Blue zones

Vibrant ageing couple cooking a health meal together, smiling.
image: iStock / Getty

Have you heard of blue zones? They’re regions of the world that have the greatest proportion of their population who live ‘til they’re over 100 years old.

It turns out that they share a lot of things in common. I thought I’d write this blog today to point out the main ones in case you feel like taking some of it on board. It’s never too late to make some healthy changes.

Blue zone regions were first identified Gianni Pes, Michael Poulain, and Dan Buettner. They are: Sardinia (Italy), Icaria (Greece), Okinawa (Japan), Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica), and Loma Linda (USA).

So what do they have in common? 

Diet for one.

People in blue zones typically eat beans, fruits, vegetables, salads, nuts, and olive oil. Every day! Not just once in a while to be healthy. Their diet is 95-100% plant based.

Some of my friends don’t like beans. One said they’re just too bland. I wasn’t a fan as a child either, but that’s because I had them on their own. But in blue zones they make beans tasty. They form parts of soups, stews, casseroles, with wonderfully rich and tasty sauces. 

I regularly make a tasty bean stew with a Spanish twist, where I flavour it with smoked paprika. It’s one of the single most tasty dishes I’ve ever had.

Beans are a brilliant source of fibre, which turns out to be extremely good for gut health. In fact, did you know that beans contain more nutrients per gram than any other food?

People in blue zones also consume a lot of olive oil. In fact, they average 4-6 tablespoons a day. That sounds like a lot, and it is for most people who hardly take any at all. Frying with it doesn’t count because olive oil loses most of its goodness beyond the smoking point. 

In blue zones, they drizzle olive oil on salads, they dip sourdough bread into it, and they add it to their soups, stews, and casseroles halfway through cooking (so the oil doesn’t smoke and lose its goodness).

I say olive oil here, but I’d like to add that in Nicoya, they also consume a lot of avocado oil and in Okinawa they use sesame oil too.

For snacks, blue zone residents tend to go for nuts and seeds or fruit. They consume roughly about a handful or more of nuts a day. 

Nuts are extremely nutritious. Snacking on them is a good habit to get into and helps us get out of the habit of snacking on things that have added sugar.

People in blue zones consume much less added sugar than the average Westerner does. In fact, they eat about a fifth of the added sugar that most Americans consume (28g compared with 140g).

This is, of course, added sugar I’m referring to, not natural sugar, which comes in fruits. Added sugar is the stuff that gets added to many pre-packed sauces, cereals, fizzy drinks, and more. 

They also don’t eat much dairy. None of the blue zones drink cow’s milk, with the exception of Loma Linda, who use it sparingly on cereal.

They also don’t eat processed foods. Whole foods is their way. In other words, foods from a single ingredient that haven’t been refined, processed, or had stuff added to them. Their whole foods are either raw, cooked, ground, or fermented.

What might be surprising to many reading this is that they like a glass of red wine. In fact, they typically drink 1-3 small glasses of red wine a way. But it’s with a meal and usually along with conversation.

Nutritionally, red wine is high in polyphenols. Around 90-95% of wine polyphenols are metabolised in the gut. There, they produce a range of really beneficial compounds, some of which are naturally anti-inflammatory.

It’s not just diet that characterises blue zones. Social interaction is key too. They eat with family and friends. They attend social gatherings, which are numerous. And they have a strong sense of community and connection with one another.

A strong sense of purpose is intertwined with this. Their sense of purpose isn’t like the way we tend to think of a purpose, like a sport or career. Theirs is a sense of responsibility for their community, family, or the next generation. They deeply consider their contribution to the lives of those around them.

In Okinawa, they call this sense of purpose, Ikagi. It’s Plan de Vida in Nicoya.

Translated, it roughly means: “What gets me out of bed.”

In other words, what motivates them isn’t what they can achieve or the individual mark they want to leave on the world, but who they are being and how they make life better for others. 

A last thing I’d like to add in this blog about people who live in blue zone is that they are physically active and build activity into their day. Rather than sit for long periods of time, they move around a lot. Where they can, they walk rather than drive.

My watch vibrates if I’ve been sitting too long at my computer. It tells me that it’s time to get up and move around. Since researching about blue zones, I now dutifully get up when my watch reminds me to and I spend a few moments walking around the room, often doing a few stretches of my legs, arms, and shoulders.

So that’s it, blue zones in a nutshell. Have a look at your own habits and see if you can make a few adjustments. It’s not really about living ‘til a hundred or more. It’s about having a good healthspan. While lifespan is the number of years you live, healthspan is how many of those years that you are in good health.

For many, it’s more important than lifespan.

And, of course, the above doesn’t mean that blue zone habits are the only healthy ones you can have. There’s obviously other healthy ways to eat, and we’re not all the same.

But in general, whole foods and natural things tend to be better for us than processed foods because they generally contain more nutrients and less added ingredients.

Movement is better than sitting around all day.

And contributing to the lives of others is better than always looking out for yourself.

Anything around these habits is generally good.


If you want to learn more about blue zones, see the official blue zones website.

I’d also recommend the book, The Blue Zones Kitchen, by Dan Buettner. (Amazon UK,

It contains recipes from each of the five blue zones. The first part of the book also lists lots of facts about blue zones and the types of diets they tend to have. I obtained a lot of the information in this blog from this book.


  1. Sue Walker on December 29, 2022 at 9:31 am

    Just what I needed to read before the New Year! Thanks for sharing

  2. Susan Langridge on December 29, 2022 at 9:35 am

    Thankyou for sharing David this is really interesting

  3. Tom Laramie on December 29, 2022 at 10:18 am

    Really interesting! Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Will definitely look at some recipes.

    Best wishes to you and yours.

  4. Morag on December 29, 2022 at 12:24 pm

    Thank you David

    Healthy and active for 2023, good luck with the cooking demo.

  5. Cindy Sym on December 29, 2022 at 2:15 pm

    I would love to have your recipe for beans with smoked paprika. . Thanks for this great info re blue zones!

    • Lynn Thompson on December 29, 2022 at 4:45 pm

      Me too!

      BTW, great summary of the Blue Zones.

  6. Alison on December 29, 2022 at 8:16 pm

    Thankyou for sharing, definitely food for thought!

  7. Mrs Brenda Davison on December 30, 2022 at 1:08 pm

    I spent Christms and New Year in Sardinia (which i think ix the blue zone) and was really impressed by the extended family. They got together for a shared meal almost every day – uncles, aunts, and friends.

  8. Caroline Swinburne on December 30, 2022 at 2:14 pm

    Thank you for such an informative blog. I’m not setting New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I am focusing on developing more healthy habits so this has come at the perfect time.

  9. Fiona Wilson on January 20, 2023 at 11:23 pm

    David, love the ethos of what you do and love this article…Blue zones another we nugget to share with my Mindful Watercolour group on Monday where ‘Blue’ The worlds favourite colour is our ‘guest’ colour of the week.

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