More Research Suggests a Plant-Based Diet Is Best for Healthy Aging—But the Blue Zones Have Known That For Years

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Photo: Klaus Vedfelt
This isn’t your standard New Year’s plan. No restrictive diets, no weekly weigh-ins, no “whole new you” for this new year—because, hey, you’re pretty great already. These four expert-led plans—designed to help you move your body, eat more veggies, get a better night’s sleep, or show yourself some loving care—are all about developing healthy habits that better align with your goals.

File under yet another reason to eat more plants: A new editorial published online in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition asserts that sticking to a plant-based diet is linked to healthy aging, aka living into old age free of any cardiovascular, brain, or other health problems.

You may already know that eating plant-based is good for the environment and also has many health benefits, including being good for your heart, brain, and gut. But the study authors points out some specifics that make it especially beneficial in terms of healthy aging. After reviewing clinical trials and epidemiological studies on aging, the researchers found that people who ate plant-based were up to 50 percent less likely to develop chronic diseases including type two diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, all of which are more likely to develop as you age. (Note: The editorial was authored and funded by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a non-profit research and advocacy organization that favors plant-based eating.)

This of course isn't particularly "new" news—as cited by the review, there is a wide body of existing research that has found eating more plant-based foods is associated with a lower risk of mortality and fewer instances of chronic diseases. Plus, plant-based eating is the norm in all five Blue Zones, places in the world where people regularly live to be over 100 with no health problems. Though the Blue Zones (Okinawa, Japan, Sardinia, Italy, Nicoya, Costa Rica, Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California) are in different parts of the world, locals of these regions all eat primarily plant-based foods native to their region, including legumes, vegetables, fruits, and herbs and spices. (They're not vegan, though—these areas typically leave room for some fish, cheese, and the occasional piece of red meat as a celebration food.)

Want to start eating more plants for a longer, healthier life? Here are some ways to start right now—without having to completely overhaul how you feed yourself:

1. Make 50 percent of each meal veggie-based.

This is what registered dietitian Tracy Lockwood Beckerman and the host of Well+Good’s You Vs. Food YouTube series calls the 50 percent rule. "Filling your plate with 50 percent veggies is like providing your body with a nutritional safety net that you are getting the right vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants," she says. It doesn't mean every meal has to a salad or served on a bed of greens, either. Have fun choosing various plant-based foods to build your meals, like many of the alt-pastas on the market or the many, many forms of cauliflower-based and chickpea-based foods. It's easier than ever to find plant-based foods in the grocery store.

2. Vary your protein sources

For a lot of Americans, meat has long been the center of every meal. Cut down on your consumption by varying your protein sources with beans and legumes, which still have a ton of protein. Beans in particular are linked to a whole slew of health benefits, such as being good for your heart and gut. (And some experts think eating a certain amount of beans every day can help you live longer!)

Watch the video below for more ideas on how to get enough protein without eating meat:

3. Experiment with new ingredients

Something that prevents some people from going plant-based is the idea that they're going to have to nix so much from their diet; that plant-based eating is restrictive. Guess what: That's not necessarily true. (And reminder, you can still have meat and dairy occasionally on this eating plan.) "There are hundreds of different varieties of fruits and veggies and things that we often skip over at the store,” Catherine Perez, RD, previously told Well+Good. This is your opportunity to flex your creative muscles.

What's your favorite plant-based recipe? Share it in Well+Good's Cook With Us Facebook group.

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