Have you ever seen someone in their 90s or even 100 who still get around just fine, their minds are sharp, and they always have a smile on their face? Do you wonder what they eat and do all day to keep them feeling healthy and happy? There are certain regions of the world where seeing these people are more common. This post explains those regions and what those people eat and do. Then we give their diet a go and come up with lots of simple recipes from a small grocery list to make it easy for you to eat a diet meant for longevity.
You won’t see us advocating diets for weight loss here on Tulhoma. Not our thing. So when I say Blue Zone ‘diet’ know that I mean what people who live in a Blue Zone often eat, and not what they eat to lose weight. I really like the Blue Zone diet because it doesn’t say you can never have [insert food] ever again. It focuses more on what to add, not what to take away. It does suggest to really reduce your intake of processed food, but I think most diets should suggest that and if you’re on a diet that allows for that (cough, cough keto and Weight Watchers, I’m looking at you) maybe rethink what rules you’re okay with.
What is a Blue Zone?
A place with is a high concentration of centenarians (people over the age of 100) with the rest of the population showing low risks of diseases, like cancer and diabetes. Currently there are five places with this official title:
- Ikaria, Greece
- Okinawa, Japan
- Sardinia, Italy
- Loma Linda, California
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Some Guiding Principles:
These places are all over the world, so obviously what they eat and do are different, but there are some noticeable trends that the founders of the Blue Zone Organization have discovered:
- 95-100% Plant-Based: Most Blue Zoners aren’t vegetarian or vegan, but they don’t consume meat or dairy products daily.
- Meat & Fish: Processed meats, like hot dogs and lunch meats, are not suggested, but the occasional meat is okay. Fish is better, but according to Blue Zone, eat fish only a few times a week.
- Eggs & Dairy: Same concept with eggs, it’s suggested to limit egg consumption to a few times a week. Dairy consumption should be reduced on the Blue Zone diet, but a few Blue Zone regions consume goat or sheep milk, yogurt, and feta cheese.
- Beans & Nuts: So where’s the protein? Yep, beans and nuts. Suggested to eat a half cup of beans a day and two handfuls of nuts.
- Grains: Opt for healthier grains and breads, like sourdough, sprouted grain, and rye. In general, skip out on the processed stuff.
- Produce: Heavy on the produce, but especially leafy greens, sweet potatoes, and fruits.
- Drinks: Skip the sugary drinks, but many Blue Zone regions enjoy wine. Coffee, tea, and of course lots of water all make it into their diets.
- Staying active: You don’t need to be running marathons (but you can if that’s your thing) to live longer. Most Blue Zone residents either say they walk quite a bit or their jobs keep them fit.
- Community: Although there is an easy emphasis on the diet of the Blue Zone regions, there’s also a noticeable sense of community in every Blue Zone. Connecting to other humans, eating together, and just enjoying life together are linked to longer lives.
Other Places to Learn More:
If this concept has peaked your curiosity, here are some resources to learn more:
- Zac Efron’s show, ‘Down to Earth’ on Netflix, Episode 4
- The Blue Zones Book. Discusses the principles in detail.
- The Blue Zones Kitchen. Cookbook, but I will say, I flipped through this at a bookstore recently and thought the recipes were fairly advanced.
- The Blue Zones website. Lots of good,simple recipes.
What is a Capsule Grocery List?
Much like a capsule wardrobe, a capsule grocery list allows you to get more use out of what you buy. So instead of buying three different leafy greens for three recipes, you meal plan to only need one of those leafy greens. It creates a lot less food waste, declutters your kitchen, and usually saves you a few bucks. I have two other Capsule Grocery Lists here and here for you to check out.
Although the Blue Zone diet is not vegan or vegetarian, it does push for less animal product consumption. And since a Capsule Grocery List is meant to be versatile, I left out animal products from this grocery list. But feel free to add some animal products, like eggs, plain yogurt, feta cheese, or fish, to your list if desired. I asked my fellow Tulhoma writers to use this shopping list as a guide to create some of their own dishes, so you’ll see those included as well.
