Eating for Longevity with Dan Buettner [Episode #427]
Today’s podcast topic is: Eating for Longevity with Dan Buettner
I am so excited to have a very special guest, Dan Buettner, who is a New York Times bestselling author, explorer, National Geographic Fellow, award-winning journalist and producer, and founder of Blue Zones.
He is a personal hero of mine. He’s amazing. And I am very excited to announce that Dan has a new book that is out this week. It is called The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes To Live To Be 100, and it’s linked down below in the show notes! Stay tuned Beauties, for a packed interview with tips and tools to start eating for life!
Dan defines what blue zones are and why he chose this term…
We discuss what links the five cultures living 80% longer…
Whether blue zones are being effected by electronic and mechanical conveniences…
The most important ingredients in any longevity diet…
What the diet of the garden of Eden diet looks like…
If family time and downtime play a part in longevity…
Rare and expensive whole superfood tinctures and if they are needed for longevity…
Thoughts on grains and longevity…
Diving into the Blue Zones book and its processes…
About Dan Buettner
Dan Buettner is an explorer, National Geographic Fellow, award-winning journalist and producer, and New York Times bestselling author. He discovered the five places in the world – dubbed blue zones hotspots – where people live the longest, healthiest lives. His articles about these places in The New York Times Magazine and National Geographic are two of the most popular for both publications.
Buettner now works in partnership with municipal governments, large employers, and health insurance companies to implement Blue Zones Projects in communities, workplaces, and universities. Blue Zones Projects are well-being initiatives that apply lessons from the Blue Zones to entire communities by focusing on changes to the local environment, public policy, and social networks.
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Kimberly: Hi Beauties. Welcome back. I am so excited for our guest today who is a personal hero of mine. He’s amazing. His name is Dan Buettner. He’s a New York Times bestselling author, explorer, National Geographic fellow, and the founder of The Blue Zones. I think we’ve all heard the term blue zones. And when I first met Dan at a dinner party, do you remember Dan? And he was like, oh I said, “What do you do?” And he talked about, “Oh, I discovered the blue zones.” And I kind of laughed at him and thought, oh no, you know that kind of came out with that big New York Times article years ago and all this stuff. And he said, “Yeah, I wrote that article.” So I am very excited to announce that Dan has a new book that is out this week. It is called The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes To Live To Be 100. So we’re going to link to it directly in the show notes.
Fan Of The Week
Kimberly: Beauties, I’m so excited to get into everything with Dan. Before we dive in though, I want to give a quick shout out to our fan of the week, her or his name is Des Moines yogi and he or she writes, I enjoy listening to Kimberly’s podcast. She inspires me to pay attention to how certain foods make me feel and to adopt health rituals to live my most content healthy life. Des Moines Yogi, thank you so much for your review and for being our fan of the week. Sending you so much love, so much gratitude. And remember beauties, for your chance to be also shouted out as the fan of the week, please just take a moment or two out of your day, leave us a review on iTunes, which is free and easy and it’s just a great way to support the show and to help the message get out there and to possibly really help benefit someone else’s life.
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Kimberly: And another quick reminder to make sure that you subscribe to our show. That way you don’t miss out on any interviews and any of the Q&A podcasts on Thursdays. So all that being said, I am so excited to have Dan on the line with us. Hi Dan.
Interview with Dan Buettner
Dan: Hey Kimberly.
Kimberly: Well, do you remember that first, it was a dinner party with Moby at his restaurant and everybody was talking about what they did. And when you told me you discovered the blue zones, I didn’t believe you at first. Do you remember?
Dan: Yeah. Well, you know everybody is so extraordinary and eclectic at Little Pine I think the place was called.
Kimberly: That’s right. That’s right.
Dan: And Moby surrounds himself with extraordinary people. So you can be pretty sure whoever you’re sitting next to, they’ve done something incredible and you included.
Kimberly: Thank you. Thank you. So tell us a little bit, I know you’ve told this story, you told this tale many times, but you know, you’re a National Geographic fellow. You’ve been all around the world. Dan, by the way, beauties holds three Guinness world records in distance cycling. We do. Wasn’t one from like Alaska down to South America or something crazy?
Dan: North America to the bottom of South America.
Dan: I was in 536 miles. It sounds, but it was all downhill.
Kimberly: Which can be even more scary sometimes I think.
