Episode 141 – The Blue Zones Theory

Key Topics Covered

Blue zone countries on the world map.

This ‘Blue Zones’ theory is in reference to the book by Dan Buettner, and the Netflix series.

Blue Zones Background

  • There are populations and areas where people are significantly more likely to live to 100 years old, in comparison to the average American. These are called the ‘Blue Zones’.
  • For context, according to Google, the average lifespan in America is 77 years old, whereas in Australia it is 83 years old.
  • A lot of these populations have many factors in common, but there are also plenty of differences.
  • The goal of the series was to identify common themes while acknowledging the differences. 

Common Themes Identified

Unprocessed plant based meal.

  • Community and social connection, either with family or friends.
  • They live low-stress lives but also have a sense of purpose.
  • Lots of physical activity. For example, frequent gardening or walking up and down hills.
  • Lower calorie intake.
  • Stopping eating when 80% full.
  • Higher plant-based intake. While they follow higher-carb diets, they are often quite high in fibre and micronutrients.
  • Low intakes of processed foods.

More Complicated Components

Wine and food with view in blue zone country.

  • They often drink alcohol. Although not a large amount, they do typically drink regularly.
  • They don’t seem obsessed with health. Although they engage in healthy behaviors, they’re not trying excessively hard.
    • Loma Linda is the exception to this – 7th day adventist related since that has an emphasis on health.
    • Some people have also questioned the accuracy of stats e.g. some places have issues with birth certificate documentation.
    • There is a bit of a plant-based bias. In the book, the author mentioned multiple times how surprising he found it that these people ate animal products at all. He clearly assumed going into this that a plant-based diet is what he predicted would be optimal.
      • In the show, the Loma Linda section was a bit harsh on meat and how big of a risk factor it is, on its own, for many conditions.
    • Some people have highlighted that these populations often have comparatively lower protein intakes. But is it about the protein, or everything else?

Addressing These Components

Alcohol 

  • It’s probably more appropriate to view this as “consuming wine occasionally may not be an issue for longevity” rather than “wine is beneficial for longevity”.
  • The antioxidant aspect tends to get mentioned with this e.g. resveratrol. However, to get a meaningful amount you would have to consume this in very large quantities.
  • The current scientific consensus is that drinking alcohol in any amount isn’t better than not drinking.
  • That is purely from a nutrition perspective though. Other factors such as stress and cultural and social components that may be associated with alcohol can have downstream positive effects.

Protein

  • We actually see a lot of benefits in research from increasing protein intake later in life.
  • This contributes to longevity by helping muscle retention and reducing muscle wasting.
  • But one of the most difficult things about assessing that is clearly staying active and exercising is far more important. 
  • Again, this shouldn’t be viewed as “You should follow a relatively low protein intake.” Our interpretation is that all the other components matter much more than that. 

Summary

The principles in the Blue Zones are pretty decent overall, however, it is still important to understand the nuance behind some of the points.

Relevant Blogs / Resources

Studies