(Image credit: David McLain)
18 Sep 2023 — With research and interest in the benefits of Blue Zone diets at an all-time high, popularized recently through the Netflix documentary “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blues Zones,” Nutrition Insight catches up with the series’ presenter, journalist and author Dan Buettner as well as dietician Sylvia Klinger. We look at deeper perspectives on the Loma Linda Blue Zone in California, US, whose population is majority Seventh Day Adventists.
“Loma Linda is special because it is an example of a community surrounded by the typically unhealthy US culture that lives as much as a decade longer than the rest of us. Most of them are either vegan or vegetarian as they take their diet directly from the bible (Genesis 1:29),” Buettner explains.
“Much of their longevity can be attributed to vegetarianism and regular exercise. We saw that these factors were very similar across all blue zones.”
Buettner explains that the community has four main pantry staples – beans, whole grains, greens and nuts, which provide “almost all of the vitamins, fats and nutrients that one needs.”
Food anticipatory activity
The Loma Linda community has cultivated many good nutrition habits, including eating specific quantities at certain times of the day, having a primarily plant-based diet, drinking sufficient water and not smoking and drinking alcohol.
Buettner underscores: “‘Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper,’ US nutritionist Adelle Davis is said to have recommended – an attitude also reflected in Adventist practices.”
“A light dinner early in the evening avoids flooding the body with calories during the inactive parts of the day. It seems to promote better sleep and a lower BMI (body mass index).”Dan Buettner presenter of Live to 100 on Netflix gives Nutrition Insight a peak into the power of the Blue Zone diet.
An Adventist Health Survey (AHS) posits that non-smoking Adventists who eat two or more servings of fruit daily have about 70% fewer lung cancers than non-smokers who eat fruit once or twice a week. Adventists who eat legumes such as peas and beans thrice a week had a 30 to 40% reduction in colon cancer.
Moreover, Adventists who consume nuts at least five times a week have about half the risk of heart disease and live about two years longer than those who don’t.
“Adventist women who consumed tomatoes at least three or four times a week reduced their chance of getting ovarian cancer by 70% over those who ate tomatoes less often. Eating a lot of tomatoes also seemed to have an effect on reducing prostate cancer for men,” Buettner says.
“The AHS suggests that men who drank five or six daily glasses of water had a substantial reduction in the risk of a fatal heart attack – 60 to 70% – compared to those who drank considerably less.”
Dietician and owner of Hispanic Food Communications, Sylvia Klinger, went to college at Loma Linda University and was raised Seventh Day Adventist. “A great number of Seventh Day Adventists follow a vegetarian diet along with no smoking, no drinking alcohol, no caffeinated beverages and no pork or shellfish for those that eat meat,” Klinger explains.
According to Klinger, the Loma Linda Blue Zone diet is mainly lacto-ovo vegetarian, which includes beans, legumes, nuts and an abundance of fruits and vegetables, more water intake, no smoking, no alcoholic beverages, no caffeinated drinks, no pork and no shellfish and a day of rest on the Sabbath.
“A body of research demonstrated the long-term benefits of a plant-based diet which includes lower cancer rates, longevity for both women and men, lower body weight, less chronic disease such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer to name a few,” Klinger says.
“This diet has a powerhouse of antioxidants, mono and polyunsaturated fats, plenty of B complex vitamins, vitamin A, vitamin E and plenty of essential minerals.”
Prioritizing whole foods
The Blue Zones Diet is almost entirely devoid of processed foods, with Loma Linda residents eating a mainly whole-food, plant-based diet. Buettner further details these diets in his latest book, “The Blue Zones Secrets for Living Longer: Lessons From the Healthiest Places on Earth.”
“It’s so important to get away from processed foods. In a typical year, US citizens eat 208 pounds of meat and get 130% of their daily sugar and 70% of their calories from processed foods,” Buettner notes.
“The Blue Zones diet isn’t about telling you you can’t ever have these foods again, but instead filling your plate with beans, greens, grains and nuts so that eventually, the processed foods get pushed out of the pantry and out of your life. If you’re eating more of the good stuff, you’ll just naturally end up eating less of the bad stuff,” he says.Loma Linda resident demonstrates what it means to use elbow grease in the garden at a good old age (Credit: David McLain).
Adventists with a healthy BMI are typically active and have lower blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol and less cardiovascular disease. “Getting regular, low-intensity exercise like daily walks appears to help reduce your chance of having heart disease and certain cancers,” he says.
The most common foods in the Blues Zones are beans, greens, tubers, fruits, nuts and seeds. Beans are the cornerstone of every Blue Zones diet in the world – black beans in Nicoya, lentils, garbanzo and white beans in the Mediterranean and soybeans in Okinawa.
“The long-lived populations in these blue zones eat at least four times as many beans as we do, on average. One five-country study, financed by the WHO, found that eating 20 g of beans daily reduced a person’s risk of dying in any given year by about 8%,” Buettner underscores.
Klinger notes that there are Seventh-Day Adventists all over the world who follow this diet and are thriving. “It can be replicated by anyone all over the world. The Seventh Day Adventist population is not elite or wealthy, so that it can be done on a budget.”
Nutrition advice from the experts
Buettner’s Blue Zone journey began in 2000 when he led a series of educational projects called “Quests,” in which scientists investigated some of Earth’s great mysteries.
“I had heard about Okinawa’s unusual longevity a few years earlier and thought it would be a great quest to investigate what their secrets to good health and long life were. We spent ten days studying, exploring and summing up what we found. That was what sparked the excitement. Five years later, I returned to Okinawa with a new team,” he recalls.
“It has also been eye-opening how some of these regions are starting to disappear as the Western Diet becomes the norm while other places like Singapore are taking steps to creating a man-made blue zone.”
Buettner advises nutrition enthusiasts to purchase a whole food plant-based cookbook and earmark a few recipes they want. “Make them, pick ones that your family likes the best and add them to your weekly rotation of meals,” says Buettner.
Klinger advises that the benefits of eating mostly plant-based along with activity, a day of rest, more nuts, beans and water are remarkable. “I spend most days sharing the goodness of the Blue Zone Diet with my patients and anyone I encounter. I feel so energized every day and full of vitality, and I hope others can experience this feeling of vitality,” Klinger concludes.
Interest in blue zone diets continues to rise as researchers try to pinpoint the factors leading to a longer life span. Nutrition Insight previously spoke with two foremost experts about the benefits of simple foods at the heart of the diet.
By Inga de Jong
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