Living to 100: The Blue Zone Diet for Survival, by M.E.

“Living well is the best revenge.” – George Herbert.

When I was in high school in the late 1960s, we were pretty sure someone was going to drop a bomb on us. We had graduated from duck and cover to emergency preparedness, bomb shelters and all. One day in the auditorium we watched some training on first aid and handling trauma. The films were pretty vivid and some kids left in a hurry to throw up. One thing from this that has stuck with me is: if you are sick or injured, you can’t help anyone else.

Anyone who has had major surgery or been extremely ill knows how helpless you can be and how dependent you are on those around you, whether or not they are prepared for dealing with an incapacitated person. The best way to survive and help your family and friends to survive is to not get sick or injured. There are some pretty solid strategies for doing this, the most basic including wearing personal protective and safety equipment, knowing your tools and using them properly, being conscious and aware in potentially dangerous situations and so forth. But in the long run, the best way to stay healthy is to drop bad habits, eat well, and live well.

In a November 2005 National Geographic article, Dan Buettner introduced the term Blue Zones to describe five regions where people more often than anywhere on Earth live in good health into their 100s. Although these areas differ dramatically in culture and diet, they have some very particular things in common, many of which people familiar with this web site will recognize. One is that they are mainly self-sufficient, relying very little on outside sources for their food.

The Blue Zones are Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; the province of Ogliastra in Sardinia, Italy; the community of Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California; and Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula.
The Mediterranean Diet you may already know something about, and it is a good approximation of the diets from Ikaria and Ogliastra with a few exceptions. The Mediterraneans use milk products—people from the other zones, not so much—and they also tend to have alcohol in moderation, usually one or two glasses of the local wine daily, a wine loaded with cancer-fighting antioxidants. Okinawans eat fish pretty much every day and lots of sweet potatoes, their main source of carbohydrates. The Adventists are pesco-vegetarians although some also eat small amounts of meat, and they don’t drink alcohol, caffeine or sugary drinks. The Costa Ricans thrive on the traditional corn, beans and squash of the ancestors along with regional fruits, yams and occasional eggs.

What all of these diets have in common are lots of plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables and whole grains; daily consumption of nuts and beans; no added sugars (only what naturally occurs in fruit, vegetables and grains); and very small amounts of red meat, if any at all. All consume little or no processed foods which can contain unhealthy additives. People who follow this way of eating do not overeat. In Okinawa, they have an 80% rule—eat until you are 80% full, then stop. To help them achieve this, they use small plates, eat consciously and slowly, and eat with friends and family so the experience is pleasant and leisurely.

Faith and Family Ties

Besides diet, these centenarians often live in communities where they worship together, value family ties and are active members of extended families. They get gentle but sustained exercise, such as you might get from walking up and down hills while herding goats or working regularly in a garden. While it isn’t yet clear if a hybrid of these diets will prolong your life, anyone who lives like these folks is less likely to have diabetes, heart disease, inflammatory diseases like arthritis, and a host of other diet-related illnesses that can be painful and expensive to treat and maintain, and that make it difficult to take care of yourself and others. Besides that, they make you feel lousy and sap the joy from life.

There are lots of web sites, articles and books dedicated to the Blue Zone Diet and way of life, but I’ll share my current take on it. I must confess that I don’t grow all of my own food, and will include in the following lists of my sample meals, items that I purchase. My diet and life style are still a work in process, but I’m 69, take no medications and am pretty darned healthy. I’ll let you know in 31 years how it has worked for me.

Blue Zone folks tend to get the majority of their calories at breakfast and lunch, with supper being the lightest meal. Everything I describe in teh following paragraphs is for one person, so scale up as appropriate for your family.


