Whilst I don’t think you will find many sources recommending we should eat only animal products, you will find plenty of sources advocating a vegetarian or vegan diet as the optimal human diet. There is so much conflicting information out there and a HUGE number of different diets are promoted in the media – vegetarian, vegan, raw-vegan, low-carb, ketogenic, HFLC, paleo, primal, alkaline, Atkins, The Zone, South Beach diet, gluten-free, The Fast Diet, Perfect Health Diet etc. Many claim to be the optimal diet for health.
So – which diet is the best?
I wish there was an easy answer to this question but sadly there is not! However, in this article I will discuss what we can take away from looking at the diets of traditional and long-lived people, and try to draw together some common threads (from traditional people’s diets and lifestyles) that we can all apply to hopefully live healthy and disease-free lives. I have looked at evidence from
- The work of Weston Price (carried out in the 1920s and 30s)
- An analysis of 229 “modern” hunter-gatherer societies
- The Kitavans
- The Hadza tribe in Tanzania, the last full-time hunter-gatherers in Africa
- People living today in the Blue Zones – areas of remarkable longevity where more people live to be 100 than anywhere else in the world
The first part of the discussion summarizes the work of Weston Price from one of my favourite books of all time – Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. If you haven’t read this book then I highly recommend it.
Who was Weston Price?
In the 1920s and 1930s, Dr. Weston Price, a dentist, spent 10 years of his life travelling the world to look for people free of the dental problems plaguing nearly all Americans. During his 10 years of travelling he visited 14 countries on 5 continents and studied thousands of people eating their traditional diets. He found that people eating their native diets of unprocessed wholefoods had excellent mental, physical and dental health. Those eating modern processed foods had seen their health deteriorate. This research will never be able to be repeated since these traditional people are no longer isolated from modern influences, and this is what makes Weston Price’s work so important. Below is a summary of the traditional dietaries of the different people he visited.
What do the traditional diets studied by Weston Price have in common?
- No diet was completely plant-based or completely carnivorous, all contained a mix of both plants and animals (humans are well adapted to be omnivores).
- The diets were nutrient-dense.
- The traditional diets (providing almost complete immunity to tooth decay) were on average ten times higher in fat-soluble vitamins than the displacing modern diets (where tooth decay became rampant).
- All the foods eaten came from the local environment (no imported foods).
- No processed foods. No refined sugar, flour or processed vegetable oils.
- Low sugar diets.
- Traditional people did not use nutritional supplements.
- The diets varied hugely. No one diet was found to be the “perfect” diet. (If you are interested in reading about each diet in detail then scroll to the bottom of the article for this information).
Lifestyle Factors All the traditional people that Weston Price studied had lifestyle factors in common
- Isolation from civilization and perhaps from the stresses of industrial life as well as isolation from the modern foods of industrial civilization.
- Active lifestyle. They were all active as part of their daily lives, including hunting, fishing and “gathering” food, growing vegetables or tending to cattle.
- They were all part of a community.
Evidence from “Modern” Hunter-Gatherer Societies Loren Cordain and his research team analysed 229 hunter-gatherer diets from all over the world. They did not find a single vegetarian or vegan society in all the diets they studied (humans are well adapted to be omnivores). They did however find (in line with Weston Price’s findings above) that humans can thrive on many types of diet as long as these diets contribute the full range of essential nutrients. I think it goes without saying that these “modern” hunter-gatherer societies did not take nutritional supplements to make up for deficiencies in their chosen diets!
The results of Loren Cordain’s analyses are as follows:
- 0 societies had 0-5% dependence on animal products
- 2 had 6-15% dependence
- 6 had 16-25% dependence
- 23 had 26-35% dependence
- 30 had 36-45% dependence
- 35 had 46-55% dependence
- 45 had 56-65% dependence
- 42 had 66-75% dependence
- 35 had 76-85%
- 11 had 86-100% dependence on animal products
These results have been criticised as not being accurate (and rebuttal to that here). However, even if the percentages are out, for the purpose of this discussion, I think we can still conclude that all modern hunter-gatherers ate BOTH plants and animals in varying amounts.
Further evidence – The Kitavans
Kitava is an island in the Trobriand Islands group of Papau New Guinea that has until very recently been almost untouched by Western influences. The 2000-odd inhabitants of this island and their diet and lifestyle have been the subject of studies by researcher Staffan Lindeberg and his colleagues due to their reported excellent health and traditional diet. Let’s look at their diet and see how it compares to other traditional diets discussed.
