Make You Live Longer, Say Dietitians.