Posted on Sep 01, 2020, 3 p.m.
Some of the longest-lived people eat a high carb diet, and this is a big part of their secret to living to be 100+ years young. For these centenarians, beans, whole grains, nuts and vegetables are the staples while meat and cheese are rare.
Most of the world’s population of longevity warriors live in regions which have become known as blue zones, these long-lived people routinely live to see their 100th birthday in happy good health. Most share similar patterns in the way they eat, they all have a few staple ingredients in common, and they are all fairly high in carbs, but they center on carbs of a different kind and are free of processed foods.
"The four pillars of every longevity diet in the world are whole grains, greens, nuts, and beans," the National Geographic Fellow, documentary and longevity proponent Dan Buettner said. "When you crunch the numbers, it's very clear that it's a 90% to 100% plant-based, very-high-carbohydrate diet. About 65% carbs, but not simple carbs like muffins and cakes — complex carbs."
Regardless of whether the longevity warrior eats from a kitchen off the sandy shores of Costa Rica, the scenic greenery of Okinawa, the pictorial hills of Ikaria or the industrial kitchens of California blue zones, these meals are loaded with beans. This high carb, high fibre food has been the subject of criticism by many dieters as they are hard to eat on the trendy high fat but low carbs diets like the keto plan.
"You can get very successful with a diet if you tell people they can eat what they like to eat — meat or cheese or eggs and all that," Buettner said. "I draw from people who've achieved the health outcomes we want. And I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that they're eating about a cup of beans a day."
The diets followed by these centenarians lines up with much of the studies that suggest people who consume more vegetables and other plants while avoiding processed foods or red meat are less likely to die early and are more likely to have a healthier heart than those who intake animal products on a regular basis.
There are no banned foods in these blue zones, rather the environments the residents live in promote good health seamlessly, no one weighs ingredients or worries about the calories, carbs, fat, or protein content in their meals. That being said there are things that they don’t eat very often, among these rarities are things high in saturated fats, sugars, meat, dairy, and desserts.
When it comes to meat, most in these long-lived zones only eat meat about 5 times a month, and it is typically a small 3-4 ounce cut of pork. They favour fermented varieties of bread such as sourdough and they pair a very small amount of pasta and grains together with other staples such as fresh greens or beans.
“When you combine a grain and a bean, you get a whole protein," Buettner said. “This means that, much like any meaty dish, a plant-based meal can feature all the essential amino acids that help the body grow and repair itself, but "without the saturated fat, without the hormones," he said.
Not only do these areas focus on primarily plant-based diets, but they also tend to cherish the importance of lifelong friendships, and they move around consistently for about 20 minutes every day while living with purpose. Some research also supports that these built-in support systems are components of longevity.
"We keep beating this dead horse of diets and exercise and supplements," Buettner said. "It's Einstein's definition of insanity." He goes on to add that "The secret to eating for 100 is to find the plant-based foods heavy with beans and grains and vegetables, and learn how to like them," he said. "If you eat a Blue Zones diet religiously, it's probably worth eight to 10 extra years of life expectancy over a standard American diet. You take those years and you average them back into your life? It gives you about two hours a day to cook."
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.