If you're looking for the key to a longer life (who isn't?), whose footsteps are better to follow than those who live in what have been dubbed "blue zones" — five places around the world statistically home to the longest living people: Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California.
"We have gathered their stories, uncovered their secrets and distilled the results [for] you," says Blue Zones founder and National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner. Using this research, Dan has created what he calls an "a la carte menu of time-honored practices you could put to work in your own life right now."
Here, the New York Times bestselling author of Blue Zones Kitchen — which contains over 100 recipes that could help you live longer — breaks down 13 foods people living in these places eat on a daily basis.
BLUE ZONE #1: Sardinia, Italy
What They Eat In Sardinia, Italy
"I met the longest living family in the history of the world," Dan explains. "Nine siblings [with] a collective age of 861 years. The oldest daughter was 109."
And minestrone was the centerpiece of their daily diet.
"It's basically a cocktail of longevity," Dan says about the dish consisting predominantly of beans, olive oil, barley, onions, garlic and tomato.
"Scientists show right now that the most important virtual organ in our body is something called the microbiome," he continues. "A hundred trillion bacteria that make compounds that control inflammation, control your immune system — and they even put you in a better mood. The only thing those good bugs eat is fiber."
Minestrone contains a lot of fiber, the National Geographic explorer explains. "You put this in your mouth [and] your gut is going to celebrate."
2. Sourdough bread
"Metabolically, sourdough bread is very different than white bread," Dan explains. "When you leaven bread with lactobacillus instead of just yeast, there's almost no gluten in there."
3. Cannonau wine
"It has the highest levels of artery-scrubbing antioxidants, because they macerate the wines in the seeds and in the skins."
BLUE ZONE #2: Okinawa, Japan
"The longest living women in the world [live in] Okinawa, Japan," the Blue Zone Kitchen author says.
What They Eat In Okinawa, Japan
4. Bitter melon
"[It has] three compounds that lower blood sugar," Dan says.
"This probably has the best research for being anti-cancer," according to the Blue Zones founder.
"[It's] a great substitute for meat. It's got all the protein of meat with none of the bad stuff."
"This is what Okinawans ate for most of their life. About 60% of their dietary intake came from sweet potatoes — usually a purple sweet potato called imo."
BLUE ZONE #3: Ikaria, Greece
"This is the place where they not only live a long time, but they don't suffer from dementia," Dan says. "They have about 1/10th the rate of dementia."
What They Eat In Ikaria, Greece
"Part of it is the Mediterranean diet," he explains. "But also, it's these herbs."
8. Herbs (like rosemary, mint, sage & oregano)
"All of these herbs have two compounds. They have powerful anti-inflammatories — the root of every major age-related disease — but also diuretics, which lowers blood pressure," the longevity expert says. "People use them not only in cooking, but as teas. They'll just [put this in] hot water, maybe with a little bit of honey. They're drinking this every day, and that might explain the low rates of dementia," Dan adds.
BLUE ZONE #4: Nicoya, Costa Rica
What They Eat In Nicoya, Costa Rica
"I would say this is arguably the greatest longevity diet ever invented," Dan says. "It was invented in Latin America — they call it The Three Sisters."
9, 10 + 11. Corn, beans & squash
"When you mix these three together, [there are] complex carbohydrates, but [also] as much protein as a three-ounce steak."
BLUE ZONE #5: Loma Linda, California
"The longest living Americans are actually among the 7th Day Adventists — the highest concentration of whom live around Loma Linda, California ... not far from Los Angeles. They live about seven years longer than people living in the next town over."
What They Eat In Loma Linda, California
"They take their diet directly from the Bible," Dan explains. "In Genesis, God actually talks about the diet of the Garden of Eden."
12 + 13. Nuts & fruits
"If you're eating a handful of nuts a day — about two ounces — you're probably living about two years longer than your friend who's not eating a handful of nuts," he says.