Smith: Home in a ‘blue zone’ just one factor in living long, healthy life | Food and Cooking

Have you ever heard of blue zones? Identified in 2000 by Dan Buettner, Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain, blue zones are regions of the earth that have a higher percentage of people living well into their 90’s and 100’s. In fact, the authors note that people living in these areas tend to have lower rates of age-related chronic diseases. Currently, five blue zones have been identified: Icaria, Greece; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and Sardinia, Italy. However, it’s not solely about where you live, but about how you live.

Genetics only account for about 20-30% of our potential life expectancy. Our lifestyle, including our beliefs, values, behaviors, and environment may influence our longevity. Having a sense of purpose, incorporating natural movement, such as walking or cycling to work, maintaining social relationships and social involvement, belonging to a faith-based community and integrating activities to help de-stress are all common lifestyle behaviors found in the blue zones. In Okinawa they attribute their longevity to the old Confucian mantra said before meals, “Hara HachiBu”, which reminds them to stop eating when 80% full, so they do not overeat.

Another commonality of blue zone residents is their eating patterns. Diets in these regions look much like a Mediterranean diet, which focuses on a high intake of fruits and vegetables and whole grains. It includes moderate amounts of protein, particularly from fish and seafood, and it is rich in healthy fats, including mono and polyunsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids. No matter where you live, you can add more years to your life by adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors.

½ cup chopped dried cherries

3-4 fresh sage leaves for garnish

Wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. Preheat oven to 375°F. Peel and cut butternut squash into cubes. Toss butternut squash with chili powder, honey, ground ginger. Add cherries or dried cranberries, lightly toss together. Line baking tray with foil, spray with cooking spray. Bake butternut squash in a single layer. Bake butternut squash for 30-40 minutes or until cooked and caramelized. Remove from oven, let cool, and plate. Top with fresh sage leaves for garnish.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 104 calories, 1 gram fat, 9 milligrams sodium, 27 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams dietary fiber, 2 grams protein

Smith is nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at 309-663-8306.

pevita pearce

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