Have you heard of the Blue Zones? The term ‘blue zones’ was coined by the author Dan Buettner and his team following research on the five places in the world where there are an unusually high concentration of centenarians (people living over 100 years old) and supercentenarians (people living over 110). These five places are
Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, Loma Linda in California, Nicoya in Costa Rica and Ikaria in Greece.
We are going to look into the research done on these areas to see what we can learn from them from a mostly nutritional perspective, but as we know health is very much holistic rather than just being about one aspect, so there are several important lifestyle elements to be understood in living a long healthy life.
In the mountain village of Arzana the classic Sardinian diet consists of fruits, vegetables, wholegrain bread, beans, sheep’s cheese and goat’s milk. Meat is only featured occasionally, usually on Sundays or special occasions. Many Sardinian centenarians also drink red wine in moderation (around a small glass a day). Being a fairly isolated mountain village, they have strong social connections and a ‘family first’ ethos where elders are well respected. The majority of the men in this area who are now centenarians were once shepherds and walked many miles each day on mountainous terrain.
The Japanese island of Okinawa is home to some of the world’s longest-living people. The older Okinawans eat a mostly plant-based daily diet of vegetables, sweet potato, miso and tofu. Some pork is also eaten in small amounts and is usually reserved for special occasions. They practice eating until 80% full and then stopping. The Okinawans are traditionally active and enjoy walking and gardening, there is a sense of community amongst the elders and all centenarians interviewed said that they had a strong sense of purpose.
Loma Linda, California
In the city of Loma Linda, there is a population of Seventh-day Adventists whose faith promotes healthy living and discourages smoking, drinking alcohol, caffeine, eating meat and ‘rich foods’, with many following a vegetarian diet. They have been studied extensively as a group of around 9000 individuals, with studies showing they exercise regularly, including into older age. The Seventh-day Adventists observe a sabbath once a week where they detach from the business of their daily lives and focus on God, family and nature. They have strong social bonds with others in their community.
Nicoya, Costa Rica
As common with all the above places, the people from the village of Nicoya in Costa Rica enjoy a relatively simple life. Their traditional diet consists of beans, rice, corn, tortillas, vegetables, fruit, with some eggs, and pork. They tend to eat their largest meal in the middle of the day favouring lighter evening meals. The elders in this area enjoy a good sense of purpose, solid family ties and are religious. Many that were interviewed also stated that they walked a lot, and that although they had a strong work ethic, they lived low-stress lifestyles.
This Greek island enjoys the traditional Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables, salads, herbs, goats milk, bread, honey , lentils, chickpeas and some fruit. Their diets were found to be low in dairy and meat, which would be served on special occasions. They drink a small amount of wine daily and enjoy herbal teas made from fresh local herbs such as sage, oregano and rosemary.
The elders live active lives, walking and doing manual work in the house and garden. The pace of life is gentle and there is a strong sense of community.
As we have seen these 5 blue zones have a lot in common. There isn’t one single practice that they all do, but rather a combination of things that enable good health. It could be though that these areas put their longevity down to genetics however in the book it is stated that although this could potentially be a factor in Sardinia, in Costa Rica this isn’t the case as the village is considered more mixed-blood race, and that diet and lifestyle are still the biggest influences on long-term health.
To summarise, the most common themes across the 5 blue zones are:
So now look at your life and see where you can make some shifts to implement some of these long-term healthy changes. Some of these may be easier to implement than others. However, they are all valuable ingredients for an overall sense of wellbeing and health, and longevity too!
I was asked to write about this for a local tennis club and thought I would add on here for anyone who is keen to optimise their tennis performance and recovery through nutrition.
Fuelling your body the right way before and after a tennis match is important for sustained energy, optimal performance, fuel for your muscles, better recovery, muscle repair, healthy bones and injury prevention.
Let’s look at the food groups that should be covered before and after matches, and the best times to eat these foods. I have also provided some snack and meal ideas so that you can easily put this guidance into practice.
The body’s preferred energy source is glucose which comes from carbohydrates. It is important to eat something before you play, but what you eat pre-match is dependent on timing. Ideally you would eat a carbohydrate-based meal 2 to 4 hours beforehand, however sometimes you may have no choice but to eat closer to your match, for example if you are playing early in the morning. If you do have an early morning match, eating a largely carbohydrate-based meal such as pasta or rice the night before will top-up your glycogen stores (this is glucose that your body stores to use when it exercises) so you can then just eat something light in the morning.
