A Gut-Healthy Blue Zone Recipe From The World's Longest-Lived People (2024)

Recipes

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December 10, 2022

New York Times Bestselling Author

By Dan Buettner

New York Times Bestselling Author

Dan Buettner is a National Geographic Fellow and bestselling author who discovered and reported on the Blue Zones.

A Gut-Healthy Blue Zone Recipe From The World's Longest-Lived People (3)

Image by David Mclain / David Mclain

December 10, 2022

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For his latest book, The Blue Zones American Kitchen, Blue Zone founder Dan Buettner traveled across the U.S. to uncover American food traditions that aresimilar to the diets of the world's longest-lived people. In this excerpt, Buettner samples the nutritious, delicious cuisine of Chinese Americans living in Hawaii and shares a recipe you can prepare at home.

It's a sultry Friday afternoon in suburban Honolulu, where 95-year-old Ruth Chang prepares lunch. With an enormous cleaver in each hand, she vigorously minces root vegetables. The menacing blades clash with her mother-of-pearl earrings and leopard-print loafers. "I cook every day," she informs me matter-of-factly, her silver bob bouncing to the staccato beat of her chopping. "Once you stop, you lose it."

I'm here thanks to my old friend Bradley Willcox, who, along with his brother, Craig, and economist Makoto Suzuki, authored The Okinawa Program. Willcox is currently a professor and director of research at the Department of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. When I asked him to introduce me to an older Chinese American woman who might be willing to cook with me, he instantly replied, "Ruth is the one. I'll join you."

Ruth shuttles food from the kitchen to a lazy Susan on her dining room table with a Chihuahua's energy and a ballerina's grace. Steaming, delicious-smelling platters of Savory Garlic Tofu With Minced Mushrooms (recipe below) and Veggie Noodle Stir-Fry arrive. Craig, David, my dad, and I look on hungrily. "This food has maybe a fifth the caloric density of a hamburger and 10 times the nutrients," Craig says, rotating the garlic tofu in his direction. "So you can eat to your stomach's content and never gain weight."

Ruth represents a demographic that may be the longest-lived in the world.

According to a study by professor of public health and social work Kathryn Braun and her colleagues at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Chinese American women living in Hawaii enjoy 90 years of life expectancy1. That's two years longer than women in Hong Kong (currently the longest-lived country in the world) and 3.1 years longer than women in Okinawa (previously the world's longest-lived). Part of the explanation lies in the unique diet of Chinese Americans living in Hawaii.

By 1830, Chinese immigrants began arriving in Hawaii as contract agricultural laborers (and later in the continental United States largely to work in gold mines). Japanese and Korean immigrants came later, and in the early 20th century, so did Filipinos. Each group brought their own dishes and ingredients with them. The Chinese brought leafy cabbage, soybean products, and teas. The Japanese contributed miso and their own version of tofu. Filipinos introduced seaweed (for umami) and tender tips of plants such as squash, pumpkin, cowpeas, and sweet potato vines, which they add to stews. Meanwhile, Krishnendu Ray, a food studies scholar at New York University and the author of The Migrant's Table, tells me that immigrants from central Europe brought their cows, pigs, and pickles. "It was Asian immigrants who taught Americans how to eat greens," he says. "In their countries, they couldn't afford meat, so they learned how to make vegetables taste good, largely through cooking technique and use of herbs."

East Asians have immigrated to the United States for more than 250 years, and the U.S. experienced enormous Southeast Asian migrations in the late 20th century.

Only a handful of dietary studies were recorded before World War II. Between 1896 and 1903, the University of California, Berkeley, professor Myer Edward Jaffa and his students studied the food consumption of 10 Chinese laundry workers, a dozen fieldworkers, and a dentist's family living in and around San Francisco. He found their diets consisted largely of rice, noodles, and tofu. The laundry workers consumed yams, wheat bread, sprouts, mustard greens, dried fungus, and water chestnuts. Though their hard labor had them consuming more than 4,200 calories daily, less than 25% of those calories came from animal products, and only 5.5% came from sugar.

Today, Hawaii is arguably the best place in America to experience Asian fusion cuisine. Many traditional Asian herbs and vegetables thrive in the fertile soil and mild climate of Hawaii. And throughout the island state, plantation systems—where several ethnicities shared a communal kitchen—became de facto fusion laboratories that have influenced the cuisine of today.

Savory Garlic Tofu With Minced Mushrooms

Serves 4

Serve this vegetarian dish over rice with a dash of chilies in vinegar on the side.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 5 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 6 to 8 fresh mushrooms, finely chopped
  • ¼ onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons cooking wine
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • 1 tablespoon black bean garlic sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce, or more to taste
  • 1½ cups vegetable broth
  • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • ½ teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
  • 1 pound firm tofu, drained and cut into ¾-inch cubes
  • 1 green onion, chopped

Method:

  1. Heat the oil in a wok or large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic begins to turn golden brown on the edges, 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Add the mushrooms and onion and cook, stirring, for another 5 minutes, until the onion is soft and translucent.
  3. Add the wine, hoisin sauce, black bean garlic sauce, and chili garlic sauce, and cook for 1 minute.
  4. Add the broth, white pepper, vinegar, sugar, and sesame oil, and bring to a simmer. With the mixture bubbling, stir in the cornstarch mixture and cook, stirring, for 1 minute, until the sauce thickens.
  5. Stir in the tofu and simmer for another 2 minutes, stirring gently.
  6. Serve hot, garnished with the green onion, over rice.