I like variety so here are some of my breakfasts:

Oatmeal with nuts, berries and milk or yogurt. I grow mulberries, raspberries and blueberries, so those are the usual.
A one-egg omelet filled with sautéed dark greens, mushrooms, and green onions with some cheese melted in and topped with a bit of fresh salsa (because I like spice). I’ll often also have some fruit as well, and if I’m planning to work hard that day and need extra calories, I’ll add a piece of whole-grain toast.
Cornmeal or buckwheat pancakes or waffles topped with nuts and fruit.
A modified English breakfast of beans on whole-grain toast, sautéed mushrooms and tomatoes, and half a grapefruit or an orange.
A smoothie of frozen banana, berries, probiotic yogurt, green tea (decaf), and turmeric. I like to add elderberry juice if I have it.
Whole grain bread, natural nut butter and apple or pear slices. I like to have a V-8 juice with this—one of my bad habits.
Rye toast smeared with avocado and topped with an egg. Fresh fruit is always nice to have along with this.
I love the taste of coffee, so I always have decaf with milk, but sometimes I have herbal or decaf tea instead.

Lunches and Dinners

My lunches and dinners can shift around. A more robust version of these representative meals is at lunch time, a lighter version in the evening:

Taco salad of lettuce topped with beans (and sometimes a little ground red meat with chilies), cheese, tomato, onions, avocado or guacamole (if I have it), sour cream, salsa and a corn tortilla on the side.
Grilled or smoked salmon (wild-caught, home-smoked), brown rice pilaf, whatever vegetables are good from the garden.
Cheese soufflé with a side of steamed vegetables or a salad depending on the weather.
Navy beans, turnip or other dark-leafy greens, cornbread.
Root vegetable hash with a poached egg.
Pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans with lots of other vegetables).
Chicken thigh fajitas.
Asian stir fry of vegetables in sesame oil with ginger and garlic, a tiny bit of pork sometimes, and served over brown rice.
Greek salad of tomatoes, garbanzo beans, olives, cucumber, marinaded mushrooms and/or artichokes, red onions, basil, and feta or mozzarella cheese, and dressed with olive oil, vinegar, garlic, thyme and oregano.
Fish tacos with cabbage slaw. A white fish low on or in the middle of the food chain is best, but whatever you catch locally would be good, too.
Black bean burger, roasted corn on the cob, whole grain bun, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, and whatever else you like on your burger (I’m a pickles and mustard sort of girl).
Hummus, whole wheat pita (but I often skip the bread), carrots, celery, cauliflower, other raw vegetables for dipping.
Curried or masala vegetables such as cauliflower, carrots, chickpeas and English peas, and whatever else sounds good (this doesn’t come from a Blue Zone, but it meets all the criteria, and I’m crazy about Indian food). If you throw in a sweet potato, you don’t even have to serve it over rice. I like to top it with a little yogurt, as well.

For an occasional treat, we eat out, and I love to have miso soup, seaweed salad, and a California roll.
Most evenings I have one or two small glasses of red wine while relaxing with family or friends.

In one of the zones, turmeric is used often. I like turmeric, and have been trying to grow my own, but so far I haven’t had much luck. I do grow most of my own herbs as well as ginger and garlic. I’m a big fan of all these and cook with them often.

The recommendations for a Blue Zone type diet are to eat no more than 10 ounces of red meat a month. That means a half-pound of ground beef makes four servings, enough to make chili if you also use plenty of beans or to make spaghetti sauce if you like meat in it. The red meat you do eat should be grass-fed and hormone-free. Goat, sheep, buffalo, and game are all good alternatives to grain fattened beef. Poultry and lean pork can also be in your diet in moderation if you decide to eat meat, and no meat of any kind should be eaten more than once a day—better still if three times a week or less.

Some guidelines recommend reducing dairy, but that depends on how much full-fat dairy you’re currently getting. The Japanese use almost no dairy (they tend to be lactose intolerant); the Mediterraneans use more but these are mainly from grass-fed sheep and goats. Eggs should not be eaten daily—three a week is good and eggs from free-range chickens are always going to be a better option. Try to get at least a handful of nuts a day, either in your main meals or as a snack. Eat one-half to one cup of beans every day. Fermented foods are fine, including sauerkraut, kimchi, probiotic yogurt and tempeh. As you can see, this diet, especially if you grow most of your own food, can be inexpensive—certainly the people in the Blue Zones are not wealthy and are eating home grown, locally caught or gathered, and readily available foods.

