What foods are most important in the Blue Zones and Mediterranean diets?
Dr. Loy: I want to emphasize beans and legumes — almost every diet has them in some form or another. One study found that legumes are the most important dietary predictor of survival in older people of different ethnicities.
The Blue Zones dietary pattern is plant-forward, which means it includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains. Meat is eaten about five times a month, if at all. In addition, people who live in Blue Zones eat until they are 80% full, and some of them regularly have one or two small glasses of red wine per day, often with a meal and with friends.
The Mediterranean diet consists of a high intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, olive oil, and legumes, a glass or two of wine, and limited consumption of meat. Cereal grains and fish are also included.
What are the health benefits of the Blue Zones and Mediterranean diets?
There’s a lot of scientific support for the health benefits of the Mediterranean and Blue Zone diets, specifically for heart health. One study found that the Mediterranean diet reduced cardiovascular events, such as myocardial infarctions, strokes, or death from heart causes, in high-risk patients without cardiovascular disease by approximately 30%. Another showed that the Mediterranean diet had a 50% to 70% lower risk of recurrent heart disease.
The ingredients in the foods also improve health. For example, Omega-3 — a healthy fat found in fish, nuts and seeds — benefits the heart, brain, and metabolism. And polyphenols, which are antioxidants present in fruits and vegetables, can help manage blood pressure levels and reduce chronic inflammation, among other benefits. A recent study found that polyphenols may help increase longevity by combating diseases associated with aging, like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.