Dan: I just rode the brakes the whole time. And then I [inaudible 00:11:02] round the world along the 45th parallel and bike the top to the bottom of Africa.
Kimberly: Oh my gosh.
Dan: You know, it’s sort of bootcamp getting ready for National Geographic. That’s what I always dreamed of doing is being a National Geographic explorer. And I learned a long time that exploration that at least in the modern world here has to add to the body of knowledge or improve the human condition, not just go to the top of Mount Everest again or first and come back. It’s really important that you discover something meaningful for people. And blue zones was that.
Dan defines what blue zones are and why he chose this term
Kimberly: So you’re exploring all around the world, you’re biking. And then did you just start … well, first of all, can we define what blue zones are for people and why did you pick the term blue zones in the first place?
Dan: Well, between biking and blue zones, I started a company and a technique for exploration that led an online audience, direct a team of experts. So I had Harvard archeologists and MIT biologists and National Geographic photographers to solve a mystery. So five years. But what I did for business was go out and find great ancient mysteries. And in 1999, I stumbled across a very interesting study from the World Health Organization that found that Okinawa Japan was producing the longest lived women in the history of the world. And what this means is they’re living a long time without chronic diseases. Diseases that are for short in our lives. And I said, “Aha, that’s a good mystery.” And I got funding from the National Institute on Aging to hire demographers.
Dan: These are people who can confirm the ages of population because so many of these places that were supposedly long lived, like the Vilcabamba Valley of Ecuador, the Caucuses in Soviet Georgia or Hunter Valley have all been debunked. So I was pretty good at corralling hard science around ancient mystery and I figured this mystery of longevity, how are entire populations making it to age 100 and living a decade longer than the rest of us? And I thought, if there’s one in Okinawa, there must be more of them around the world. And I pitched National Geographic on the story and my editor, Peter Miller said to me, “Now there’s an idea with hair on it.” And I got a year long assignment to go track these places down. And really when I say tracking, people think yeah I put my pith helmet on and my short crocodile Dundee pants and I go out to the world.
Dan: No, most of what you do the first three years is just marinating in data before we zero in on these areas. And here’s the idea, Kimberly, and then I know you asked me the origin of blue zone, I’m getting to it. So only about 20% of how long you live is dictated by genes. The other 80% is lifestyle and environment. So the academic argument here is if you’re finding populations that are achieving the outcome most of us want, which is to say, making it to a healthy age, 80 or 90, without disease. If you can find the populations and then reverse engineer [inaudible 00:14:50] done over the decades. And then indeed, if you can find them all over the world and find the common denominators, you start to put your finger on a pretty extraordinary recipe that is worth following. And that’s what blue zones was.
Kimberly: So which one of the other ones besides the Okinawans that were legitimate and were not debunked?
Dan: Yes. So Sardinia, Italy, that was the second one we found. And it’s not the whole island. Sardinians off the coast of Italy, about 200 miles in the Mediterranean. And up in the highlands, and area called the Nuoro province, there are six villages, about 80,000 people. Originally a bronze age culture. So not like the rest of the people pushed up there about the time of Christ. And they’d been isolated for 2000 years ago to about 1960. And they incubated this very interesting lifestyle. And this is where the longest of men in the world and my colleague, Dr Gianni Pes, who has been studying this population for a long time, he actually coined the phrase blue zone to apply it to Sardinia. And then I’ve evolved it since then, developed it into this worldwide term that applies to any statistically longest lived area.
Dan: I identified a third blue zone in the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica. Maybe a lot of your audiences has heard of Nosara, which is kind of a Yogi vortex there. Well that’s really close to the blue zone there. And what’s extraordinary about that place is people, they’re very poor people. They have one fifth the GDP of the United States, but they have a threefold better chance of reaching a healthy age 90 than Americans do.
Dan: And Kimberly, they do it spending one fifteenth the amount we do on healthcare. So this whole notion that you have to be rich to be healthy, this place [inaudible 00:17:04] it. Forth blue zone and Ikaria, Greece. Ikaria Greece is near Lesbos and Samos and near the Turkish shore. But the island of 10,000 people and people are living about seven years longer than Americans are doing. But this island of 10,000 people is almost completely devoid of dementia and this is important because in America, if you hit age 85, which we all want to do, in America if you’re a man, about 40% chance you’re suffering from dementia. If you’re a woman, it’s about 60%.