Lifestyle + Diet

A common type of lifestyle as much as diet contribute to the long life of these Blue Zone centenarians. Okinawans have a word for “why you get up in the morning,” and having this sense of purpose reinforced daily contributes to their long lives. The Adventists are a racially diverse group (including whites, Blacks, Hispanics and Asians), so don’t assume the long life is down to genetics. In fact, studies of the health and longevity of twins have shown that diet and lifestyle far more than genetics cause many of the afflictions I mentioned above. The Adventists are united in their longevity only by their ritualistically-defined lifestyle that includes not just adhering to a defined diet (mainly as described in the early chapters of Genesis in the Bible), but also weekly nature walks and one 24-hour period per week of downtime when the cares of life are set aside for worship and renewal.

All of the Blue Zone people stay active throughout their lives. They live with their extended families and benefit from something called the Grandmother Effect, the phenomenon that grandparents living with their grandchildren, and great and even great-great grandchildren contribute to the longevity of both the elders and the children. This effect also has been documented in whales and non-human primates who live past reproductivity and into old age contributing to the wellbeing of the youngest community members. In addition, the experience and support of elders relieve a lot of the day to day stress of parenting for the generation between the grandparents and the grandkids.

An Active Life

People who live past 100 in these areas don’t really exercise so much as keep active; Dan Buettner describes this as “moving naturally.” They walk, work on their gardens or homes, play, ride horses or bicycles, and generally do what makes them happy. Many of them have never really retired, doing jobs they love as long as they are able, and that is a long, long time. They stop during each day, usually about fifteen minutes, to spend time relaxing, meditating, praying or in some other way stepping outside of themselves and any day-to-day concerns. They also surround themselves with friends as well as family and are members of their wider community. Their close friends, often more than three, gather regularly for mutual support and sharing of experiences and ideas. These friendships usually last decades, and the friends are not only like-minded, but equally dedicated to being healthy, happy and active. Obviously, smoking or other use of tobacco, drinking to excess, and use of recreational drugs don’t contribute in a positive way to health and long life.

My personal lifestyle includes horseback riding, gardening, running up and downstairs doing chores and walking in the park. I also write, sew, knit, and camp whenever a can. I’ve given up on the gym—it was too boring. Many of my family have passed and one of my best friends (one I was sure was going to live to 100 right along with me) was recently killed by a speeding driver, so I have to keep the friends and family I have remaining close and must make new friends, and perhaps even build a new family. Dan Buettner said in his TED Talk about the Blue Zone people, it is important to belong to the right tribe—people who support you and have the same healthy goals you have. Creating a community or finding and joining one that nurtures you, I have found, is important to happiness, and happiness is one of the keys to a long life.

The point, of course, is not really to live to be older than 100, but to live well, happily, and in good health for your own sake and for the sake of those who depend on your and upon whom you depend. The point is to enjoy the years we have and to share them with the people you care for. To do this, walk lots. Do your best to reduce stress. Do the things you love. Enjoy being with your family. Worship with those you love and respect. Have several close friends you share things with. Have a good reason to get up every morning. And, as Michael Pollan said in his book In Defense of Food, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”


  1. I went to Costco, the Azuza California warehouse and did not find any copies of James Wesley Rawles new book. Furthermore, an employee searched their system and did not find the book listed in their database or at any any other location. “Founders” was in the Costco inventory database from 2012, but did not find mention of the new book, “The Ultimate Preppers Survival Guide”.
    I did pre-order a copy of the book from Amazon on July 24, 2020.

  2. Thanks for the interesting article. I can’t say I follow one particular Blue Zone diet but I do like the Mediterranean and the Asian diets since I lived in those areas in my younger years. I think having a support system makes all the difference in the world for your health and well being. Whether family, church, or neighborhood or other group, peace and harmony within your society is one of the keys to good health.

