National Geographic writer and explorer Dan Buettner spent seven years studying what he refers to as "Blue Zones"---regions of the world where people live remarkably longer, healthier lives. These regions include Okinawa, Japan; the Barbagia region of Sardinia, Italy; the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica; and the Seventh Day Adventist community in Loma Linda, California. According to Buettner and his team of scientists, the diets of the residents of these communities play a significant part in their vitality. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables with very little meat consumption is a common characteristic of the Blue Zones. Buettner also identified a number of "longevity foods" or "super foods" within these communities.
Beans are a dietary staple among Blue Zone communities. This low-fat food provides almost as much protein as a T-bone steak while packing twice as much iron and six times as much calcium. Beans are also a significant source of fiber, which is not the case in animal proteins.
Nuts are consumed in large quantities by the Blue Zone community living in Loma Linda, California. Approximately 25 percent of the Seventh Day Adventists living in this community include nuts in their diet five or more times a week. These adults were found to have half the risk of developing coronary heart disease than those that consume nuts less frequently or not at all. Regular consumption of nuts has also been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and help control blood pressure.
Grape skins and seeds contain antioxidants called polyphenols that can help protect cells against damage caused by free radicals. Since the skin and seeds are not removed in the production of red wine, it has higher levels of polyphenols than white wine. Also, the inhabitants of the Barbagia region of Sardinia, Italy, drink a local red wine called Cannonau, which contains three times the amount of resveratrol as other varieties of red wine. Reservatrol is a compound that has been linked to cancer prevention and can limit tumor growth.
The Sardinians' diet also includes various dairy products made from goat's milk. Milk from goats has higher amounts of calcium, vitamins A and B6, potassium and niacin than cow's milk, and a study conducted by the University of Grenada suggests that goat's milk offers more potent protection against iron deficiencies and bone loss.
The water consumed by the inhabitants of the Nicoya Peninsula has the highest calcium levels in Costa Rica, which helps prevent heart disease and bone loss.
The Blue Zone community in Okinawa, Japan, consumes a diet rich in sweet potatoes, which are high in vitamins A and C, potassium, folic acid, beta-carotene and fiber. Imu, the purple variety consumed by Okinawans, contains 150 percent more antioxidants than blueberries. Sweet potato consumption in Okinawa is so widespread that a statue has been erected in memory of Noguni Sokan, the man credited with bringing the sweet potato to the region.