Health & Wellness

The 'Blue Zones' diet: Foods that help people live to 100

There are five places on earth which have the highest percentage of people who live to a healthy and happy 100 years. They're called the "Blue Zones" by National Geographic author Dan Buettner, who has explored their secrets to a thriving longevity in his book, "The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World's Healthiest People."

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Maria Shriver reveals secrets of 'blue zones' where people live to 100

Play Video - 4:36

Maria Shriver reveals secrets of 'blue zones' where people live to 100

Play Video - 4:36

Buettner has discovered what he believes is the answering to reaching such an old age and being healthy right up to the end: diet. So he has set out to capture the recipes of the world's longest living people.

"Individuals get lucky, but populations don’t," Buettner told NBC's Maria Shriver in the TODAY series, "Eating to 100." "There’s too many people to chalk it up to collective luck, or even genes," said Buettner.

No matter where people live, these foods make up all longevity diets: beans, greens, grains, and nuts.

"They know how to make them taste good and they know how to optimize them for their health," Buettner said.

In our series, "Eating to 100," Buettner and NBC's Maria Shriver visit three of the Blue Zones:

Ikaria, Greece

On the remote Greek island of Ikaria, people outlive the average American by more than a decade. On Ikaria, 97 percent of the people are over age 70 and Buettner found only three cases of dementia. By comparison, there's a 50 percent change of dementia for Americans who reach 85.

A common side dish is wild dandelion, boiled like spinach. These greens have 10 times more antioxidants than red wine, according to Buettner. Chickpeas, also a favorite on Ikaria, are the cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world, he said.

Costa Rica

The Nicoya Pennisula is famous for beautiful sandy beaches, exotic wildlife and people who seem to defy the limits of age. In Nicoya, about 1 in 250 people live to 100, compared to 1 in 4,000 who make it to 100 in America. Their diet of rice, beans and tortillas would be viewed as unhealthy in America. But it's way better than you think.

"If the average American could add a cup of beans a day, it would extend their life by four years," said Buettner.

  • Slideshow Photos

    Jake Whitman / NBC News

    Jose Bonifacio

    "Eating to 100" in Costa Rica

    In Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula, about 1 in 250 people live to 100, compared to 1 in 4,000 who make it to 100 in America.

  • rice, beans, eggs, tortillas and cheese

    "Eating to 100" in Costa Rica

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    The breakfast Jose Bonifacio credits with helping him reach a healthy and happy 100 years old: rice, beans, eggs, tortillas and cheese. 

    Jake Whitman / NBC News
  • 100 year old Eulalia Mendoza

    "Eating to 100" in Costa Rica

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    100-year-old Eulalia Mendoza credits God with her longevity, but she says she also has a little help from a friend who sneaks her an occasional beer from his nearby bar.

    Jake Whitman / NBC News
  • 100 year old Jose Bonifacio

    "Eating to 100" in Costa Rica

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    100-year-old Jose Bonifacio is one of the great cowboys of Guanacaste, Costa Rica. He still rides his horse every morning, is mentally sharp and doesn’t take supplements. 

    Jake Whitman / NBC News
  • Sisters Gioconda (left) and Anabelle Rangel(right)

    "Eating to 100" in Costa Rica

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    Sisters Gioconda (left) and Anabelle Rangel(right) will cook 140 tortillas every day and sell them for 50 cents each. The tortillas are rich in niacin, a B vitamin that reduces colesterol and the risk of heart attack.

    Jake Whitman / NBC News
  • "Eating to 100" in Costa Rica

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    A tortilla made of ground-up whole corn, which is rich in a B vitamin that can reduce the risk of heart attacks. A town in the Nicoya Pennisula has built a statue honoring the women who make them.  

    Jake Whitman / NBC News
  • 100-year-old Estanislao Su?rez

    "Eating to 100" in Costa Rica

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    100-year-old Estanislao Suarez of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Pennisula. Suarez is one of the remarkable residents of Nicoya who seem to defy the limits of age. 

    Jake Whitman / NBC News
  • 107-year-old Jos? Pizarro

    "Eating to 100" in Costa Rica

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    107-year-old Jose Pizarro still lives in the house he built 90 years ago on Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula.

    Jake Whitman / NBC News
  • 100-year-old Jose Bonifacio

    "Eating to 100" in Costa Rica

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    100-year-old Jose Bonifacio with Dan Buettner, author of "The Blue Zones Solutions" and NBC's Maria Shriver. Buettner is on a mission to capture a way of eating that is disappearing.

    Jake Whitman / NBC News
  • 100 year old Eulalia Mendoza

    "Eating to 100" in Costa Rica

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    100-year-old Eulalia Mendoza with Dan Buettner, Maria Shriver, and some of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great grandchidren and a great-great-great grandchild.

    Jake Whitman / NBC News
  • Jose Bonifacio and NBC's Maria Shriver

    "Eating to 100" in Costa Rica

    of

    Jose Bonifacio and NBC's Maria Shriver. In Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, about 1 in 250 people live to 100, compared to 1 in 4,000 who make it to 100 in America.

    For more photos from NBC's Jake Whitman, visit his Instagram @NBCJake.

     

     

    Jake Whitman / NBC News

Try the Costa Rican black beans and rice tortillas recipe

Loma Linda, California

An hour west of Los Angeles is Loma Linda, California, where nearly half of the city belongs to the Seventh -Day Adventist Church. It's home to one of the highest concentrations of Seventh-Day Adventists in the United States. Most of the church members don't eat meat or fish and they never touch alcohol or cigarettes. And they live about seven to 10 years longer than the rest of Americans, according to the Adventist Health Study.

In Loma Linda, eating healthfully is part of the religion. Their diet is inspired by the Bible, the diet of the Garden of Eden. Their meals rely on beans, nuts, slow-cooked oatmeal, whole wheat bread and real soy milk. They also drink six to eight glasses of water a day, as prescribed by the church's founder, Ellen G. White, who established the faith over 150 years ago. Also, the citizens of Loma Linda are always on the move, taking afternoon walks and adhering to a strict lifestyle.

It's never too late to start living like the people of the "Blue Zones," Buettner believes.

"You can be 90 years old and go plant based and you'll add to your life," he told TODAY. "It's not as hard as some might believe — once you've tasted it."

RELATED:

Eat like an Adventist: 8 foods for a longer, healthier life

Wines, beans and family: Sardinia's secrets to living to 100

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