As a general rule, follow the below advice on what to eat and when:
Nutrition is just as important after you play to aid recovery. Ideally you should eat within a couple of hours of finishing your match. The nutrients that are essential post-match are:
Here are some examples of post-match snacks or meals. These are all fairly simple and easily digestible foods in most individuals, meaning that the nutrients can be absorbed readily and do their job more quickly.
Remember that hydration is also essential at any time, so ensure that your fluid levels are topped up before, during and after you play.
I hope this has given you some ideas, and helped you to understand how optimal nutrition can help with your performance and recovery. Please note that any food ideas are just guidelines and to adjust accordingly if you have specific dietary requirements.
Serves 1 (just multiply the amounts if making for more people)
75g brown basmati rice
½ tbsp brown rice miso paste
80g edamame beans
Half a small cauliflower head (roughly 200g)
1 clove garlic (minced)
1 tbsp sriracha
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp tamari/soy sauce
½ tbsp maple syrup
Optional garnishes – sesame seeds, coriander, fresh chilli, chilli flakes
Miso – Miso paste is made from fermented soya beans. It can be high in salt in large quantities. Because it is a fermented food it contains probiotics which are ‘good' bacteria that may help improve the balance of bacteria in the gut if consumed regularly, beneficial for good digestive health and immune health. Miso also contains isoflavones which have antioxidant properties.
Cauliflower – Cauliflower is packed with beneficial nutrients, it really is a superfood. It is fibre rich and contains and array of vitamins and minerals. Cauliflower is particularly beneficial for health as it contains some powerful phytochemicals called glucosinolates, isothiocyanates and sulforaphane which are important antioxidants that have been found, in studies, to slow the growth of cancerous cells and have protective effects against certain forms of cancer. Studies have also shown sulforaphane may be helpful in the prevention of heart disease and diabetes.
Edamame beans - theses are young soy beans. They are a rich source of protein and contain all the essential amino acids, meaning they are a ‘whole’ protein source. This makes them a great addition into a plant based diet. They are a good source of fibre and contain a good level of folate and vitamin K1. They also contain the group of phytochemicals called isoflavones which have antioxidant properties.
As we say goodbye to the summer sun, our vitamin D levels start to decline as we head into autumn and winter. If you had plenty of sun exposure over the summer, your levels of vitamin D may keep you going for a while, however due to indoor lifestyles, many of us don’t even get adequate exposure in the summer, meaning that by wintertime you may find that your levels decline down to a deficient or insufficient state. Approximately 1 in 5 people in the UK have deficient or insufficient vitamin D levels. From my experience in clinic, this is something that I see a lot of, regardless of the time of year.
Most of us have heard about the many amazing benefits that regular exercise can provide for your health, including good cardiovascular health, mental wellbeing, weight control, blood glucose control and improved musculoskeletal health. But can these health benefits alone motivate people to exercise in some way 5-7 times a week? For some people this may be more than enough, but for others, if the enjoyment factor is missing, it will be a lot harder to get motivated and there will always be something more pressing to attend to!
It's always great to try different variations on favourite dishes. This is what fills the pages of most cookbooks, publications and foodie blogs, as people look for new and updated ideas. However, a classic dish done well is hard to beat. These are often dishes that have been passed through families for generations and the reason for this is that they taste great!
Winter Squash is such a lovely winter vegetable. Not only does it have a sweet comforting taste. But it is rich in antioxidants, and also has anti-inflammatory and insulin regulating properties. It also has several nutrients in it that are beneficial for eye health.
One of the most important things you can do for your health is to enjoy an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Studies are now suggesting we should be aiming as high as 10 portions* a day, and while this isn't always easy for some people, we can all work out our own personal targets to increase the amounts of fruits and vegetable we consume on a daily basis.
This Mexican inspired one-pot dish is great for a mid-week family meal. It takes less than 20 minutes and uses mostly store cupboard ingredients.
This meal is vegan with plenty of protein coming from the quinoa and black beans. And even if you aren't vegetarian or vegan, try it a meat-free Monday meal.
Do you think you could have some kind of food intolerance? Something that doesn’t quite agree with you?
It’s really important to fix this, especially if you’ve had niggly symptoms for years.
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Francesca Grace Lancaster
Nutrition in Northwood, Rickmansworth and surrounding areas.