- Sourdough bread
- Any beans (Below recipes include black bean and chickpeas)
- Vegetable stock
- Brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, farro, or barley. Some of these may be easier to find at health food stores. (Below recipes use brown rice, oatmeal, and farro)
- Nuts and seeds (for nut mixes, granola, homemade nut butter, and a nut sauce. The recipes below use cashews)
- Sweet potatoes
- Leafy greens, like spinach, arugula, kale, or romaine
- Fruit: completely up to you. For snacking and to add into the breakfast recipes. We picked bananas and blueberries for the week.
- Tahini. Check in the Kosher or Middle Eastern section of your grocery store.
- Nutritional Yeast. Health food stores should have this.
- Miso paste. Health food stores and international markets should have this.
Pantry Items Needed:
- Olive oil
- Vinegar, preferably red wine, apple cider, balsamic, or rice. Pretty much anything but white distilled (too strong)
- Lemon or lime
- Herbs, fresh or dried. Whatever you like.
- Spices, like cumin, coriander, something for spice, turmeric, cinnamon. Don’t worry if you don’t have all of these, a few is just fine.
- Garlic: fresh, minced, or powder
- Onion. Yellow, white, or red will all work
- Salt and pepper
- Honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar
Capsule Dishes to Try: You should be able to make all the dishes below using just the grocery list and pantry items from above. We tried to create and find dishes from different cuisines to keep you from getting bored with the same flavors over and over again.
- Overnight Oats with Fruit. Use water or a homemade nut or oat milk if you don’t have store-bought milk.
- Sweet Potato Oatmeal, like this recipe
- Sourdough Toast and Avocado (plus an egg a couple times a week if you have)
- Baked Sweet Potato with a drizzle of tahini or nut butter and homemade granola (I also like this with a dollop of yogurt if you have it/like it) If you make the linked granola and don’t have eggs, use the liquid from your chickpea can. Here’s some info on that.
- Brown Rice Porridge, like this recipe but using fresh fruit if you don’t want to use jam
- Vegan Caesar Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Chickpea Croutons (see recipe below)
- Herby Avocado, Tomato, and Fennel Sandwich (see recipe below)
- Miso Soup with Mushrooms and Spinach, with a side salad like this one
- White Beans and Spinach on Toast, from our Quick Lunch Post.
- Indian-ish Sweet Potatoes and Chickpea with brown rice, like this recipe
- Burrito Bowl with Smoky Cashew Sauce (see recipe below)
- Sweet Potato Chip Nachos (see recipe below)
- Mushroom & Fennel Farro Risotto, like this recipe. You can easily use brown rice if you don’t have farro. No white wine? Just use water.
- Mexican Bean and Veggie Soup, like this recipe
- Regular Hummus or Black Bean Hummus (see recipe below)
- Homemade Sweet Potato Chips (see recipe below)
- Sourdough Appetizer (see recipe below)
- Nut Mix & Fruit
Herby Avocado and Tomato Sandwich
I’ve been making this recipe for lunch often over the last month. One, because I almost always have the three key ingredients: good bread, tomatoes, and avocados. And two, the dish is really flexible and allows me to add whatever extra produce and spices I want. Instead of the normal Hispanic spices I would add to something with avocados and tomatoes, I lean more on Mediterranean produce, herbs, and spice blends. For the one below, I used fennel, fennel fronds (the top of fennel), Herbes de Provence seasoning, and lemon. The creaminess of the avocado with the lemon juice and olive oil make their own lovely dressing. If you want the dish to have some tang, some diced olives or crumbled feta cheese would also be great.
Ingredients (makes one sandwich):
- 2 pieces of sourdough bread or whatever hearty bread you like
- Avocado, one small or half a large; diced
- Tomato, whatever kind you have. But about a handful of grape tomatoes or a roma tomato should work; diced
- 1 tsp of something acidic. I used the juice of a quarter of a lemon. But red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, or lime juice would all work
- 1 tsp of olive oil
- Other veggies, as desired: I used romaine and some thinly sliced fennel (I sliced off two thin layers). Keep it simple though. Arugula, spring mix, and green onions would also be nice options.
- Spices & herbs: I used fennel fronds, about one teaspoon of herbes de Provence, and red chili flakes. Thyme, garlic, Italian seasoning, pretty much any fresh herb, and za’taar would all work too, depending on the flavor profile you’re building.
