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Find Your Blue Zone

Wellness Feature

Written by Samantha Lund

There might not be a magic pill to help you live longer, but it turns out there might be a few magic places that can offer just that.  The average human’s life expectancy is about 72 years. Here in Washington State, we’re fortunate to have one of the best life expectancies in the country, averaging 82 years. As exciting as those numbers are, there are several other places across the globe that average 90–100 years.

They’re called Blue Zones—five areas identified as the healthiest places for people to thrive, where residents live longer and without medication or disability.

Diet, nutrition and exercise have a lot to do with it—including a relatively stress-free lifestyle. While living stress-free might be a lifelong journey, there are plenty of other notes you can take from Blue Zone destinations.

Ikaria, Greece

This island’s residents are several times more likely to reach 90-plus years than the rest of the world. Most residents have very little stressors in their day to day; the average activities and work include maintaining a home or garden, being near the sea, walking in nature as well as eating and harvesting fresh foods.

Their diet is based on home-grown vegetables and their exercise comes naturally because walking is the easiest form of transportation around the island. To top it off, there’s a big social factor in Ikarian longevity, according to Dan Buettner, the New York Times best-selling author of The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People. Buettner’s studies also include several recipes (some listed below) to make Blue Zone living accessible for all. Family ties are very important in this region and houses often contain multiple generations, which means older Ikarians maintain an active social life with age and rarely live alone.

Greek Potato Salad

Ingredients

1½ pounds medium red potatoes, peeled and quartered

½ teaspoon celery seeds

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon packed fresh oregano leaves, minced

1 small head red leaf lettuce, cored and chopped

2 cups arugula, chopped

½ cup packed fresh mint leaves

2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and sliced lengthwise (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

• Steam the potatoes in a large saucepan by placing them in one to two inches of water. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer until potatoes are easily pierced. Drain potatoes and transfer to a large salad bowl.

• Mix seeds, oil, vinegar and oregano, and add a third of the mixture to the potatoes. Cover bowl and place in fridge to cool. Set the rest of the dressing aside at room temperature.

• Add the lettuce, arugula and mint leaves to the potatoes once cooled, and toss. Add garnish of your choosing (recommended: chopped almonds, scallions), eggs plus salt and pepper to taste.

Okinawa, Japan

Whole plant foods make up 90 percent of this population’s diet. Since less than 1 percent of their diet comes from fish, less than 1 percent other meats and less than 1 percent dairy and eggs, most of their meals consist of vegetables and beans with the most calories from potatoes.

Okinawans who maintain this traditional diet have fewer deaths from heart disease, colon cancer, prostate cancer and breast cancer than residents of the United States.

Tofu Stir Fry

Ingredients

1 tablespoon sesame oil

12 ounces firm tofu

1 to 4 cloves garlic, minced

½ cup bean sprouts

½ cup diced onions

Cup of spinach or kale, roughly chopped

Shichimi pepper or Sriracha hot sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Preparation

• In a large sauté pan, warm the sesame oil over medium-high heat and then brown the tofu on both sides, three to four minutes. Set aside.

• In the same pan, stir-fry the garlic, bean sprouts and onions over medium-high heat until brown, two to three minutes. Add oil to pan, if needed.

• Add the reserved tofu, spinach and soy sauce to pan and cook until greens are wilted, about 2 minutes. Toss all ingredients together while cooking to combine. Serve with rice.

Ogliastra, Sardinia

The Ogliastra region rests on the highlands of an Italian island. With a well-rounded Mediterranean diet, the population is likely to live into their 100s. Goat milk is listed as one of the reasons these people are so healthy and leaders in low cholesterol.

The population sees lower rates of diabetes, cancer and death under the age of 65 than almost any other region in the world.

Flatbread and sourdough are staples for Sardinians. High in fiber and complex carbohydrates, they don’t cause a blood sugar spike like most processed or refined carbs.

Sardinian Flatbread

Ingredients

1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1½ cups semolina flour

1 envelope active dry yeast

1½ cups warm water

Sprinkle of fresh chopped rosemary

Salt

Preparation

• Combine the two flours with about a teaspoon of salt.

• In a small cup, dissolve the yeast in about 1/4 cup of the warm water, and let sit until bubbly.

• Add the yeast mixture to the flour with the rest of the water.

• Mix until dough is smooth, then cover and let sit one hour. Knead for five minutes and cover for another hour.

• Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.

• Spray two flat baking sheets with oil.

• Knead the dough once more and divide into eight equal balls.

• Roll each ball out as thinly as you can to fit the baking sheets, and bake each for five minutes in the preheated oven. The breads should blister but not yet brown.

• Remove from the oven and pile one on top of the other. Place a board or flat tray on top and let sit until cool.

• To prepare for serving, return each bread to the oven for 10 minutes, or until golden and crispy.

Remove from the oven, brush lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with fresh chopped rosemary and salt, and return to the oven for a few minutes.

Let cool, break apart and serve.

Loma Linda, California

Loma Linda, California, is home to the highest concentration of Seventh-day Adventists in the US. This population of 9,000 has an average life expectancy that’s 10 years more than that of most Americans.

Their biblical diet of grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables is widely attributed to their longevity. With an emphasis on exercise and no consumption of alcohol, this group’s members view health as a central piece of their faith.

Kale, Spinach and Coconut Soup

Ingredients

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup sliced yellow onion

4 cloves garlic, smashed

10 cups kale, roughly chopped

5 cups spinach

3 cups arugula

Two 13½-ounce cans coconut milk

32 ounces vegetable broth

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 teaspoons salt

Preparation

1. In a large pot, over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until transparent.

2. Add half of the kale, spinach and arugula and cook until the leaves begin to wilt. Add the remainder of the greens to those already in the pot, and continue to cook until all the greens have wilted and reduced in volume. Take care not to overcook the greens; you only want to wilt them. Overcooking them will reduce the nutritive value of this soup.

3. Add both cans of the coconut milk, stirring to incorporate into the greens. Cook about three minutes.

4. Working in batches, transfer some of the greens and coconut milk mixture to a blender. Begin to blend on low and gradually increase the power. Through the feeder, add the vegetable broth and continue to blend until completely smooth. Feel free to use more or less, depending on whether you want a thick or thin bisque. Transfer the blended mixture into a large container.

• Mix in the nutmeg, add salt to taste and serve immediately.

Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

Residents of the Nicoya Peninsula in Central America have the world’s lowest rate of middle-aged mortality and the second-highest concentration of male centenarians (second only to Loma Linda, California) according to National Geographic.

Their ability to live into the 100s is attributed to a strong faith-based community with a reliance on social networks and regular, low-intensity exercise. With a healthy amount of sun, a balanced and natural diet, a physical labor force and plenty of water, the people on the Nicoya Peninsula also see fewer deaths from cancer, lower cholesterol and rates of diabetes. Not to mention, without any technology these communities report much less stress than those with cell phones and readily available internet.

Costa Rican Black Beans and Rice

Ingredients

2 tablespoons corn, canola or vegetable oil

1 small yellow or white onion, chopped (about 3/4 cup)

2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 cups drained and rinsed canned black beans or drained and rinsed cooked black beans

1½ cups long-grain white rice, cooked and drained without salt but according to the package directions (about 3 cups cooked rice)

½ teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

2 teaspoons seeded and minced habanero chili (optional)

Preparation

1. Warm the oil in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, about three minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 20 seconds.

2. Pour in the beans and a cup of water. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a full simmer, stirring gently to keep the beans intact. Gently stir in the rice, salt and pepper until combined, about two minutes. Stir in the cilantro and habanero, if desired, before serving.

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