Dan: So something these people Ikaria are doing are allowing them to not only live long, but to stay sharp until the end. And that’s really important. And then in America here we found the blue zone among the Seventh-day Adventists of Loma Linda, California. And they’re conservative Methodists that evangelize with health and take their diet directly from the Bible. And we can talk about that in a minute, but they’re living up to 10 years longer than their North American counterparts are. So point being here that there’s a way to get a lot more in life than the average American is getting. And not only more time, but more quality. And that’s what blue zones distills and conveys and puts in books and so forth.
Kimberly: So longevity, quality. But why the term blue as in blue zones? I know you said your colleague mentioned that. Yeah.
Dan: So the exercise of … Gianni Pas was in Sardinia was literally finding centenary, centenary’s a 100 year old, centenary and bi-centenarian and finding where they live by going through the census data. And every time he’d find a centenarian in the books, he’d put a blue check mark on a map. And these six villages in the Nuoro province, they had so many check marks, so many, he was using blue ink, right? They had so many check marks that this area just looked like a blue blur. So that is the, he called it the blue zone. And thank God he wasn’t using red ink because would be the red zone or black ink would be the black zone, which doesn’t work nearly as well as blue zone.
Kimberly: No it’s a wonderful phrase.
Dan: Yeah, it just happened to be the right color. And he wrote an article in the Journal of Experimental Gerontology, circulation about 20 people worldwide about these zones. But his article was really just about the math necessary to identify concentrations of longevity and not this term like the way we use it today, which is a concept really.
We discuss what links the five cultures that are living a quality life and living 80% longer
Kimberly: So when you talk about 80% of this longevity and quality of life is lifestyle based, of course most of us think about, well, your diet must be a huge part of that, which I want to get into in a moment because your latest book, your book that’s out this week is a recipe, is essentially a beautiful recipe book with all this information. And you mentioned to me you shot at editorial style. It’s National Geographic quality. It’s incredible, incredible book. But what percentage, I mean, I guess it’s hard to maybe or maybe not in your work find how much of that is diet based. What would you say, Dan and some other factors that you found linked these five cultures all around the world that had them live so long and had that quality of life?
Dan: Yeah, so actually I don’t believe diets work at all. And even the diet in blue zones by itself, I don’t think is very effective. But I think the key insight that blue zones offers the rest of us is that longevity is not something that is successfully pursued. It ensues and it ensues from the right environment. So, in other words, if you look at the life expectancy of a diet or the recidivism of the relapse of people get on diets, of the best diets, if you get 100 people to start today, you only have three left on average at the end of two years. The key insight when it comes to longevity, there’s no short term fix.
Dan: I don’t believe in any of these supplements or hormones or super food Hocus Pocus. There’s nothing you can do today that’s going to guarantee you’re going to live any longer a year from now. When you think of longevity, you have to think, this is something I’m going to do, not for just a few months while I’m excited about something, but years or decades or lifetime. And that’s what’s people in blue zones are doing. People in blue zones, they have the same genetic constitution as you and me and everybody else listening out there. They don’t have better discipline. They don’t have better individual responsibility. They’re not vegans. They’re not ethical vegans or any of that we’d like to see them be. But the bottom line is they live in an environment where the healthy choice is the easy choice and the inexpensive choice and the cultural or the sort of the socially acceptable choice.
Dan: So in addition what they eat, they tend to have a strong sense of purpose. They don’t exercise, which is another shocking thing. And by the way, I argue that exercise has been an unmitigated failure in the United States because fewer than 15% of Americans get the recommended minimum amount of “exercise.” People in blue zones, every time they go to work, to a friend’s house or out to eat at occasions walk. They have a garden out back that they’re working year around.
Kimberly: Yeah, they’re just active.
Dan: Yeah. And they don’t have these electronic or mechanical contrivances to do all of their work. They do yard work by hand and housework by hand and kitchen work by hand. And the key insight there, Kimberly, is that people are nudged into movement in blue zones every 20 minutes or so. So, first of all, those little 20 minute bursts, if you add the of caloric expenditure over the day, they’re burning a lot more calories than we would sitting in our office all day and going to the gym at the end of the day. But the extra bonus is their metabolisms are operating at a higher level all day long. So they’re burning more calories with more energy and it’s the result of an environment. It’s not a result of I’m going to join CrossFit and I’ll run a marathon, all these sort of strategies that Americans occasionally pursue with success in the short run, but universally fail in the long run for the vast majority of people.