- Salt and pepper to taste
Lightly toast bread. Mix all remaining ingredients (except greens, like romaine, if using) in a bowl until the avocado slightly coats some of the tomatoes and creates a mild dressing. Taste for seasoning. Lay a layer of greens on a piece of toast and pile on the avocado and tomato mixture. Place other slice of bread on top, slice in half, and serve. Would hold up well if made in the morning and served at lunch, but not much past that.
Vegan Caesar Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Chickpea Croutons
I got this idea from the Blue Zone website, but it had a lot of ingredients, so I tailored it quite a bit. The dressing is delicious and if you’re like me and someone who loves a lot of Caesar dressing on their salad, this is a nice, healthier version. So go crazy! You will probably have some leftover chickpea croutons and those are great to snack on. I also had some leftover roasted sweet potatoes that I used in the Burrito Bowl recipe up next.
Notes: Serves 2 people as a meal or 4 people as a side dish. If you don’t have enough lemon juice, apple cider vinegar is a great substitute. This dish would also taste great with walnuts or pepita seeds. Also consider adding a little kick with some hot sauce or red pepper flakes to the dressing.
- 1 15 oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed, 1/2 cup saved for dressing, remainder for the roasted chickpeas
- 1 sweet large potato, diced
- Olive oil
- Spices: I used paprika and cumin. Rosemary, thyme, and chili powder would also be really nice. Turmeric would be tasty for a different vibe.
- 2 heads of romaine, cleaned and chopped
- 3 tbsp of nutritional yeast for the dressing + 1 tbsp for sprinkling on the salad
- 1 tbsp white miso paste
- 1/4 cup tahini
- 1/4 cup lemon juice, about 1-2 lemons
- 2-3 cloves of garlic
- 1/4 cup of water
- Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400F. Place chickpeas on one side of a baking sheet and diced sweet potatoes on other. Drizzle with olive oil and spices, plus some salt. Using your hands or tongs, toss the chickpeas and sweet potatoes in the oil and spices (but keep them separate in case they are done at slightly different times). Place them in the oven for 20 minutes, then give everything a toss (and give them a taste to see if you want to add more spice or salt), and cook for another 15-25 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are fork-tender and chickpeas are crispy on the outside. Depending on the size of the diced potatoes, they might be done sooner.
In a blender or food processor, blend nutritional yeast, miso paste, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and water together until smooth. Add salt and a generous amount of black pepper to your taste and blend once more. The dressing shouldn’t be overly runny, but also shouldn’t be thick like hummus. Add more water or lemon juice as needed.
Put romaine in a large bowl and toss with dressing. Top with chickpeas, sweet potatoes, and nutritional yeast. Dressing will hold up nicely in the fridge for 3-4 days.
Black Bean Burrito Bowl with Smoky Cashew Sauce
I found a similar recipe off of Blue Zone but modified it to our grocery list. I also didn’t think the cashew sauce was much of a cheese as they called it. But it is really good with the addition of hot sauce and smoky spices. I tend to make burrito bowls using leftover rice and roasted veggies and that’s what I suggest for you to do as well. If that’s the case, it makes for a really quick lunch. Cooking the beans is the longest process and that’s only about 10 minutes. Otherwise, you’re dirting a lot of dishes and waiting for veggies to be roasted or sautéed and I suggest to swap this to a dinner dish.
Tips: Know that this recipe doesn’t need to be more than rice, beans, and preferably a vegetable. That’s a completely normal and healthy meal in many countries. So don’t sweat it if you’re missing an ingredient or want to sub out some veggies. If you make this recipe and aren’t following the grocery list above, it’s also really good with red bell peppers, sautéed peppers and onions, sautéed summer squash, pineapples, and mangoes. If you don’t want to make your own cashew sauce, use the avocado and stir it around whatever veggie you have to add creaminess to your dish. Also, hot sauce easily steps up the flavor. If you do make the cashew sauce and it’s not blending well, slowly add more water (or even a bit of olive oil) to get the cashew pieces moving and turning more into a smooth sauce.