- The Kitavan’s eat a high-carb diet, but their carbohydrates come from starchy vegetables rather than grains. At least 60% of their calories come from carbohydrates.
- Tubers including yam, cassava (aka yucca), sweet potato and taro. They also make a dish out of fermented taro.
- Common fruit include banana, papaya, guava, pineapple, mango, and watermelon.
- Coconuts are a dietary staple.
- Fish and other sea creatures are eaten almost daily and every part is eaten including the heads and organs. Fish eggs are valued and are a favourite of the children.
- Pork is very occasionally eaten.
- Most of the fat in the diet is saturated (from coconuts), with plenty of omega-3 from seafoods.
Once again we see a traditional diet that contains both plant and animal foods. They utilize the entire animal including organs. The diet is low in sugar and does not contain processed foods or supplements.
The Hadza Tribe in Tanzania
The Hadza are a fascinating group of people to study. They number just under 1000 and some 300-400 live as hunter-gatherers. They are the last full time hunter-gatherers in Africa. The Hadza’s and their ancestors have probably lived in their current territory for a very long time and it is only a short distance from the area known as the “Cradle of Mankind” due to the number of hominin fossils found there. While no living population is a perfect model of our species’ past, the Hadza lifestyle is similar in critical ways to those of our Pleistocene ancestors. The Hadza hunt and gather on foot with bows, small axes and digging sticks, without the aid of modern tools or equipment. Among the Hadza, men and women practice different food-collecting strategies with men eating more meat and honey and women eating more plant foods. The Hadza eat a diet composed mostly of fresh food: tubers, honey, berries, baobab fruit and various wild meats. They do not consume grains or dairy.
Diet during the dry season
- Baobab fruit is a dietary staple; the seeds provide an important source of fat and protein.
- Tubers are available year round but are the least preferred food.
- Large animals. In the dry season meat makes up a bigger proportion of the diet as game becomes easier to hunt due to animals congregating around watering holes.
Diet during the wet season
- Baobab fruit and other fruits.
- Honey becomes an important source of calories in the wet season when it is abundant.
- Small animals.
Hadza Lifestyle As you would expect of a hunter-gatherer population, the Hadza walk a lot and are highly active throughout the day. However, an interesting study looked at energy expenditure in the Hadza and found little difference between the Hadza and current Western populations (the Hadza do not burn off more calories through exercise than Westerners). The Hadza do not suffer from obesity. This supports the theory that diet is more important than exercise in controlling weight.
Modern research carried out by National Geographic gives us further clues into what we can do to lead a long and healthy life.
What are the Blue Zones?
National Geographic Explorer Dan Buettner has traveled the globe to uncover the best strategies for longevity found in the Blue Zones – 5 places in the world where higher percentages of people enjoy remarkably long, full lives and reach age 100 at 10 times the average rate, while experiencing lower rates of cancers, dementia and heart disease. The 5 Blue Zones are:
- Sardinia, Italy – 22 out of every 100,000 live to be 100 years old and men and women share longevity equally. In 2012 Sardinia had the world’s highest number of centenarians and super-centenarians – there were 371 centenarians on the island.
- Okinawa, Japan – 34 out of every 100,000 live to be 100 years old – the highest percentage of people living to be 100 in the world.
- Seventh Day Adventists, California, USA – they live for 5-7 years longer than the average American. Average life expectancy is 83 for men and 86 for women. They also suffer less of certain types of cancer, and less heart disease and strokes.
- Ikaria, Greece – people here live on average 10 years longer than those in the rest of Europe and America – around 1 in 3 Ikarians lives into their 90s. Not only that, but they also have much lower rates of cancer and heart disease, suffer significantly less depression and dementia, maintain a sex life into old age and remain physically active deep into their 90s.
- Nicoya, Costa Rica – lowest middle-age mortality in the world and the second highest convergence of male centenarians.
*Note: These statistics are gathered from the web and are hard to verify as being 100% correct.
Let’s take a closer look at their diets and lifestyles (for a more detailed analysis scroll to the bottom of this article).
- Sardinia Diet – fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, beans, dairy, some meat and fish, wine.
Lifestyle – Sardinia is rugged and the locals do a lot of walking up and down hills.