Whether blue zones are staying pretty traditional, lifestyle-wise, or if electronic and mechanical conveniences are changing this healthy landscape
Kimberly: Do you see it changing now that there’s more TVs and more ways for them to sit or do you think in some of these blue zones it still has stayed pretty traditional as far as what you’re describing lifestyle-wise?
Dan: In blue zones I’m sad to report, they’re almost all disappearing.
Kimberly: Because of modern technology.
Dan: Even worse than technology, it’s because of the American food culture that are descending upon these places like a blight and these fast food joints and chips and sodas and all the crap that’s making Americans fat, unhealthy are doing the same thing in blue zones. So really the point of Blue Zones Kitchen was to go back before this dietary tradition disappears and really capture like an anthropologist would. So we were up with 80, 90, 100 year old women. Women are the keepers of the tradition. And I asked them to cook for me the recipes that they’ve cooked their whole lives for their families. Because if you want to diet of longevity you have to look at what people, not what people are eating today, you have to know what 100 year old was eating when she was five or teenager and newly married and working and newly retired.
Dan: So the first step was to find dietary surveys over the last hundred years. So you get the ingredients. And then once you know the ingredients, then we went out and found ladies who knew how to make these recipes. And you know Kimberly, I’m going to actually be interactive here. Guess what the most important ingredient is in any longevity diet in the world.
Kimberly: Okay. This is a guess-
Dan: [inaudible 00:26:32] but I’d love to hear what you say.
Kimberly: Root vegetables.
Dan: Okay. I would say that root vegetables is one of the five pillars.
Kimberly: Really? Oh my gosh. Because yeah, because I feel like … yeah. Anyways, I have my reasons, but that’s the first thing that popped into my head even though I initially think, oh, green vegetables, like dah, dah, dah. But I was thinking how hardy and what a staple they are in all around the world. Interesting.
Dan: Well, so the longest of women in Okinawa until about 1970, over 70% of all their calories came from one root vegetable. And that was the purple sweet potato called the emo.
Kimberly: Oh my God. I love that. It’s so sweet. It’s so good.
Dan: Oh, they’re delicious. You put a little … I love just a little bit of coconut milk and I mash them up. It’s to die for. But if you had, if you were stuck on a desert island and you could only have one natural whole food, you’d be wise to pick the sweet potato, purple sweet potatoes because they provide so many nutrients and even some protein.
Kimberly: Dan, sorry to interrupt you, but don’t you think it’s funny when you’re looking at all this historical, archeological, sociological, all this evidence and all these people now with the fat diets are scared of eating carbs. They’re scared of potatoes, they’re scared of grains. Not to go on this tangent too much, but what would you say to those people?
Dan: You know, I generally don’t … people try to lure me in these dietary arguments, but here’s what I say. The longest lived people, all I can tell you is that the longest lived people in the world living on four different continents, 95 to 100% of what they eat are the following, whole grains, wheat, oats and rice, greens, hundreds of kinds, well, I’d say dozens of kinds of greens, tubers, roots. And I would say the longevity all star is beans, [inaudible 00:29:12] beans a day. And if you’re eating about a cup of beans a day, it’s probably adding three to four years to your life expectancy. So those five foods.
Kimberly: So 95% vegan, basically.
Dan: Yes, yes. Now they do eat a little meat, but on average only five times a month, a celebratory food. And these places tend to be very barren. You look at them and see how people survive and they had goats, they’re usually goats with the name that lived good lives until the very end or a family pig. And we don’t know if they lived a long time because of the little bit of meat or despite the meat. They might even live longer if they were vegans. But the truth of the matter is the carrying capacity of their land would not have fed them if they didn’t have these poor little animals aggregating calories for them. They ate a little bit of fish. Here’s what is interesting. No cow’s dairy. No significant cow’s dairy in any of the five blue zones. So-
Some of the most important ingredients in any longevity diet
Dan: And a little bit of sheep or goat, but it’s not a lot. Most of what they’re putting in their mouth is very cheap, peasant food, which gets me to the question I asked you. The most important ingredient in any longevity diet in the world is taste. These women knew how to make beans sing. And I mean on the way in and not on the way out. [inaudible 00:30:53] that unless … the thing is, I could tell you the healthiest food in the world is bitter melon from Okinawa or tumeric or fermented tofu. But if you don’t like those foods, you’re not going to eat them for long enough to make a difference. So the reason I emphasize taste is if you know how to make these simple peasant ingredients taste good, you’re going to eat them for the years or decades necessary to not develop a chronic disease.