    In my humble opinion, the events of the COVID19, riots and violence around the USA, closing of churches, offices, gyms, schools etc., dirty politics and lack of confidence in our governing bodies, have done more to make people sick than the actual disease.

  3. “The point, of course, is not really to live to be older than 100, but to live well”
    Best statement I’ve heard in a while from an article like this. I’ve zero desire to be 100 but I do want to be able to enjoy it and be of use while I am alive to my family.

    1. Yup. I’m right there with you Matt.
      My siblings and I have been caring for mom for a while now. She’ll be 96 this weekend.
      I kind of chuckle when she describes a good day. Then I think… I don’t want to live like that.
      I think I’d prefer to have my body give up trying to avoid what my mind wants to do.

  4. Longevity is dictated by ‘mind set’. I agree with most of what was said in the article. Mind set is what determines what we ‘at our most basic level’ determine what is ‘good’ for us. I am five years older than the author, probably in Viet Nam when he was in high school.

    Your body will tell you what it needs, if you are willing and learn how to listen. I talk to my body all the time, especially when it has done a great job of healing. I heal very well and express to my body how assume it heals it’s self.

    I’m no saint, sometimes I listen and ignore! Then I get slapped up side the head with aches and pains that are not necessary.

    Just a note to Matt, ” if you don’t WISH to live to 100″, don’t worry, you more than likely will not. I have a little mantra that I keep in my head, “I am that I am, happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise. In tune and in gracious allowance and acceptance of my endless blessing and abundance and the synchronicity of all that is.”

    If wish to live to 100 just to see how some of this ‘plays out’….

  5. Wow, what a difference.
    It took me a minute after reading your breakfast suggestions, but you mean pick one, not all of those, right? LOL! Sorry, I’m a big guy, you could put all of that in front of me, and in 30 min it would be gone, and I’d be set until dinnertime

  6. I am a proponent of eating fresh, locally-produced food. Maybe call it a faith-based diet, but I believe God provides the feed we need in the areas we live.

    Some diets are so difficult to follow and enjoy…they might not cause you to live to 100 years of age, but it will sure feel like it.

    1. I recommend a very interesting book “What the Bible Says About Healthy Living” by Rex Russell MD.
      I have a tendency to think about the way God intended us to eat in the beginning., without grocery stores available and heavily chemically saturated foods that increase an unhealthy appetite and cause arterial blockage or diabetes..only with the access to plants/animals, etc that He gave us as omnivorous predators..”take up your bow and hunt the wild game”. No hormone, antibiotic loaded processed meats, but lean, organic free ranging cloven hoofed animals and the natural vegetation and fruits available.

  7. Being purposely passionate about life and being about God’s desires for you are key to contentment. Healthy food and the work involved getting it to the table is, as mentioned above, part of the “tending the garden” process. Focusing on eternity makes the path straighter and the journey a pleasure. And as OK-Matt reiterated, the goal isn’t the number of years attained, but the path you’ve walked… and overcoming the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. LuvYerBro

  8. My ancestors lived to approaching 100. My dad probably had the best quality of life. We laid him to rest after a 3 month illness during which he was fully alert, but needed assistance with meals and housekeeping.

    I currently eat Mediterranean ethnically with occasional Asian dishes. I follow the 400 calorie fix which for me is 4 times a day. So also some intermittent fasting.

    I eat oatmeal with sugar and butter for breakfast. My main indulgence.

    The other 3 meals tend to be categorized as

    1 whole grain dish
    1 legume dish
    1 veggie dish

    There is plenty of overlap in my cookbooks, so also in my meals. Veggies typically appear in all recipes. Legumes show up in many. There usually is some animal protein in one or more dishes: typically dairy, eggs, poultry or fish. I eat fresh whole raw fruit at every meal.

    Fresh veggies are a must. From my garden, from the farmers market, or what’s on sale at the store. I figure if it’s on sale, it must be because of an over abundance due to current harvesting. Probably not always right on that one.