- Okinawa, Japan Diet – lots of vegetables and fruit, white rice, soy, some fish and meat
- The Seventh Day Adventists of Loma Linda, California, USA Most Seventh Day Adventists are vegetarian, with about 50% being lacto-ovo-vegetarians and including eggs and dairy in their diets. (However, meat-eating Adventists still outlive their average American counterparts by almost the same length of time as the non-meat eaters). Drinking alcohol is discouraged. Drinking caffeine is discouraged. Eating processed food is discouraged. They eat a Mediterranean-style diet and those who regularly eat nuts have better health outcomes.
Lifestyle – Physically active, smoking is discouraged. They are involved in their community and have faith.
- Ikaria, Greece
Diet – lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, wild greens and herbs, beans, lentils, whole grains, potatoes, goat’s milk and goat’s milk yogurt, fish, pork, local wine, herbal teas, olive oil and local honey.
- 82% of Ikarian men over 80 are former smokers and 17% are current smokers so their longevity cannot be attributed to them being non-smokers.
- Bedtime for most Ikarians is well after midnight (2 am is average). They sleep in late in the mornings and take naps.
- They have an active lifestyle, walking lots and tending their gardens.
5. The Nicoyan Peninsula of Costa Rica
Diet - a small amount of meat, corn, beans, white rice, eggs, vegetables and fruit.
- Active lifestyle.
- Strong social network and often live with their extended families.
- They regularly get sun exposure.
What do all the Blue Zones have in common?
- Apart from some of the vegetarian Seventh Day Adventists, no diet is exclusively meat or plant-based, most people in the Blue Zones eat an abundance of plant foods but also include animal products in various forms (humans are well adapted to be omnivores).
- The meat commonly eaten in 4 of the Blue Zones (Okinawa, Sardinia, Ikaria and Nicoya) is pork.
- Most of the foods eaten come from the local environment (locally grown vegetables, locally reared meat etc). They are not relying on lots of imported foods.
- Very little processed foods.
- Low sugar diets.
- People in the Blue Zones in Japan, Italy, Greece and Nicoya do not use nutritional supplements.
- Apart from the Seventh Day Adventists, they all drink moderate amounts of alcohol.
- In Sardinia, Ikaria and Nicoya they drink coffee every day.
- All of the Blue Zones have good weather for a large part of the year meaning the residents get good year round exposure to sunlight and therefore Vitamin D.
- They all lead active lifestyles but do not visit gyms.
- They are all part of a strong community of family and friends.
What can we conclude from these findings? Can we find a secret to longevity and health?
- Is a diet of only plants optimal for humans?
If a vegan/vegetarian diet were optimal, then we would expect there would have been some traditional or hunter-gatherers societies successfully living only on plant foods. In fact, Weston Price found no traditional society living only on plant foods, and a study of 229 hunter-gatherer societies unearthed no vegan society. The Kitavans and the Hadza tribe eat both plant foods and animal foods. People in the Blue Zones manage to live long, healthy, disease free lives while still eating animal products. (The Seventh Day Adventists are an exception, however, they are a modern group (~150 years old) with ready access to nutritional supplements if needed to make up for any deficiencies in their diet and many of them consume eggs and dairy).
Surely if veganism were the optimal diet for humans we would have found at least one traditional vegan society? And if animal products were harmful to us, how did all these people survive and thrive whilst eating them?
I think we can safely say that there is no evidence from looking at traditional people, hunter-gatherers and long-lived modern societies that we should avoid animal products to optimise our health. In fact, humans have always thrived eating BOTH plants and animals. Some societies have eaten a diet very high in plant foods; others have eaten a large amount of meat, fish or insects. Some have eaten a balanced amount of both plants and animals. But none have eaten only one or the other exclusively.
- Are there any specific commonly consumed foods that correlate with good health?
The thing that most strikes me is the huge amount of variety in diets of healthy people around the world. We humans have an amazing ability to adapt to our surroundings. If you look at all the above diets I think the only things you can really say that these diets have in common is:
- All diets are low in sugar (but not necessarily low in carbohydrates).
- Processed foods do not feature (heavily or at all) in these diets.
- Most foods came from the local environment.
- Nutritional supplements are not used; healthy people have always got adequate nutrients from wholefoods.
- When we look at healthy people and what they eat, we find that dairy, grains, beans/pulses and animal products can all be part of a healthy human diet. Many healthy and long-lived people have also consumed moderate amounts of alcohol.