Kimberly: And what about oils? You know, there’s a lot of discussion about vegetable oils and cooked oils that can be inflammatory in the body. Did you find that the blue zones were using less oil in general, or did you find that the rest of their diet was so healthy that was less of a big factor?
Dan: No, I would say no. They weren’t all consuming oil. I wouldn’t say obnoxious amounts of oil, but oil was definitely … of course, usually olive oil on the Mediterranean areas, canola oil. No, in fact, in Ikaria this island where people forget to die, [inaudible 00:32:04] a couple of times, we actually found a correlation between olive oil consumption and longer life expectancy. So in other words, people were eating the most olive oil which is to say about four tablespoons a day, they had the best chance of survival, but we’re talking of older people here. So I would say blue zones research supports a low oil diet. But we don’t know because we don’t have any populations of longevity that were low oil. So maybe if you could get 10,000 people to eat low oil for 100 years and track them against a control group, you could make that statement, but-
Kimberly: Right. But interestingly, it is 5%, about 5% of their diet was coming from meat. And to your point, it could have been scarcity or they were eating cheaper peasant food. But that was something that you’ve … because sometimes we think now oh Japanese food, the Okinawans, they must eat tons and tons of fish. But traditionally it was a much smaller amount. Like you said, 70% was coming … their calories were coming from yams.
Dan: Yeah. Sweet potatoes. So the-
Kimberly: Sweet potatoes, sorry.
Dan: So in Okinawa for example, until about 1980, which is to say most of a centenarians life, 98% of their food came from plant based sources, which by the way includes oil for our study. So very little pork. So the longest lived Americans, and you probably know this for whom we have data are Seventh-day Adventists vegans or pescatarians. And the definition of a pescatarian is basically vegan and up to a couple servings of fish a week. There are, statistically a dead heat when it comes to … they’re statistically tied at living the longest. So it’s pretty clear. I like to quote [Walter Welik 00:34:17] and this is what I found in blue zones, we know a lot of meat will kill you but we don’t know the safe level. It could be zero.
What the diet of the garden of Eden includes
Kimberly: You know what’s interesting you were mentioning about the Seventh-day Adventists following the diet in the Bible and I was just in Israel a couple months ago now, Dan, and we went to the sermon on the mount, we went to all the Holy spots and then there’s a place you can go where Jesus multiplied the loaves and it said he also multiplied the fish. But I got into this discussion with people there saying actually he actually, there’s discussion around this. I’m interested in hearing what you say that he actually multiplied the loaves and there was something like, he didn’t actually talk about multiplying the fish. That was something that was added later in a later version. But there was this discrepancy that about the whole fish part. So anyways, I don’t know if this relates to the Adventists being vegan versus pescatarians because some people talk about Jesus eating fish.
Dan: Yeah. So the Adventists they take most of their dietary cues from the book of Genesis, which is the first book of the Bible, chapter 1 verse 26, through about verse 30. God prescribes the diet of the garden of Eden. Every tree that bears fruit. So citrus, apples and tomatoes, et cetera. And then every plant that bears seed, so that would be your grains, your nuts, your beans, your legumes. And then one stanza later, God talks about green plants. And in Leviticus they get further direction to avoid any fish that doesn’t have scales. So that would be lobster, shrimp and all those other crustaceans and shellfish. And then cloven, animals with cloven hooves, which would be pigs and so forth.
Dan: So they just, the most adherent Adventists are vegan, pretty much vegan. There’s a famous vegan who I met originally, got by the name of Ellsworth Wareham who was at 103, and he was still doing surgery at 98. Vegan full of life. So I would say he’s the poster child. Interestingly also they only ate two … He only ate twice a day, once at 10:00 and once at 4:00. And then he had kind of a de facto fast for the rest of his day.
Kimberly: Interesting. Interesting. Now why in your new book Blue Zones Kitchen, I’m interested in your choice, which I of course I love by the way to be a hundred percent plant based versus say 95% to emulate the actual blue zone diet.
