In his study of what he terms the “Blue
Zones,” National Geographic Fellow and explorer, Dan Buettner,
identifies the five regions where people enjoy not only the longest
life spans but also the most abundant health spans.
His studies focus on Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda,
California; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and the islands of
Dan describes asking a 102-year-old Okinawan woman what it
feels like to hold her great-great-great-granddaughter. She tells him that “it
feels like leaping into heaven.”
Most of us fear growing old. But in the Blue Zones, many
people look forward to it.
Perhaps we all would if we had role models like Dr. Ellsworth
Wareham, a surgeon from Loma Linda, who still enjoyed his practice in the
operating room at age 95 — conducting open-heart surgery on 20 patients every
month. (Dr. Wareham retired in 2009, and lived happily until his passing at the
ripe age of 104.)
Remarkably, despite spanning the globe, all of the
Blue Zone regions have a number of things in common.
- Strong social and family ties;
Low rates of smoking;
- A plant-rich and predominantly (though not
often exclusively) vegetarian diet; and
- Enjoyment of consistent and moderate physical
Inspired to explore the overarching principles that lead to
positive outcomes, Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center founding director,
David Katz, MD, assembled a global coalition of experts called the True Health
My dad and colleague, John Robbins, and I are both members
of this initiative. And we’re joined by more than 450 of the world’s leading
doctors, scientists, researchers, clinicians, and health advocates.
Our goal is to clarify and communicate an emerging
consensus that there is a way of eating and living that massively promotes
longevity, vitality, and overall health.
Our overarching conclusion, which is reflected in the
findings from all the Blue Zones, is summarized in Michael Pollan’s famous
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
What It Means to “Eat Food”
By “eat food,” we mean “eat real food,” not
food-like substances that make up most of the calories in the modern
diet in the industrialized world.
On this point, there’s little controversy. We find
vast agreement among very nearly every scientist and research organization in
the world, calling for us to eat fresh, whole foods that are grown and
produced sustainably and that are minimally processed (if they are processed at
The good news is that real foods don’t tend to
stimulate addiction. They provide more nutrition than calories. This means
that when you eat them, it’s easier to feel full and deeply satisfied while
eating “not too much.”
What It Means to Eat “Mostly Plants”
And what about eating “mostly plants”?
We now know that plant foods, and in particular
fresh vegetables and fruits, are the most concentrated sources of many of the
nutrients the human body needs in order to thrive.
Fruits and vegetables provide antioxidants,
phytochemicals, phytosterols, fiber,
and probiotics, essential fats and proteins,
vitamins, and minerals.
Flavonoids, with their tremendous nutritive value, are the
pigments that give plants their colors — like the deep blue of blueberries,
the purple in
grapes, the orange in pumpkins, the green in leafy greens, and the red of
In general, the darker orange the carrot, or the darker
green the leaf, the more nutritious and flavorful it will be. You may have
noticed that as vegetables age, they become pale. This reflects a decline in
nutrition and flavor.
Researcher Alec Baxt once ran a fascinating experiment. He
tested a variety of carrots for their nutrient density.
He distributed representative samples to volunteers and had
them rate the carrots on flavor. The ones that people said tasted the
most “carrot-y,” bursting with the most flavor, were also the ones that offered
the highest nutrient value.
When you cook with fresh fruits and vegetables, the flavors
speak with a distinct elegance and boldness.
The taste of a midsummer heirloom tomato, perhaps lightly
seasoned with sea salt, is incomparably more delicious than a beefsteak tomato
that was picked green and then trucked thousands of miles. The same goes for
eating an orchard-fresh apple —
it has a crisp, snappy sweetness that conveys a refreshing sparkle.
The good news is that when you eat “mostly plants,” you
walk on the earth with a lighter footprint, which means you help save forests,
water, topsoil, animals, and our climate from suffering and destruction.
All while providing your body the whole portfolio of nutrients that it needs to
What About Meat, Fish, Eggs, and Dairy?
There is a very strong agreement among informed researchers
that the vast majority of people would greatly benefit from eating more
plant foods and fewer (if any) foods derived from animals.
Might some people be healthier if they include a small
amount of pasture-raised or wild animal products in their diets? That is a
subject of much debate — possibly because the answer isn’t the same for
But the average American gets 34% of calories
from meat, dairy,
and eggs, while less than 6% of calories come from vegetables and less than 3%
come from fruits. Without question, that is far too few vegetables, not
nearly enough fruits, and far too much meat, dairy, and eggs.
And we know with certainty that industrialized animal
agriculture is a nightmare for
the planet, and is extraordinarily cruel to animals.
For almost all of us, and for the future of life on Earth,
the optimal direction seems clear: mostly (if not entirely) plants.
The Eating Plan I Recommend