Therefore, although on an individual level you or I might feel better by removing dairy or grains from our diets, these foods have not been conclusively shown to be detrimental to human health.
However…traditional and hunter-gatherer societies were not consuming pasteurized and homogenized low-fat dairy, nor were they eating refined grains or processed meat. The foods they consumed were in an unprocessed form. The dairy was full-fat and raw, and often fermented. The grains used were wholegrains and the meat and fish eaten were fresh (and often wild) but not processed with chemicals or shipped to them from another country.
- What other lifestyle factors are important?
It’s clear that lifestyle is just as important as diet. Healthy people without exception have led or do lead active lifestyles. They don’t “consciously exercise” but are active every day, whether that be hunting, fishing, tending cattle, working the land, growing vegetables and fruits, gathering plant materials or just doing lots of walking.
Being part of a community also seems to be very important to people’s wellbeing. Most traditional societies were part of a close knit community and lived with their extended families, and we also see this working for people in the Blue Zones today.
- Eat real food! Avoid sugar and processed food – cook fresh food from scratch whenever you can and avoid packaged food.
- Eat locally sourced foods and foods available seasonally.
- Experiment to find which foods work for you. Maybe you prefer a more plant-based diet or find that dairy doesn’t agree with you. (However, don’t be dogmatic about it and suggest what works for you is right for everyone). As long as you are eating unprocessed, fresh wholefoods you are on the right track.
- You probably don’t need expensive supplements, “superfoods” or protein powders (at the end of the day, these are processed.)
- Walk lots and stay active.
- Spend lots and lots of time with your loved ones!
Detailed information on diets of the traditional people Weston Price Studied:
Isolated Swiss, 1931 and 1932, Loetschental Valley, 2000 people Diet – dairy, wholegrains (rye), some meat, some vegetables. No sugar, refined flour or vegetable oils.
- A slice of whole rye bread and a piece of cheese (about as large as the slice of bread) eaten with fresh goats or cow’s milk.
- Meat is eaten about once a week.
- A limited amount of garden stuff is grown, chiefly green foods for summer use.
- Various vegetables, fresh in the summer season and stored for the winter season.
- Butter made in June was highly prized.
- The dairy products had much higher vitamin content than the average throughout the world for similar foods during the same seasons.
- The milk was produced from green pasturage and stored green hay of exceptionally high chlorophyll content.
- The milk and the rye bread provided minerals abundantly.
Isolated Gaelics, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, 20,000 people Diet – wholegrains (oats), seafood, limited vegetables, no fruit. No dairy, sugar, refined flour or vegetable oils.
- There were no dairy animals on the island.
- Their nutrition is provided by fish and oat products with a little barley.
- Oatmeal porridge and oat cakes eaten in some form at every meal.
- Fish products including some fish organs and fish eggs. An important and highly relished dish was baked cod’s head stuffed with chopped cod’s liver and oatmeal.
- A very limited amount of vegetable foods. Some green foods were available in the summer and some vegetables were grown and stored for winter.
- Shellfish – lobsters, crabs, oysters and clams are abundant. Lobsters and flat fish are a very important part of their foods.
- Fruits are practically unknown.
Isolated Eskimos, 1933, Alaska Diet – seafood (lots of organs and fish eggs), some meat, seal oil, limited vegetables, limited fruit. No dairy, grains, sugar, refined flour or vegetable oils.
- Seal oil – one of the richest foods in vitamin A that Weston Price examined
- Fish eggs were dried in season – from a chemical standpoint one of the most nutritious foods. These foods constituted a very important part of the nutrition of the small children after they were weaned.
- Kelp, which is gathered in season and stored for winter use.
- Fruit was limited to a few berries including cranberries available in the summer and preserved by freezing for winter use.
- Blossoms of flowers preserved in seal oil.
- Sorrel grass preserved in seal oil.
- Stems of certain water grasses, water plants and bulbs were occasionally used.
- Frozen fish
- Organs of the large animals of the sea, inner layer of the skin of whale which is high in vitamin C
- Bulk of their diet was fish and large animal life from the sea from which they selected certain organs and tissues with great care.
- The nutrition provided ample amounts of fat-soluble activators and minerals.
Primitive North American Indians, Northern Canada Diet – meat especially organ meat and bone marrow, some plant matter. No dairy, grains, sugar, refined flour or vegetable oils.
- In winter it reached -70 degrees which made the possibility of maintaining dairy animals or growing seeds, cereals or fruit impossible.