Dan: Yeah. So I worked with about 50 cities including Fort worth, Texas and now Orlando. These whole cities that look to me to help them create an environment for greater health. And I found if I tell people that pork was part of the blue zone diet in a public health scenario, they think, oh that must be good for me. When the reality is I know that outside people’s blue zones life, most Americans are going to eat some meat. So I try to make the blue zones so to say, a very safe place. So they will, I decided with this book that I was, first of all the everyday life in blue zones was essentially vegan. On a wedding or birthday or Sunday, maybe some meat got in there.
Dan: So this reflects how people, the quotidian diet in all of these blue zones. The effort I made that goes beyond I think anything else you’ll see as I actually went up into these villages as a journalist, a science journalist, sat on a stool, captured the recipes, and then I did science reporting on exactly why these foods are producing long lived people without disease. The book comes out this week. Next week I have a feature in National Geographic magazine, which goes much deeper into the science than the book does. But the book still has a small chapters on, it’s not only the recipes, but it also explains why these foods are keeping people healthy. What’s going on in their gut, are there [inaudible 00:39:07], their DNA, why it’s keeping their brain sharp, et cetera. And it’s not the same things you’ve heard over and over and over again. I’ve tried to [inaudible 00:39:17] into the equation.
If family time and downtime play a part in longevity
Kimberly: And what about the cultural aspect Dan you know when you think of Italy and Greece, they sit down and enjoy more and don’t rush through their lunches and their dinners. I mean, I don’t know if that’s measurable, but how much of family time and downtime were you able to ascertain played a part in longevity?
Dan: It’s hard to measure to your point, but it’s very clear that it’s not only what you eat, it’s how you eat. So as I mentioned there, they tend to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper. So their digestive system is resting for 16 hours a day. They eat as a family-
Kimberly: Early dinner, yeah.
Dan: Early dinner and small dinner. They’re eating as a family. So you tend to eat slower. And it takes 20 minutes for the full feeling to travel from your belly to your brain. So you’re not as likely overeat. They don’t have a TV in their kitchen, so they’re not eating to their favorite program.
Kimberly: Right, not chewing, yeah.
Dan: Which a lot …. yeah not chewing to the beat as it were. Another powerful thing is they either say a prayer or the Okinawans intone this 2,500 year old Confucian adage before meals hara hachi BU, which just puts some punctuation between their busy life and their meal and remembers them to stop eating when their stomachs are 20% full. And so all these little techniques that surround the way we … you know, if you eat on the run or with one hand on the steering wheel like a lot of Americans do or standing or stressed, cortisol the stress hormone interferes with your digestive process. It interferes with how much makes it to your microbiome and biochemicals, the byproducts that are produced. And we never, we don’t really think of that. But the effects are profound. If you’re eating in a calm, restful environment compared to a stress environment.
If rare and expensive whole superfood tinctures are needed for longevity
Kimberly: And going back to the food groups for a moment, what I think is remarkable, and you had mentioned this a bit earlier, is there’s this idea out there that there’s some special berry that comes from Tibet or when goji berries came out. And I love some of these foods too by the way. I think they taste good. I think they’re fun to add in. But they are expensive and they are hard to source. And so there’s this idea of like the magic bullet food or this one thing in this super food and I need this and that. But it seems like these food groups, beans and root vegetables and grains, like they’re pretty basic. And like you said, they’re not expensive. So do you think the whole super food idea, the medicinal mushrooms, like the things that are expensive, you need these tinctures and all these very rare things is not really true?
Dan: Don’t waste your money. Just focus [inaudible 00:42:37]. You see what, when it comes to like our cells reproduce themselves on average once every seven years. You’re actually more of a verb than you are noun. Think of your cells, your skin cells or your hair cells or they start dying, they’re replaced. And every time cells replace themselves, they double. There’s a doubling of the DNA and cellular damage. And what aging is, is really just the buildup of that aging over time. If you have a doubling every seven years, by the time you’re 65, you’re aging at a rate of 120 times faster than a 12 year old. So how does food come in?
