The Blue Zones?

In 2000, Micheal Poulain and Giovanni Mario Pes documented a group of locations around the world where there was an abundance of people who lived to be over 100 years old.  These areas were called “The Blue Zones” and included:

Photo by Dana Tentis on Pexels.com
  • Ikaria, Greece; (sometimes spelt Icaria)
  • Okinawa, Japan;
  • Ogliastra Region, Sardinia;
  • Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.
  • Loma Linda, California, USA

It was suggested that a number of factors led to the longer life of people who lived there, including regular exercise, having social circles that reinforced healthy behaviors,  taking time to de-stress, being very family orientated and part of a community.  There was also a dietary element where it was believed that their approach to diet had a very significant impact on their longevity.

Some groups interested in diet have seem similarities between their dietary beliefs and the documented diet of blue zone inhabitants, often using this information to support their ideas and to promote their diet as healthier.  Despite these areas being very geographically and separate from each other and eating quite different diets, these dietary ideas have become blue zone folklore?

Here are some suggested ideas from a recent book titled “The Blue Zones Solution” by Dan Buettner:

  • Stop eating when your stomach is 80 percent full to avoid weight gain.
  • Eat the smallest meal of the day in the late afternoon or evening.
  • Eat mostly plants, especially beans. And eat meat rarely, in small portions of 3 to 4 ounces. Blue Zoners eat portions this size just five times a month, on average.
  • Drink alcohol moderately and regularly, i.e. 1-2 glasses a day.

Some of this advice seems very sensible but we must be very careful when trying to apply what seems to work in one place and time to something happening in another place or time.  For example:

  • Many people living in Northern Europe drink a lot of cows milk and have done so for generations, however most Asians can not tolerate cows milk well due to a lactose intolerance which can make them sick when they consume it.
  • Europeans traveling into malaria infested areas of the World must take special precautions against getting bitten by the anopheles mosquito as they can suffer hugely and die from this disease if caught, while some locals appear to be almost immune from this.
  • Over the years diets change and the diet that sustained a centenarian in the growing and middle age years may be very different from what we see today, which could confound research.  In my own case my family ate lots of delicious meat stews, and porridge as I grew up but we very seldom eat these today.  We also had very limited fruit varieties and fast food was non-existent. 

Another aspect of the blue zones which has been questioned is the validity of the research done.  Mary Ruddick, a renowned nutritionist is married to a Greek and has lived on the island of Ikaria.  She was puzzled by the lack of recognition of the amount of goat meat eaten by the islanders and the suggestion that potatoes was a mainstay of their diet.  In her view the islanders eat goat meat almost daily and potatoes are not a local crop due to the poor soils.  They were introduced some years ago as part of the adoption of more western ways of eating and were never part of traditional diets.  Her suggestion about why goat meat is not recognized is that the questionnaires asked about “red” meat consumption and this to an Ikaria inhabitant translates to beef, which is rarely eaten.  Mary shares her view on this here:

Another blue zone diet claim is that a mainstay of the Okinawa diet is sweet potatoes.  During World War II these people were forced to kill and eat most of the pigs on their islands and as a result made a switch to much more reliance on sweet potatoes.  The diet which centenarians ate over the years was once heavily pork based and this has changed significantly over time.  Okinawa’s people are no longer in the top group.  For more information about this diet confusion, take a look at the post by Angela Stanton in the link below

Another approach in dietary / longevity research is to blame genetics for some of the health problems of today. Any review of non-communicable diseases such as Type-2 Diabetes, Obesity, Macular Degeneration, Kidney Disease, Asthma, Depression, Alzheimer’s Disease, Heart disease or Cancer reveals skyrocketing levels which have risen dramatically since the 1900’s when most of these were rare. Is it possible that some individuals have obesity genes which are turned on or turned off by the poor western diet of high sugar, refined grains and seed oils.

Genetics clearly has an impact in setting different levels of susceptibility to diseases in individuals. For a great example of how genes work, take a look at the honey bee. The queen bee and the worker bee have identical genes, but the Queen is isolated and fed royal jelly with the result being development of the only fertile female egg laying machine in the hive. Genes can clearly be turned off and turned on by external factors such as different foods.

Different population groups around the world, have responded to the western diet in different ways. Some groups have a much less healthy response to the the impact of the western diet than others. For example, the Pima Indians in Arizona are the most obese group in USA and African Americans are more susceptible to Type-2 Diabetes than people of Caucasian origin. These differences may be due to natural selection that has occurred from the impact of different major impacts on the ancestors of the group. Dr. Andrew Jenkinson in his fascinating book “Why We Eat (To Much), covers this in some detail. For example, he suggests that the susceptibility of Pacific Islanders to obesity may come from their past long sea migrations where only those who had the ability to survive these journeys with little or no food, survived to become their ancestors.

As always, for more diet and health information, take a look at my book

“Take Back Your Health”, by George Elder,  available as an ebook or paperback on Amazon.