- The diet was almost entirely limited to wild animals – mainly moose and caribou.
- Great emphasis was placed on eating the organs, including the walls of parts of the digestive tract.
- They got Vitamin C by eating the adrenal glands and organs of moose.
- They also cracked open the bones and ate the bone marrow, this was especially important for the children.
- Much of the muscle meat was fed to the dogs.
- Bark and buds of trees were eaten.
- Plants in the 3 months of summer were included.
- Most of their fat-soluble vitamins and their minerals came from the organs of the animals.
Isolated and modernized Melanesians, 1934, New Caledonia and Fiji
- Coated the surface of the body with coconut oil to protect from the sun.
- Depended greatly on shell fish and various scale fish.
- Assortment of plant roots and fruits, raw and cooked.
- Taro was an important factor in the nutrition. It was often fermented.
On Viti Levu, one of the larger islands of the Pacific Ocean Weston Price hoped “to find if possible, plants or fruits which together, without the use of animal products, were capable of providing all the requirements of the body for growth and for maintenance of good health and a high state of physical efficiency” Instead, he found that the people living inland (mainly on plant foods) required food from the sea at least every 3 months. No places were found where the native plant foods were not supplemented by seafoods.
Isolated and Modernized Polynesians, Tutuila
- Seafoods including many shell fish.
- Octopus, sea crab and the beche-de-mere eaten raw.
- Fermented taro.
- Fat soluble vitamins and many of the minerals were supplied by the shell-fish and other animal life from the sea.
Isolated and modernized African tribes, 1935, 30 different tribes were visited.
The interest here was to look at people who did not have access to animal life from the sea. In 13 tribes they did not meet a single individual with irregular teeth and in 6 tribes there was not a single tooth attacked by dental caries nor a single malformed dental arch.
- The tribes used sweet potatoes, beans and some cereals.
- Where they lived near fresh water streams and lakes, large quantities of fish were eaten.
- Goats and cattle were domesticated by many tribes.
- They used wild animal life liberally.
- Insects provided a lot of their nutrition. Parts of Africa are plagued by vast swarms of locusts. These are gathered in large quantities, to be cooked for immediate use or dried and ground into a flour for later use. They provide a rich source of minerals and vitamins.
- They used the cereals maize, beans, linga linga, millet and Kafir corn, cooked or roasted. Most of these were ground just before cooking.
The Nilotic tribes were chiefly herders of cattle and goats and lived primarily on dairy products, including milk and blood, with some meat, and with a varying percentage of vegetable foods. These tribes were characterized by superb physical development.
The Masai for their food throughout the centuries depended very largely on milk, meat and blood, reinforced with vegetables and fruit. Blood is used raw, just as the milk is. In a study of 2516 teeth only 0.4% of the teeth had been attacked by tooth decay.
The Kikuyu tribe in Kenya – chief articles of diet are sweet potatoes, corn, beans, bananas and millet. The Kikuyus are not as tall as the Masai and physically they are much less rugged. He looked at several other tribes and found the agriculturists (eating mainly corn, beans, millet, sweet potatoes, bananas and other grains) were physically “not as well built as either the tribes using dairy products liberally or those using fish from the fresh water lakes and streams”
The Pygmies, Ituru Forest, Belgian Congo
Diet – fish, insects, plants. No sugar, refined flour or vegetable oils.
- Depended to a great extent on fresh water fish.
- Insects are very rich in special food values at certain seasons, also their eggs were valuable foods.
- They used ant eggs and ants. One of the great luxuries was a type of ant pie.
- A fly that hatched in enormous quantities in Lake Victoria was gathered and used fresh and dried.
Anglo-Egyptian Sudan – these tribes had superb physical development with many women being 6 feet tall and men even taller, plus almost 100% immunity to cavities Diet – animal life of the Nile, dairy products, milk and blood from the herds. No sugar, refined flour or vegetable oils.
- The tribes here use meat, blood and milk from cattle.
- Large quantities of animal life from the Nile River.
- Liver was considered a sacred food and was eaten both raw and cooked.
Isolated Australian Aborigines, 1936 Diet of those near the coast – seafood, plants. No dairy, grains, sugar, refined flour or vegetable oils.
- Animal life from the sea, including fish, dugong or sea cow.
- A great variety of shell fish.
- Some sea plants.