Ingredients, makes 2 large bowls:
- 3 cups of greens, whatever you have, chopped into bite sized pieces as needed
- 1 small sweet potato or half of a large; diced
- Olive oil
- Spices, used throughout recipe: cumin, garlic powder (or minced garlic), paprika, salt
- Hot sauce of your choice
- 1 cup of cooked rice, preferably brown but most others will do
- 1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
- 2/3 cup of cashews
- 2 tbsp of nutritional yeast
- Avocado, diced
- Tomato, whatever kind you have. But about a handful of grape tomatoes or a roma tomato should work; diced
- Onion, a small amount diced for topping
Preheat oven to 400F. Place sweet potatoes on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and some spices, plus some salt. Using your hands or tongs, toss sweet potatoes in the oil and spices. Place them in the oven for 20 minutes, toss, then check on them every 5 minutes or so until they are fork-tender. If rice isn’t already cooked, cook rice according to package instructions. Place black beans in a pot over medium heat. Add a pinch of cumin and garlic powder and stir. Once beans start to bubble, turn heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes. Salt as needed.
To make the cashew sauce, place cashews, nutritional yeast, 1/2 teaspoon of each spice listed, a pinch of salt, and a tablespoon of water into a blender and blend. Keep adding a tablespoon of water at a time until cashews turn into more of a dressing and smooth. (I don’t have a great blender and it took me about 4-5 tablespoons to get it right). Taste for flavor and add more hot sauce or spices as you like. Mix tomatoes and avocados together with some garlic powder and a tiny bit of salt until the avocados cover the tomatoes.
Put greens on bottom of your plates, then rice, beans, sweet potatoes, avocados and cashew sauce. Top with onions. Cilantro, crushed cashews, and pepita seeds would also be nice.
Black Bean Hummus
This is a really easy way to turn your basic hummus into a more versatile dish. You can use it the same normal ways, as a dip or spread, or do what we do below: top nachos with it.
- 15 oz can black beans
- 15 oz can garbanzo beans
- 2 cloves garlic
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp tahini
- Juice from 1 lime
- ½ tsp cumin
- ½ tsp ground coriander or ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp cayenne
Drain and rinse the black beans and garbanzo beans. Add all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth, about 5 minutes. (you may need to scrape the down the sides with a spatula.) Store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to one week.
Sweet Potato Chips
- Sweet potatoes (I used 3 and made 4 servings but you can use more depending on how many chips you need)
- Olive oil
Preheat oven to 400F. Wash, peel, and thinly slice the sweet potatoes. You want them to be about 2 cm or less; if they are too thick it will be more difficult for them to crisp. If you have a mandolin you can use it for more consistent slices. Place sweet potato slices in a large bowl and toss with olive oil and salt (or other seasonings). Spray a baking sheet with oil or line with parchment paper and arrange sweet potato slices in a single layer. Place in the oven and roast for 20 minutes, then flip and roast for an additional 15 minutes. Sweet potatoes slices should come out brown and crispy. You can also add other seasonings such as black pepper, cayenne, or garlic powder.
Loaded Sweet Potato Nachos
- Sweet potato chips, from above
- Black bean hummus, from above
- Tomatoes, diced
- Avocado, sliced or diced
- Onion, diced
Arrange sweet potato chips on a plate and layer toppings. Nachos are best if chips are warm and hummus is at room temp. Toppings can be adjusted to your preferences.
I always have some mix of sliced tomatoes/peppers in my fridge, doused in olive oil and salt & pepper. I love that the measurements for this are very forgiving and all to taste. Great as a side, snack, or appetizer.
- Sliced sourdough bread
- 3 medium fresh tomatoes
- Small bunch of fresh basil, or other fresh or dried herbs
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Lemon juice (optional)
- Make hummus
- Preheat oven to 400F. Lay bread slices on a lined baking sheet and bake until crispy (about 10 minutes, but check every 4-5 minutes since ovens vary so much).
- Wash, dry, and chop tomatoes and basil. Coat in olive oil, add salt & pepper to taste, then mix.
- Spread hummus onto bread, add tomato mix, squeeze lemon juice, enjoy!
Not too bad for a pretty small grocery list, right? Do you have any other recipes that are similar to these? Have you heard of Blue Zones before and tried to eat like them?