Want to Eat Like a Blue Zoner? Try These 7 Easy-to-Make Recipes

Back in 2000, an explorer named Dan Buettner traveled to Okinawa, Japan after reading an intriguing report about the people who lived there. According to the information from the World Health Organization, Okinawans have the longest disease-free life expectancy in the world. Buettner, who worked for National Geographic at the time, wanted to know why.

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Buettner’s exploration of what makes for a healthy long life didn’t end up stopping at Japan. He went on to find more longevity hot spots, in places like Italy, Greece, Costa Rica, and even California, before eventually naming them “Blue Zones.” And now, these hot spots are the subject of the Netflix documentary Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones, which has already inspired people to start making lifestyle changes.

But what exactly makes a Blue Zone? And how can you live like a Blue Zoner? It turns out, it’s not all that complicated. It’s largely about community, regular activity, and a whole lot of plants. Here’s what you need to know.

‘Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones’ 

Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones is a four-part series, which is streaming on Netflix. It follows Buettner as he takes viewers to the areas of the world he has identified as Blue Zones: Okinawa, Japan, Sardinia, Italy, Ikaria, Greece, Nicoya, Costa Rica, and Loma Linda, California, which is home to a high number of Seventh Day Adventists.

Throughout the series, the explorer interviews those who live in the Blue Zones to find out why the people in their communities often live such long and healthy lives. But as well as the existing Blue Zones, Buettner also identifies another area of the world he thinks is notable for its long-living population: Singapore, aka “Blue Zone 2.0.”

“[Singapore] demonstrates that we don’t have to be as sick and unhealthy as we are as a nation,” he told CBS News. “There are other economically developed young countries that are vastly diverse, culturally speaking, that achieve much better health outcomes.”

Buettner also notes that he is evaluating and studying three new locations, but he hasn’t shared their whereabouts yet.


So what makes a Blue Zone, a Blue Zone?

Buettner’s Blue Zones are areas where there is seemingly a higher percentage of centenarians than other places in the world, and where rates of middle-age mortality and diseases are lower. This, according to Buettner and the Blue Zone researchers, is helped by a list of factors called the “Power 9.” 

The Power 9 includes natural movement (not pumping iron in the gym, but more doing things like walking and gardening on a regular basis); a sense of purpose; a lack of chronic stress (people in Blue Zones still experience stress every now and again!); moderate alcohol intake; faith; commitment to taking care of loved ones; a healthy social circle; eating until around 80 percent full; and finally, consuming predominantly plant-based whole foods, like beans and grains.

“The essence of Blue Zones is people live a long time not because of the things we think. They’re not on diets, they’re not on exercise programs, they don’t take supplements,” Buettner explained. “They don’t pursue health, which is a big disconnect in America, because we think health is something that needs to be pursued.”

But regardless of where you’re based in the world, anyone can live like a Blue Zoner, Buettner believes. And it doesn’t matter what age you are right now, either. “Starting at any age will make you live longer,” says the explorer. “At age 60, you could potentially add six extra years. And at age 20, if you’re a male, you could potentially add 13 extra years if you live in a Blue Zone lifestyle as opposed to a standard American lifestyle.”

If you want to adopt some of the learnings from the Blue Zone documentary, one of the best, and arguably easiest, places to start is with your plate. Below, we’ve included whole food, plant-based recipe ideas to help you create a meal plan that looks like it’s come straight out of a Blue Zone. And for even more ideas, you can find our extensive recipe collection here.

Eat like the Blue Zones: Whole food, plant-based recipes to try now


1 Mexican-Style Black Bean Bowl

This tasty, flavor-packed Mexican-style bowl features corn, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and black beans with a generous dollop of zesty vegan yogurt. It’s nourishing, comforting, and set to become one of your new go-to dinners. If you want to take things further, you can add squash to get the Three Sisters effect (this is a way of eating championed by many Native Americans, when corn, beans, and squash are eaten together, enhancing each of their nutritional value). 
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2 Warm Lentil, Sweet Potato, and Arugula Salad

Perfect for the cooler months of the year, this simple salad features warm ingredients, like lentils and sweet potatoes. It’s filling yet light, and the ideal mix of tangy, salty, and sweet. To really get into that Blue Zone lifestyle, consider swapping the sweet potato for purple sweet potato, a staple of Okinawan people.
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VegNews.BuffaloChickpeaTacos.RichaHingleRicha Hingle

3 Spicy Buffalo Chickpea Tacos

In Ikaria, chickpeas are a go-to. Embrace them with this spicy, flavor-packed chickpea taco recipe, which is a real crowd-pleaser, especially when you serve it with plenty of ranch. Just because you’re trying to eat more whole foods does not mean you have to miss out on Taco Tuesday.
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4 Pineapple Cashew Fried Rice 

If you’re a fan of pineapple on pizza, wait until you try this pineapple fried rice. The vibrant, aromatic recipe also features extra protein in the form of cashews and homemade chickpea eggs, too. If you prefer to do things the Okinawa way, consider adding tofu and plenty of stir-fried vegetables, too.
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VegNews.TabboulehSarah Bond

5 Bulgur Tabbouleh Salad

Tabbouleh is already a vegan classic and a staple in regions like the Greek Blue Zone Ikaria. It’s fresh, it’s light, it’s delicious, and it features plenty of nutrient-dense ingredients, including tomatoes, green onions, herbs, and bulgur.
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VegNews.TuscanBeanPastaSam Turnbull

6 Tuscan Bean Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Creamy, comforting pasta can be healthy and tasty at the same time, and this recipe proves it. With white beans, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, garlic, and onions, this is a Sardinia-approved dish packed with nutritious ingredients, but it’s also filling and full of flavor, too.
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7 Italian Vegetable Sheet Pan Bake

For days when you want something simple, but you don’t want to miss out on nutritious ingredients, bookmark this delicious Italian sheet pan recipe. It’s packed with all kinds of tasty vegetables, but the real star of the show is the light tomato marinade.
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For more on plant-based whole foods, read: