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."
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:
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.
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.
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."