- The native plants and animals of the land. They had not cultivated the land plants.
Diet of those from the interior – meat, organs, insects, plants. No dairy, grains, sugar, refined flour or vegetable oils.
- Animal life of the land such as wallaby, kangaroo, small animals, rodents and insects.
- All of the edible parts of the animals including the walls of the viscera and internal organs were eaten.
- Plant foods.
Isolated Torres Strait Islanders Diet – seafoods, plant roots, greens, fruits. No dairy, grains, sugar, refined flour or vegetable oils.
- A very liberal supply of seafoods.
- Large and small fish in great abundance, dugong, or sea cow, which was highly prized and a great variety of shellfish.
- Plant roots and greens.
- Taro, bananas, papaya and plums are all grown abundantly due to the favourable climate.
Isolated New Zealand Maori – very high immunity to cavities (only 1 tooth in 2000 had been attacked) Diet – seafood, sea vegetables, insects, roots. No dairy, grains, sugar, refined flour or vegetable oils.
- Great emphasis was placed upon shellfish. Much effort was made to obtain these in large quantities. They selected certain shellfish with precision because of their unique nutritive value.
- Large quantities of lobster and a species called Abalone.
- An edible sea kelp was used abundantly.
- Mutton birds were captured just before they left the nests when they were very tender and fat.
- Large quantities of land birds were available.
- Grubs were highly prized.
- Large quantities of fern root, which grew abundantly and was very nutritious.
- Vegetables and fruits grew abundantly in the wild due to the favourable climate.
Isolated Peruvian Indians Diet – meat, fish eggs, seaweed, potatoes, guinea pigs. No sugar, refined flour or vegetable oils.
- The members of the camel family, the llamas, alpacas, and vicunas were utilized for food.
- The sources of fresh water could not provide the liberal quantity of iodine essential for human growth and development. So these Indians regularly used dried fish eggs from the sea.
- Dried kelp was used so the Indians would not get “big necks” like the whites. The kelp provided a very rich source of iodine as well as of copper.
- An important part of their dietary was potatoes, which are gathered and frozen, dried and powdered, and preserved in the powdered form. This powder is used in soups with llama meat and other products.
- Colonies of guinea pigs were kept and were used in stews. These provided a source of vitamin D. (Guinea pigs are probably the most efficient animals at synthesising vitamin D from plant foods).
What diet did Weston Price use for healing teeth with cavities?
- Sugar, sweets and white flour products were eliminated.
- Freshly ground cereals were used for breads and gruels.
- Bone marrow was included in meat and vegetable stews.
- Fish chowder.
- Liver and a liberal supply of whole milk, green vegetables and fruits were provided.
- High-vitamin butter produced by cows fed on a rapidly growing green grass. (This high-vitamin butter was also turned into a high-vitamin butter oil that was then given mixed with equal an amount of cod liver oil.)
- Small doses of very high-vitamin, natural cod liver oil were also added.
- Weston Price recognised the importance of both water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins as well as minerals, and understood that much of the mineral content in food is not absorbed by the body (for example infants cannot absorb calcium from spinach). When he analysed the traditional diets he found them to be around ten times higher in the fat-soluble vitamins as well as higher in minerals.
- Using this diet he was able to control dental cavities, and in cases where people had a lot of cavities he was able to reverse these and get the teeth to re-mineralize and deposit new dentin.
Diets in the Blue Zones
Diet – fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, beans, dairy, some meat and fish, wine
- Meat is served on Sundays and at festival times. It is generally eaten once or twice a week and consists of lamb, pork, oily fish and shellfish. Meat is usually cooked over a wood fire or spit.
- The main fats used are olive oil and pig’s lard.
- Grey mullet is fished, and the roe is extracted, salted, dried and pressed to form ‘bottarga’.
- Pecorino cheese made from grass-fed sheep’s milk.
- They drink goat’s milk daily and make ricotta cheese from the goat’s milk.
- Fava beans.
- Wholegrain bread.
- Vegetables they grow themselves – courgettes, tomatoes, potatoes and aubergines, make up the bulk of their diet.
- Wine made from locally grown grapes, which produces a very dark red wine called “Vino Nero” (Black Wine) is drunk in moderate amounts (a glass every day with both lunch and dinner). This wine is very high in flavonoids.
- Mastic oil – derived from an evergreen shrub originating in the Pistachio family.