Adapted from an excerpt from The Blue Zones American Kitchen: 100 Recipes To Live to 100 by Dan Buettner (2022) with permission from the publisher.

A Gut-Healthy Blue Zone Recipe From The World's Longest-Lived People (2024)

FAQs

What is the diet of the Blue Zone kitchen? ›

SEE THAT YOUR DIET IS 95-100 PERCENT PLANT-BASED

Combined with seasonal fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and beans dominate blue zones meals all year long. Many oils derive from plants, and they are all preferable to animal-based fats.

What are the anti inflammatory foods that the longest living people on the planet eat every day? ›

Vegetables, greens, salads and bean soups with fennel, fava beans, chickpeas and tomatoes. Goat and sheep's milk products, which have anti-inflammatory properties and have been found to lower bad cholesterol.

What foods increase longevity in the Blue Zone? ›

The best of the best longevity foods in the Blue Zones diet are leafy greens such as spinach, kale, beet and turnip tops, chard, and collards. In Ikaria more than 75 varieties of edible greens grow like weeds; many contain ten times the polyphenols found in red wine.

Is the Blue Zone diet legit? ›

A healthy diet is one of the Blue Zones' 'Power 9,' but Dr Newman told The Sydney Morning Herald that there is no proof supporting the Blue Zone diet advice. He said: 'People are being sold this illusion there are these islands where people live forever. Look at the number of people who buy into the dietary advice.

Do blue zones eat eggs? ›

Eggs are consumed in all five Blue Zones diets, where people eat them an average of two to four times per week. Cut down your consumption of cow's milk and dairy products such as cheese, cream, and butter. Try unsweetened soy, coconut, or almond milk as a dairy alternative.

What do people in the blue zone eat for breakfast? ›

Buettner said that people in the Okinawa Blue Zone usually eat a miso soup for breakfast with root vegetables and tofu. The meal was traditionally made with a purple sweet potato, he said, that was steamed or sauteed with garlic, sesame oil, and green onions.

What is the number one food that kills inflammation? ›

1. Avocados. Avocados are often sought after for their creamy texture and satiating taste. But they are also powerhouses when it comes to fighting inflammation.

What drink kills inflammation? ›

Here are seven research-backed drinks that can help fight inflammation in your body.
  • Baking soda + water. ...
  • Parsley + ginger green juice. ...
  • Lemon + turmeric tonic. ...
  • Bone broth. ...
  • Functional food smoothie. ...
  • Matcha anti-inflammatory tonic. ...
  • Greens and berries smoothie.
Mar 16, 2023

What is the number one food to fight inflammation? ›

Research shows that vitamin K-rich leafy greens like spinach and kale, berries, and yellow and orange fruits and vegetables may be particularly protective. Whole grains. The fiber in oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat bread, and other whole grains may help with inflammation. Beans.

What is the one food for longevity? ›

While longevity foods come from a variety of different food groups (which is key for promoting overall nutrient diversity), one overarching principle of diets linked to long life is that they consist predominantly of whole or minimally processed, nutrient-dense plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes, and ...

What is the best drink for longevity? ›

Let's discover together some beverages that strengthen our bodies and benefit our health.
  • Green tea.
  • Black tea.
  • Black coffee.
  • Red wine.
  • Water.

What are the 5 foods for longevity? ›

The 5 foods longevity expert Dr. Mark Hyman eats each day to stay biologically 20 years younger than his age
  • Cruciferous vegetables.
  • Olive oil.
  • Nuts.
  • Berries.
  • Green tea.
Feb 13, 2024

Is oatmeal part of the Blue Zone diet? ›

Grains are a large part of the blue zone diet; however, consumption of grains is limited to whole grains such as oats, barley, corn, whole grain pastas, brown rice, and quinoa. Wheat is part of the blue zone diets, but processing of such is minimal.

Is cheese part of the Blue Zone diet? ›

Avoid dairy when possible. If cheese is a must, try ice-cube size portions of sheep (pecorino) or goat (feta) cheese to flavor foods. If you eat eggs, limit intake to three times a week.

Is oatmeal a Blue Zone food? ›

When it comes to whole grains, residents of the Blue Zones often choose oatmeal for breakfast.

Do Blue Zones eat cheese? ›

Avoid dairy when possible. If cheese is a must, try ice-cube size portions of sheep (pecorino) or goat (feta) cheese to flavor foods. If you eat eggs, limit intake to three times a week.

What foods should people in the blue zone avoid? ›

The diet is mostly plant-based. The daily food intake of people living in Blue Zones is about 95% vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes. They do not eat much meat, dairy, sugary foods or drinks, and processed food. Food is not the only reason that people in Blue Zones live long, healthy lives.

Do Blue Zones eat bread? ›

People in Blue Zones areas eat very little bread, but when they do, they predominantly eat sourdough. Unlike other breads made from white flour, sourdough bread doesn't cause spikes in blood sugar. Substitute sourdough or 100% whole-grain bread for white bread, and be mindful of your serving size.

Do Blue Zones eat rice? ›

Grains including oats, barley, brown rice, and ground corn (not so much wheat) play a key role in the world's blue zone diets.

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