Dan: The idea with food is you want to minimize the damage, minimize the oxidative stress, minimize the hardening of the arteries that’s occasioned by certain foods we eat, minimize the chronic inflammation in it. So we tend to think I’m going to eat a superfood and somehow this is going to reverse damage. It’s not. You want to eat the [inaudible 00:43:46]. Let me tell you, in my opinion the healthiest food you can possibly eat. This comes from the longest lived family in the history of the world. They won a Guinness world record, the Malise family in Sardinia, nine siblings, collective age, 864 years. Every single day of their life, they had the exact same breakfast. I’m sorry, the exact same lunch. A sourdough bread, a true sourdough bread will lower the glycemic load of your meal. A glass of cannonau red wine and minestrone, the recipe of which I actually captured in the book.
Dan: But minestrone is five beans, cruciferous vegetables, kohlrabi onions. You’re going to have some tomato, garlic, a little bit of olive oil. You’ll have some spices, some herbs and some red. This is a cocktail that it’s complex carbohydrates. It will also have barley in there. So you have the combination of beans and barley, so you have a whole protein, all 19 amino acids. So it’s as much protein as eating a quarter pounder at McDonald’s with none of the other. But the important thing Kimberly, you know I know you know a lot about this. But arguably the most important organ in our bodies, this is emerging science, is our microbiome. Very end of your digestive track. This thing weighs six to eight pounds, right? It’s composed of over a hundred trillion cells. And those cells produce something called short chain fatty acids. And those short chain fatty acids seep into our bloodstream and they act like a hormone. They regulate our inflammation, they regulate our immune system, they keep our mood up. The only thing that that microbiome consumes in any significance is fiber.
Kimberly: Yes, thank you.
Dan: And the standard American diet has almost no, if you eat a burger, fries and a Coke, there’s zero fiber. A minestrone and for, by the way, you have about a thousand species of bacteria in your gut and they all like a different kind of fiber. So when you have fibers from beans and cruciferous vegetables and tomatoes and barley, all these different varieties of fiber that you are fertilizing a tropical rainforest in your gut, and it just blooms. It just loves that. And so if you want to be … if don’t look for a superfood, go make a simple batch of minestrone.
Kimberly: I love it.
Dan: Which will cost you about 5 cents a serving, make a big on Sunday, freeze it for the week and live to a hundred.
Kimberly: Love it. And it’s easy to make and it’s filling, with the soups or the fiber soups. To me, that’s an amazing way to lose weight, to maintain your weight naturally, which is something I get asked about dozens of times a day. The best way to lose weight, and it doesn’t have to be this fancy diet foods or these restrictive crazy fads. It can just be eating that fiber rich food. Like you mentioned Dan, with all that cooked together, digested well and the soup farm has all the liquid in it. So it’s just naturally filling.
Dan: You’re absolutely right. You know, Americans are so … you know, breakfast is usually eggs and bacon in this country or it’s a cereal. And a big lesson I took away from blue zones is savory breakfast. And I have minestrone or some other bean dish every morning for breakfast. And the beauty of that is first of all, you get your protein, but also you stay full all morning long. I’m not looking for a doughnut at 10:00 or something like that. I’m good until noon, 1:00 o’clock if I eat a minestrone for breakfast or a Ikarian stew or one of our Costa Rican bean dishes that I brought back [crosstalk 00:48:04].
Thoughts on grains and longevity
Kimberly: So Dan, I know you don’t like to get into this debate and I just want to touch on it for another minute, not as a debate, but just as a personal question. As someone, I personally have tried all these different diet. Now I’ve been plant based for 13 years, but before that in having my own struggles with different diets and trying to lose weight before landing on a sustainable lifestyle. I did try different versions of paleo and Atkins and no carb. And now I find I have the most energy. My skin is the best and it’s easiest for me to maintain my weight when I do eat grain every day. I eat a lot of veggies. I have a lot of greens, all the foods you listed here, but I actually do eat brown rice every day.
Kimberly: I just eat all different kinds of grains every single day personally. So when all those books came out, like Wheat Belly and Brain Grain and more recently the Plant Paradox and people would be scared again of grains. I’m just curious in your research, these are the five groups that you said people were eating a lot or four groups. Were are you finding that grain was not just in their diets, but it was very regularly in their diets? Was it daily? Was it weekly? What did you find with these amazing cultures that were living so long?
Dan: The longest live, manifestly the longest lived cultures are not only eating grain every day, they’re eating it at practically every meal.