2. Okinawa, Japan
Diet – lots of vegetables and fruit, white rice, soy, some fish and meat
- Their diet is mainly vegetarian.
- Their diet is very high in carbohydrates and low in protein and fat.
- They have 2-3 servings of white rice almost every day.
- They eat less seafood than most Japanese, but still eat fish 2-3 times per week. They also eat eggs.
- Lots of stir-fried vegetables, tofu, traditionally-fermented soy products, sweet potatoes and goya (a vegetable).
- Pork is eaten occasionally. The meat is locally reared. They will cook an entire pig and eat every part of it.
- Rich in soy based foods such as tofu and miso soup.
- The average citizen eats 7 servings of vegetables daily as well as 2-4 servings of fruit (picked from their own trees) and 7 servings of grains (rice, buckwheat noodles and wheat based noodles). They eat a lot of dark green vegetables, rich in calcium.
- Seaweed is an important part of the diet.
- The Okinawans do not eat dairy.
- Green tea is the main beverage and they also drink alcohol. Women stick to one drink a day while the men drink more.
3. The Seventh Day Adventists of Loma Linda, California, USA
- Most Seventh Day Adventists are vegetarian, with about 50% being lacto-ovo-vegetarians and including eggs and dairy in their diets. (However, meat-eating Adventists still outlive their average American counterparts by almost the same length of time as the non-meat eaters).
- Drinking alcohol is discouraged.
- Drinking caffeine is discouraged.
- Eating processed food is discouraged.
- They eat a Mediterranean-style diet and those who regularly eat nuts have better health outcomes.
- Lifestyle – Physically active, smoking is discouraged. They are involved in their community and have faith.
Diet – lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, wild greens and herbs, beans, lentils, whole grains, potatoes, goat’s milk and goat’s milk yogurt, fish, pork, local wine, herbal teas, olive oil and local honey
- An abundance of local vegetables, eaten in season.
- Wild greens and herbs are a staple (about 150 kinds of vegetables grow wild on the island).
- Fruits and nuts are in abundance, as are olives and olive oil.
- Whole grains and potatoes are eaten in moderation, and red meat is eaten only occasionally.
- Goat’s milk yogurt is traditional, and many older Ikarians will drink goat’s milk as well.
- Fish a couple of times per week, pork a few times per month.
- Local wine provides another source of antioxidants, and the wine is produced in small quantities (not for export) from grapes that are not sprayed with chemicals.
- Ikarians drink herbal teas every day, morning and night.
- Beans and lentils were dietary staples.
- Taro root is something of a national food and remains one of the main sources of starch, especially in the winter.
- Nuts (mainly walnuts, almonds, and chestnuts), stone fruits, apples, pears, grapes, figs and whole grains.
- Pumpkins and squashes are still a significant part of the seasonal diet, from late summer to winter.
- Olive oil, in profuse amounts, runs free in almost every dish, including a number of sweets.
- Locally produced honey.
5. The Nicoyan Peninsula of Costa Rica
Diet - a small amount of meat, corn, beans, white rice, eggs, vegetables and fruit
- Nicoyans eat a large breakfast, a moderate lunch and a small dinner.
- Home made corn tortillas accompany most meals.
- Black beans, white rice, eggs and fruit are dietary staples.
- Squash is also eaten regularly.
- Compared to other blue zones, their diet includes the most meat (mainly chicken & pork) eggs (mostly fried) and corn (mainly tortillas).
- They also eat more fruit than the other blue zones including mango, papaya, passion fruit, plantains (generally fried), mamones, guava, marañón (the seed is a cashew) pejibaye, starfruit, zapote, coconut, pineapple, cantaloupe, blackberries, lemons and limes.
- The water is very high in minerals, especially calcium and magnesium.
- Costa Rica is known for coffee and the people of Nicoya make up the third Blue Zone (along with Sardinia and Ikaria) to drink it daily. They sweeten their coffee with raw sugar cane.
- Agricultural statistics from the WHO show that Costa Rica uses more pesticides per acre of cropland than any country on earth yet the Nicoyan’s still live long lives free from disease. This supports the fact that eating even non-organic fruits and vegetables is much healthier than eating no fruits and vegetables. In the case of the people of the Nicoya region, there is no data available regarding their level of pesticide exposure – only that they are essentially unregulated and commonly used throughout Costa Rica.
- Like the Blue Zones in Japan, Italy and Greece, the people of Nicoya do not use nutritional supplements.
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