The following content was authored with the help of the Blue Zones Project® – Monterey County, a community well-being improvement initiative designed to make healthy choices easier through permanent and semi-permanent changes to environment.
March is National Nutrition Month, and it is a great time to take inventory of what you are putting into your body. Many in Monterey County are familiar with Blue Zones, LLC and founder Dan Buettner. Their work began in research and identification of the world’s longest-lived cultures and most extraordinary populations. Their Power 9® principles are evidence-based common denominators of all the Blue Zones regions. Here in Monterey County, the Blue Zones Project® is working locally on supporting these findings to create a sustainable impact. Using these and other resources, we put together these four nutrition tips from the Blue Zones.
1. The Four Always and Four to Avoid foods
Blue Zones recommends the four best foods to have on hand and the four worst foods to avoid. The Four Always foods are affordable, readily available, tasty and easy to add in most meals. They include:
- 100 percent whole grains such as brown rice, bulgur (cracked wheat), farro, oatmeal, quinoa and whole cornmeal
- Nuts – a handful each day
- Beans – a cup each day
- Fruits and vegetables – 5-10 servings each day
The Four Avoid foods are temptation foods, and unfortunately, they are highly correlated with cancer, heart disease and obesity. They include:
- Sugar sweetened beverages – they are empty calories
- Salty snacks – they have too much salt and preservatives
- Packaged sweets such as candies, cookies and processed sweets
- Processed meats – linked to cancer and heart disease
2. Plant Slant
Plant Slant is one of the Power 9® principles, comprised of nine commonalities found in the five original blue zones. Most people who live in blue zones eat a 95 percent plant-based diet. A Blue Zones diet is rich in vegetables, legumes (beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas), whole grains and nuts. Try to “retreat from meat” and consume meat no more than twice each week at a serving size no more than two ounces cooked. This equals the size of a deck of cards before cooking. “Fish is fine.” Try eating up to three ounces of fish each day – about the size of a deck of cards before it is cooked. Fish are a good source of omega-3 fats, important for brain and heart health.
3. Remember the 80% Rule
Another Power 9® principle is the 80% Rule. Try to stop eating when your stomach is 80 percent full. This can be achieved by eating slowly. The 20 percent gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the different between losing or gaining weight. This comes from the Okinawan rule called “hara hachi bu.”
4. Wine @ 5: Consume alcohol in moderation
People in four of the blue zones drink alcohol moderately and regularly, and based on research and studies, wine can help lead to a longer life span. Wine @ 5 is another Power 9® principle. Remember to limit your drinking to 1-2 glasses per day (and don’t save them all week and have 14 drinks on a weekend). They also emphasize human connection – Friends @ 5. It’s best to drink with friends (when safe) and drink with food.
Eating wisely is just part of the lifestyle habits shared by the world’s healthiest, longest living people. Remember to incorporate the other Power 9® principles into your life – moving naturally, finding purpose, downshifting, belonging, putting loved ones first and finding the right tribe.
Each month, Aspire Health Plan hosts free Community Connections events that are free, educational and fun. Head over to our events page for more information. Aspire members, learn more about your health and wellness benefits.