6 foods to avoid if you want to eat like the longest-lived people on the planet

Nicoya costa rica blue zone

The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica is one of the “Blue Zones”, regions related to health and longevity.Photo by Gerhard / ullstein via Getty Images

  • The “blue zones” are places in the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives.

  • People in those regions tend to have similar diets, with little processed foods or added sugars.

  • Experts suggest that limiting foods like red meat, refined grains, and sweets has health benefits.

To live a long, healthy life, it may be worth cutting down on foods such as processed meats, sweets, and sodas, the evidence suggests.

These foods are restricted in so-called blue zones, regions where residents tend to live longer and have fewer health problems as they age, the researchers found.

Blue zones vary geographically and by cuisine, covering Greece and Italy, Costa Rica and Japan, but they share common eating patterns. Whole plant-based foods such as leafy vegetables, fruits, beans, and grains are pervasive in the blue zones.

In contrast, regional diets tend to avoid processed foods, refined grains, sweet drinks, and added sugars and sparingly incorporate red meat and animal fats such as butter, if at all.

Restricting these foods may be linked to longevity and lower risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, and more.

Processed foods, from snacks to prepackaged meals, take a back seat to whole foods

a view from the top of a shopping cart facing an aisle of potato chips, snacks and other processed foods with soft focus

Ultra-processed foods are affordable and can be tasty, but research suggests they’re not good for our health.Mok Jee Chuang / EyeEm / Getty images

From Costa Rica to Japan, a unifying feature of Blue Zones diets is that they are primarily based on whole, unprocessed foods.

Staple foods like rice, beans, and vegetables take precedence over ready-made and ready-to-eat foods, which are full of added fat, salt, sugar and preservatives.

Ultra-processed foods like pizza, chips and the like have been linked to an increased risk of early death from diseases like heart disease or cancer.

It can be difficult to eliminate all processed foods from your diet, as they include everything from dressings and sauces to flavored yogurt and granola bars.

If you can’t cut back completely, aim for healthier processed foods with nutrients like fiber and protein, according to experts.

Added sugars, in everything from snacks to sauces, are limited

Spoon filled with sugar cubes

For better health, avoid sugary snacks in favor of nutritious alternatives like nuts and fruit.Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

One of the dietary culprits sabotaging longevity is too much sugar, the evidence suggests.

Sugar is ubiquitous in processed foods. While you would expect foods like cookies, candy, and ice cream to be sugary, toppings and other ingredients for prepackaged meals are amazing sources of sugar.

Too many sweet things can lead to weight gain, mood problems, skin diseases, and an increased risk of diabetes, liver disease, and heart disease.

Instead of sugary treats, Blue Zones residents tend to snack on foods like nuts, high in fiber and healthy fats, or seek out nutritious fruit for some natural sweetness.

Refined grains like white bread, pasta and sweets are avoided in favor of fiber-rich whole grains

a slice of white bread, viewed from a close angle inside a plastic bread bag

Robin Gentry / Getty Images

Blue Zones diets are notoriously high in carbohydrates, but with one important caveat: they favor whole grains over the refined, white, floury counterparts popular in the standard American diet.

When a grain is processed, nutrients such as fiber, vitamins and minerals are eliminated to create a softer texture and a longer shelf life. Often, additives such as fat and sugar are also mixed to improve the flavor.

As a result, foods such as white bread, pasta, pizza dough, and desserts provide calories but few other nutritional benefits and can be detrimental to heart health.

The lack of fiber in refined grains also makes them less filling than whole grains, making you more likely to overdo it and / or experience blood sugar spikes.

Red meats, especially processed meats such as sausage, are eaten in moderation.

hot dog cart

Blue Zone diets tend to prioritize protein sources like beans and seafood over red meat.Juanmonino / Getty Images

Blue Zones diets are almost entirely plant-based, according to researcher Dan Buettner, which may partly explain their longevity benefits.

Studies have shown that people who eat more meat tend to have higher rates of heart disease and other chronic diseases.

The link between meat and health risks is observational, which means that research doesn’t directly show that eating more meat leads to worse health. And red meat may be a healthier alternative to processed meat, which is more closely linked to cancer, some evidence suggests.

However, many experts and studies still suggest eating red meat in moderation, if at all.

Instead of meat, blue zones tend to incorporate protein-rich foods such as beans, seeds, fish, some dairy products, and eggs into their diet in moderation.

Sugary drinks, including diet drinks, aren’t as popular as water, coffee, and tea

shot of soda

Diet versions of sugary drinks can also be harmful to health, the evidence suggests.EyeEm / Getty

Sugary drinks such as sodas, fruit juices, energy drinks, and the like are one of the most popular sources of added sugar in the standard American diet. High consumption is linked to an increased risk of cancer and other diseases.

While some people have switched to diet sodas to avoid added sugar and artificial sweeteners like aspartame have become more popular, experts say these alternatives aren’t much better for your health. Some evidence has linked sweeteners to a higher risk of cancer and heart disease, as well as stronger cravings and less sensitivity to sweet tastes.

People living in the blue zones become attached to water or other unsweetened drinks.

Coffee and tea have additional health benefits thanks to the richness of antioxidants, micronutrients linked to the lower risk of disease.

For a bit of indulgence, some Blue Zones diets include red wine with meals, small amounts of which have minimal risks and potential benefits.

Animal fats are often replaced with olive oil


Swapping olive oil for butter can have health benefits.lutavia / Getty Images

Since Blue Zone diets are mostly plant-based, they tend to rely heavily on olive oil and similar sources of fat.

There is good evidence that these unsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol and improve heart health, compared to saturated animal-based fats.

Some research has found that replacing butter with olive oil can ward off a number of health problems, including cancer, heart disease, and neurodegenerative diseases.

However, the evidence also suggests that butter is likely harmless in small amounts, so it may not be necessary to eliminate butter entirely – experts say it’s okay to include it and other sources of saturated fat in moderation, especially from high-quality sources. .

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