Longevity continues to be a hot topic in health and wellness, and with good reason: Who doesn’t want to live to see 100 or more years old feeling good? The big question is how? What exactly are the longest-living people in the world doing (or not doing) that’s extending their lifespan well into the triple digits? Now, thanks to National Geographic journalist Dan Buettner, who’s been reporting on regions around the world where the longest-living folks reside (also known as Blue Zones), we have some answers as to the longevity boosting foods they eat, as well as their eating habits.
Buettner found that many lifestyle factors such as low stress levels, daily movement, and a sense of purpose contribute to longevity. And, it comes as no surprise that another one of the keys to living a long, happy, and healthy life has to do with the food we eat and our dietary habits.
With that in mind, ahead, we rounded up some of our favorite longevity-boosting foods and findings of 2021.
1. Eat for better sleep
Given how vital sleep is for our overall well-being, it makes sense that the longest-living people around the globe habitually eat in ways that support good sleep. For one, Blue Zone residents are intentional about their sugar consumption and avoid it, especially before bedtime. Consuming food with added sugars before bed can negatively impact your sleep quality due to the blood sugar spike and drop that follows, according to research. And, they also don’t eat right before bed to allow enough time for their body to digest their dinner fully.
“Food triggers our body’s release of insulin, which works in opposition to the body’s sleep hormone, melatonin. Eating too much or too close to bed could diminish your body’s melatonin production and make it harder to fall asleep,” Whitney English Tabaie, RDN, previously told Well+Good.
2. Chocolate can boost longevity
Yes, chocolate contributes to longevity, too, and it’s not just because it tastes so good. Chocolate provides some serious, science-backed physical health benefits such as reducing the risk of various diseases, including stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and dementia, thanks to it being packed with antioxidants. Specifically, it’s the cocoa in chocolate that delivers the benefits, so sticking to chocolate with a higher percentage of cocoa is the way to go to reap the rewards. In other words, reach for the dark chocolate over the milk chocolate.
3. Drink up your red wine
There is a lot of back and forth on whether wine is good for you. But what we do know is that the longest-living people in Blue Zone regions love to drink their red wine, in moderation, of course. They drink one or two glasses of red wine every day (after 5 pm, to be exact), which adds to the quality of their lives.
In particular, Buettner says the healthiest red wine out there is a wine called cannonau that’s consumed in the Blue Zone region of Sardinia, an island located off the coast of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea. Cannonau has two to three times the amount of an antioxidant called flavonoids compared to other red wines. It’s also worth noting that the people in Sardinia also pair their wine with a Mediterranean diet and enjoy their meals and wine surrounded by loved ones.
4. And sip your teas
Besides red wine and water, teas, which are high in antioxidants, are among the top beverages consumed by people in Blue Zones. Different Blue Zone regions favor different teas. In Okinawa, Japan, for instance, green tea is the hot drink of choice. The benefits of green tea include boosted brain and heart health. It can also help improve mood and not give you that post-caffeine crash like coffee does.
Not a fan of green tea? Other Blue Zone-approved teas include Costa Rican herbal tea brewed with chan seeds, mountain tea (popular in Ikaria, Greece), and milk thistle herbal tea (a go-to tea in Sardinia, Italy).
5. Season your food with spices
People in Blue Zones know how to live (clearly), but they also know how to eat. Case in point: In addition to limiting refined sugars and processed foods to focus on eating whole ingredients in each meal, the longest-living people also add lots of spices to their dishes. This is great news because not only do spices add a ton of flavor to your food, they also have antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Specifically, Blue Zoe regions eat these four anti-inflammatory spices every day: turmeric, black pepper, ginger, and garlic.
6. And add lots of herbs too
Incorporating herbs into mealtimes is another way the longest-living folks elevate their dishes and improve longevity. Herbs offer many healthy benefits, including supporting a healthy immune system. The four that are the most commonly consumed in Blue Zone regions include fennel, oregano, rosemary, and cilantro. Add these herbs to your grocery list, stat.
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