    I drink 16 oz of water with every meal and at bedtime. And more if thirsty or working outside in the heat.

    And psyllium fiber 3 times a day. Absolutely necessary.

    I also walk a couple miles a day. Get a dog. Great way to get exercise. And getting back into my garden after a 4 month absence. It’s planting time here and I’m way behind.

    1. Nurse Kim, I’d not heard of psyllium fiber but just read a little about it online. I’d like to try it. Do you order yours online or where do u get it? Would a health food store have it?

      1. Most of the locations with large numbers of older people share a few common factors. Lack of real evidence of age/birth date. A exodus of young people that skews the data and having been a war zone in the last 70 years or so where a large percentage of the population was killed or otherwise removed from the population. It is only now that we bend over backwards to try to explain these small anomalous groups with the myth of “super beets” or some other magic food. It is very consoling as we grow older to think we have total control of health and longevity and this supports and strengthens the myth. But, I agree; wouldn’t be great if you could just eat the right foods and live to be 100?

  9. A couple-three points, but first, my usual advice as echoed by this article’s author:
    * Health comes from working in our gardens and eating from them.

    If this article mentions televisionprogramming, I missed it!

    Does this article mention laying in the recliner for hours while spectating at TheIdiotBox, TheOne-EyedBabysitter, TheBoobTube?

    According to widely-promoted [promoted by me…] research [researched by me…], televisionprogramming is a major source of stress.
    From its inception, televisionprogramming caused stress from advertising disguised as entertainment.
    For example:
    * Jackie Gleason’s “To the moon, Alice!” sponsored by Bayer© and Exederin© pain-relievers.
    * Route 66 sponsored by General Motors because home isn’t good enough for the younger crowd.

    The programming is designed to make spectators feel a sense of ‘less than’.
    As a result, spectators are led to automatically feel a sense of jealousy.

    As an aside, what are the first items looted by rioters?
    If you answer ‘television sets’, you get a big shiny gold star!

    For the big-shot owners of televisionprogramming, jealousy is ‘a feature, not a flaw’.

    The constant roller-coaster of emotions is a major factor in stress.
    What are some results of stress?
    * Deterioration of cognitive abilities, such as the ability to recognize physical and spiritual threats to the family and tribe.
    * Lesser ability to plan long-term.
    * And the psychological diagnosis of ‘transference’, shifting love or frustration from its source to something outside its source.

    The last time I owned a television set was sometime last century.
    As I visit elderly shut-ins around my community I am continually amazed at the amount of their precious remaining hours they intentionally waste while intentionally subjecting their precious physical and emotional bodies to the filth of televisionprogramming… and the stresses that garbage causes.

    No problem, right?
    The medical doctors can prescribe pharmaceuticals to camouflage the symptoms.

    And another another thing:
    * I disconnected the horn on my truck.
    Every time the acts of some nincompoop driver or suicidal pedestrian or bullet-proof skate-boarder made me want to scold them by laying on the horn, I felt my stress levels sky-rocket!
    I disconnected my horn, and magically, everybody behaves.

    Try it, let us know your results.

    For my heritage, grains are a problem.

    My Paleo ancestors had zero agriculture, so they were constantly on the move.
    They gathered a few grains while digging for tubers and climbing for fruits and nuts.
    Along the way, they chased game or ran to avoid becoming supper for somebody else.
    Their slow gathering of wild grains and other wild foods has no resemblance to our easy meals in mid-2020.

    And another thing:
    * Grains, especially the current versions of gene modified stuff carrying the millions of tons of petroleum-based chemicals we dump on our agriculture, has little resemblance to the original from the time our ancestors gathered it eons ago.

    Another problem with today’s grains is its easy availability — open a package, pour a month’s worth in a bowl, add a year’s worth of dairy and a decade’s worth of refined cane-sugar… easy, right?
    The combined sugars from the carbohydrates and refined sugars — then the insulin dump — is incredibly stressful, resulting in another roller-coaster.