Dan: So the Okinawans to your point, they’re going to be eating rice. The Sardinians are going to have barley and sourdough bread. Same with the Ikarians. The Costa Ricans are going to have beautiful whole grain corn tortillas at almost every meal. And they’re the type of corn is called niche tamale, which is special. We can get into that. And the Adventists, they eat grains of every sort. It’s very important. See, I think what you know with these, the Wheat Belly and so forth, those anti-grain books, they confuse Americans a little bit because yes, if you’re eating white flour for every meal, yeah, you’re going to have problems. It’s very inflammatory. It’s got very little no fiber and it’s got very little nutrients. So yeah, you eat that at every meal. And most of the stuff that white flour confections produce doughnuts and white bread and so, you are going to have problems. But if you’re eating the whole grain, my lesson from the blue zone, 20 years looking at populations who have achieved the outcome you want, you want whole grains every day.
Diving into the Blue Zones book and its processes
Kimberly: I love it. I love it. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for saying that Dan because I think that alleviates a lot of stress for a lot of people. And it’s just, again, studies and different fad diets are so confusing. But looking at your research and like you said, you’ve been studying these communities, these cultures for 20 years and they’ve been going on for hundreds of years. So it’s looking at it in a much larger context than just one study here or there. So Dan, tell us a little bit to wrap things up. I’m really excited about your book. I know that you’ve mentioned this is not just a recipe book, but you’re capturing recipes from these cultures that are dying and going away. So they are these just incredible, almost food secrets that you can’t really find anywhere else. Tell us a little bit about the process, about the book, about how you shot it, everything.
Dan: Yeah. So I’ve been a writer for National Geographic for 15 years and we approached the book like a National Geographic article. We spent two years a photographer, David McClain and I and fixers, and we tracked down people cooking the traditional foods over the last few hundred years. David shot the ingredients, the food techniques, the settings, the people. I gathered the recipes and then and so it’s broken into five chapters for each of the five blue zones. And there’s 20, the top 20 recipes in each of the five sections, hence the a hundred recipes. And then I intro each chapter with why the foods of this place are yielding. How does science explain eating to 100 in these places? And it’s a beautiful book. It could sit on your coffee table or can sit on your kitchen table. I would prefer to see it in your kitchen and you cooking from it every day for the next hundred or so years.
Kimberly: I love it.
Dan: Yeah, I’m really proud of it. And I never, I’m a writer, I never set out to be produce a cookbook. But I realized in doing this work that although in blue zones, the central tenet is you want to optimize your surroundings if you want to live a long time. The best way to introduce a new way of thinking about a health is through people’s mouth. People, they know it and there’s whole channels and TV about just food. So rather than bucking the trend, I wrote three other blue zones books about more sort of the bigger picture. But I finally said, no, it’s time to capture the recipes and the food tradition before it’s gone. And I think it’s a very useful hands on manual.
Kimberly: I think you nailed it when you said useful when you were talking, when we started the podcast,Dan and you were talking about all your quests and biking all around the world and you said, “Hey, adventure and exploration needs to push society forward. It needs to contribute. It needs to be helpful.” And you have so much information, like you said, you’ve put out in all your books, but this is the most day to day manual I think you can give people is here’s information and here’s how to put it into practice. Here’s how to actually eat. So I love this book. I am so excited that you created it. Congratulations and thank you so much. And beauties, it is out now. Again, it’s called The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes To Live To Be 100. It is gorgeous. Dan is very modest, but I think you could tell a little piece of him just from our podcast what an incredible explorer and human he is and how much good he’s doing in the world.
Kimberly: We will link to it directly in our show notes, but it’s, you can find it anywhere. Books are sold. You can go to your bookstore, you can go online and get yourself a copy. Maybe pick up a copy for any family members and loved ones that you want to share some information about their longevity and their health and give them some delicious food to help them do so. So Dan, thank you so much for being with us today. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you so much for your wisdom and sharing all this incredible research.
Dan: Kimberly it was an absolute delight and I am extending a huge auditory hug to you and everybody listening. It was so much fun. Thank you. And I love you and I thank you for putting this great information out in the world, not just me, but every episode. I love you.
Kimberly: Thank you Dan. I love you so much. I am so grateful that we met. I’m so grateful for your work in the world. Thank you. Thank you. And beauties, thank you so much for tuning in. Be sure to check out the show notes. Be sure to check out Dan’s book. Take great care of yourself. We will be back here Thursday for our next Q&A podcast. Till then, lots and lots of love.