May you live long and prosper!

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None of us will live forever, but most of us hope that the years we do have on this planet are happy, healthy, and abundant.

Who knows how long you and I will live? The Central Intelligence Agency thinks it does. According to the CIA's World Factbook, a collection of information about people around the globe, the average life expectancy in the United States is currently 80.1 years old. According to this publication, the U.S. ranks 45th out of 223 countries included in this summary. Not awful, but 44 other countries are living longer than us.

In particular, individuals who live in Blue Zones are living longer than everyone, and diet plays an important role in their longevity.

What are Blue Zones? Blue Zones are areas scattered around the world where the population has an unusually large percentage of individuals over the age of 100, often referred to as centenarians. Not only are these people living a very long time, they also experience exceptional quality of life in terms of vitality, health, and wellness.

Although these populations are all over the planet, they all seem to share some common habits that are thought to contribute to their healthy, long lives. People living in Blue Zones seem to have nine common denominators. They:

- Move naturally - they are active on a daily basis doing work, walking, gardening, and the like, rather than hitting a gym;

- Have a sense of purpose, a reason to get out of bed every day;

- Take time to destress, stop work on a regular basis to pray, rest, meditate, nap, etc.;

- Don't overeat, with a tendency to eat fewer calories at the end of the day;

- Eat a plant-based diet - especially one that includes legumes (dried beans, lentils, split peas) often, if not daily, and limit meats of all kind, with the exception of fish;

- Drink wine daily - 1 to 2 glasses/day, but not more;

- Belong to a spiritual or faith-based community;

- Put loved ones and family first - often co-habitating with multiple generations; and

- Seek out healthy social interaction - surround themselves with others with positive habits and enjoy their company.

How can you adopt some habits of these centenarians? Below are a few nutrition goals to consider working towards. Most people won't fully adopt these eating habits, but moving closer to them and away from any current unhealthy eating patterns will certainly help.

BLUE ZONES DIET SUMMARY

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- Make 95 percent of your diet plants. Use beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, lentils, split peas, and whole grains for main protein sources. This may be the most important change to make.

— Aim for 1/2 cup cooked beans, lentils, or split peas daily. Add them to soups, salads, pasta dishes, smoothies, baked goods, or turn them into dips & spreads.

— Eat two handfuls of nuts daily. Vary the types you eat and choose unsalted nuts.

- Be moderate with animal protein intake. Most people in the U.S. eat way too much protein, from meat, dairy, and eggs. A good goal is 1g of protein per day for every kilogram of body weight (divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get weight in kilograms). Or, to make it easier, limit animal proteins to 1 small portion per day (1 egg, 2 oz. of cooked meat, 3 oz. of cooked fish, or 1 serving of dairy).

— Limit meat (beef, pork, poultry) to 2 servings/week, 2 oz. cooked. Choose truly free-ranged and grass-fed meat.

— Limit eggs to 3 free-range eggs/week. Use substitutes for eggs in baking to save real eggs as a protein source for breakfast.

— Eat up to 3 oz. of cooked fish daily. Choose small fish: anchovies, sardines, herring, or cod.

- Eat fruit daily. Eat leafy greens daily, the darker the better.

- Use oils instead of butter, favoring olive oil.

- Minimize use of dairy. Use kale, soymilk, tofu, and almonds as calcium sources. Choose cheese from goat's milk in small quantities.

- Limit added sugar from all sources (white sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave) to no more than 7 tsp per day (28g added sugar). Avoid soda entirely.

- Use sourdough and/or 100 percent whole grain bread. Avoid white flour (enriched flour).

- If you drink, be moderate in your alcohol consumption, favoring wine if possible.

Are you looking at this list thinking, "I can't do all that!"? Remember you don't need to do it all. Just try to build some of these habits into your regular eating patterns. Pick one and work on incorporating it into your routine over the course of weeks or months until it feels easy. Once it does, you are ready to tackle your next dietary change.

You can find more information on Blue Zones, including recipes, self-assessment tools, etc. at www.bluezones.com.

Robyn Priebe is a registered dietitian at Grace Cottage Hospital. She has been working in the field of nutrition and food service management since 1992. She earned her dietetics degree at the State University of New York-Oneonta and completed a wellness-focused dietetic internship at Keene (N.H.) State College. She holds certifications as an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Registered Dietician and as a Certified Dietician by the state of Vermont. She is also a Certified Diabetic Educator.


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