What makes “blue zone diets” like the Mediterranean diet so healthy?
Blue zones are areas of the world where people live much longer than average. The term was trademarked by Dan Buettner who identified these five regions of the world: Sardinia, Italy; the community of Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California; Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; and Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula.
The Mediterranean diet (MeDiet) is a type of blue zone diet and is traditionally followed by people who live along the Mediterranean Sea. It is a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish and olive oil. Red meat is eaten no more than once a week, and red wine is often enjoyed with meals. This diet is associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease than American diets. It replaces saturated fat with monounsaturated fat found in extra virgin olive oil and polyunsaturated fat found in nuts. It is likely the combination of foods in this diet that produces health benefits.
In the PREDIMED study published in 2013 Journal of New England Medicine, more than 7,000 participants were randomized to follow a MeDiet with added olive oil, a MeDiet with added nuts or a low-fat diet in the control group. Participants were instructed not to reduce calories. The study measured the combined risk of heart attack, stroke and death from cardiovascular (CV) events. Cardiovascular events were defined as heart attack, stroke or death from cardiovascular causes. Those who followed the MeDiet with olive oil saw a 30 percent decrease in CV events, while the MeDiet plus nuts saw a 28 percent decrease compared to the low-fat group.
While diet is a major contributor to well-being in blue zone areas, it is important to note other significant factors. These cultures also have an emphasis on faith, family, physical activity, no smoking and no “time urgency.” Several ingredients go into a healthy lifestyle recipe.
Leanne McCrate is an award-winning dietitian with more than 15 years of clinical experience. She is registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Have a nutrition question? Email it to DearDietitian411@gmail.com.