    The injuries caused by grains begins with the naturally-occuring pesticides known as ‘phytates’, ‘phytic acid”, or ‘lectins’.
    Unless those innate pesticides are neutralized by sprouting and other procedures, the damage to the human blood system can be devastating.
    Imagine the interior lining of your arteries, smooth and flexible.
    Now, imagine them sand-blasted — literally sand-blasted — by chunks of grain-induced poisons.
    Now, imagine your poor arteries, oozing with millions of tiny punctures.
    Naturally, your body rushes patches to control the bleeding.
    The patches are composed of cholesterol.

    Each meal of condensed grains increases the amount of arterial injury, increasing the body’s manufacture of cholesterol to counter the punctures.
    And the cycle continues until the arteries are plugged with cholesterol patches, inflexible and much-reduced in their ability to carry blood.

    A grain-heavy diet creates these two avoidable problems.

    Speaking of gardens, what happens to the water-pressure if you squeeze a garden-hose?
    Behind the block, the pressure increases, right?
    Reduce their flow with your cholesterol patches, and your blood pressure naturally rises.
    No problem, the medical doctors can prescribe a pharmaceutical to disguise the symptoms.

    Cholesterol is a natural response to injury.
    Break a leg or have surgery or otherwise increase your physical/emotional/spiritual stress, and your body automatically increases its manufacture of cholesterol.
    Do your labs show your cholesterol is outside ‘the norms’?
    No problem, medical doctors can prescribe pharmaceuticals to cover the symptoms.

    Does a bowl of concentrated grains such as oatmeal injure your arteries?
    Do those injuries raise your blood-pressure by increasing your cholesterol?
    The science is indisputable.

    My intention is to not fault the author of this article.
    Could there be more to the story?


    And my final point:
    * our ‘easy meals’ of mid-2020 may become a thing of the past, something to regale the younger crowd as we huddle around the campfire.
    “When I was your age, we didn’t have to work for our food. We just opened a package, and our meal was ready in two-shakes. You kids have no idea of everything we lost…”
    [yells at cloud]

  10. Gotta go make some very deep or tall raised beds for next year. Will fill the bottom half with free saw dust. Yes, diet is key and I would rather spend money high quality food than supplements. I use to shop at Clark’s Nutritional Center in Loma Linda, California were the SDA make their home. Amazing place. You need it, you get there.

  11. Good article. We’ve been lacto-vegetarian for a little over three decades. I agree with the author that lots of dark leafy greens is a great way to start; spinach and kale are both readily available. All the cruciferous crops too- broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, and again kale. A variety of whole grains is also a great way to eat. I admit though, I love my pasta and probably could eat it three times a week easy.

  12. Thank you M.E. for that article. I would like to point out several things about pork and other unclean meats and that is (1) they are overly acidifying to the body and (2) they are not allowed per the Kosher food guidelines as outlined in the book of Genesis in the Bible. Sweet potatoes are very alkalizing to the body. The book called “Alkalize or Die” by Theodore Baroody is an excellent resource on this topic.

    1. As a 77 YO lover of pork meat, especially bacon, shouldn’t this unclean meat have killed me years ago? Or perhaps it isn’t unclean or bad for you at all.

  13. Unclean foods are meaningless to a modern Christian. Noah recognized the clean/unclean animal division for sacrifice, but what did God say to him when he got off the ark? Gen.9 v. 3“Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.”Again in the NT, what did God say to Peter in the vision in Acts 11? “Arise, Peter, kill and eat”. Here again, GOD calls all foods clean. What God has called holy I will not despise. Bring on the bacon!

  14. For a comprehensive work on this subject see the books by Stephen Gundry, MD. He is convinced that one of our worst nutritional enemies is lectin. Found in all nightshade plants and among others. He believes it is the main culprit for leaky gut syndrome. Although he is a true capitalist when it comes to marketing his supplements his science is sound.

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