Book Link: https://amzn.to/3uiehfv

Blog link,  www.takebackyrhealth.com

Changing what’s in the Mirror

A message to those of you who don’t like what you see in the mirror, particularly to young women.

You are bombarded by messages about body shape and size which may create feelings of inadequacy.  What to do?  One option is to ignore these completely and be yourself so long as your health is not being compromised.  However, if 2x your waist size is a number that exceeds your height then prioritizing your health might be a good move.

If you listen to the so-called “experts” parroting the standard advice, they will likely be telling you to eat less, get more exercise and avoid dietary fat.  They might even have gone as far as suggesting a plant-based diet.  While they will all firmly believe they are giving you great advice, unfortunately while it is well meaning it can be very misguided.

Modern science has uncovered lots of new information about what is healthy and unfortunately much of this does little to sell more food, drugs or supplements and because of this is ignored or lost amongst the thousands of articles, podcasts and medical reports that are newly published every day.  Because of what is known as “confirmation bias”, published articles are often only printed when they agree with the majority of readers views and therefore the conventional, out of date even discredited information is reprinted over and over despite the fact that we can clearly see it is not working.

Here are some things that you need to know:

  • Exercise is good for you and it can help build strength and flexibility which is very valuable, but it is unlikely to help much to lose weight.  Muscle weighs more than fat so it may even put weight on.  The tape measure can show you if it is working for you.
  • If you decide to just eat much less, your body will adjust for a lower level of available energy and it does so by restricting the amount of energy you use internally for body repair and maintenance until it matches the level available.  Your metabolism slows down.  Thus, vital body management functions are minimized, body temperature may reduce in your extremities, and you will feel lethargic because there is less energy available. Your body will adapt to this lower energy level over time (weeks), and once adapted, any loss of fat will stop.  This can happen with a relatively modest fat loss.  It also signals to your brain to get more food on board urgently making you feel very very hungry.  The result can be stiffness, brittle nails, hair loss, slower healing of wounds, more sickness etc. This is usually unsustainable for very long.
  • A danger is that your level of nutrition will also fall. You don’t just eat to fill your tummy; you need to ensure that you are getting all the nutrition including the vitamins and minerals you need to remain healthy.  Although you are getting food, the goodness may not be high enough.  Your immune system can become weaker, your body will get even less value from food due to poor digestion and you may find you have more brain fog, headaches, gastro intestinal problems, tiredness and many other issues.  If you avoid eating animal foods then this can be even more extreme because the level of nutrition in plants is lower due to lower starting levels and the impact of anti-nutrients.  Vitamins A, D, E, and K2 need fat with the food for absorption and vitamin B12 and Zinc come primarily from animal foods and a low level of these will definitely impact your health. Poor nutrition can have a devastating impact on a baby’s growth and development, particularly brain development and some of this can be irreversible, whether still in the womb or a toddler.
  • To reduce body fat, you need to put your body in a state where it will use some of your existing body fat stores every day.  This is surprisingly simple once you understand what is happening.  First you need to adjust your body so that the level of glucose goes low regularly and when this happens it will switch over to consuming body fat. By eating more protein, up to 1.5 grams for each Kg of body weight, a little more fat, and cutting down on carbohydrates from processed foods, sugar and grains you will train your body to use up stored fat reserves.  Carbohydrates are sugars and it is these that convert to fat in your body.
  • While you are making these changes, a very healthy change is to minimize the use of vegetable oils and replace these with olive oil, coconut oil, flax seed oil or avocado oils.  If you are happy to eat animal sourced food then anima fats, eggs, liver, chicken, red meat etc.  are all excellent sources of nutrients.  Most food outlets fry in vegetable oils so best to avoid these if you can as they can be toxic long term.  If you thought that meat could increase your risk of cancer then be aware that this is another myth spread by people who want to change your diet for their benefit, not for your health. Research shows that colon cancer is actually higher in vegetarians than meat eaters.
  • Over a short time you will find that you no longer feel hungry between meals.  You should adapt to this by only eating when you are hungry and stop once you feel full.  At this stage you might like to consider intermittent fasting with my recommendation being to give up breakfast and switch to only 2 meals a day and don’t have any snacks between meals.  This can result in you eating lunch and dinner then having about 16-18 hours of evening, night and next morning when you only drink water or similar. 
  • You don’t need to really change much about your diet except to avoid those sugars, grains and processed food.  A good meal might consist of a steak, some vegetables and a small piece of fruit for dessert.  Don’t have fruit juices of smoothies as they push up the sugars, but one whole piece of fruit each day should be OK.
  • Only check the scales occasionally as they are more impacted short term by the level of liquids in your body.  Stay hydrated preferably with water and definitely avoid the sweetened sodas.
  • If you want a name for eating this way you can call it low carb, Atkins, Keto or Paleo as they all have very similar approaches.  A cookbook or two can help with planning your new meals.

George Elder, Author, “Take Back Your Health”, 
Available on Amazon eBook US$ 3.99, or Paperback US$ 7.99
now at http://www.eldergeo.com