Six regions around the world are known as Blue Zones, where a combination of culture, mentality, diet and environment helps their residents live longer and healthier lives than most others.
While there are no simple rules when it comes to longevity, there are key lessons that people living in the Blue Zones can learn that can help you create and stick to new habits for healthy aging. One of those lessons lies in the food culture of a 130-kilometer-long Central American peninsula, designated a Blue Zone in the early 2000s.
People in Nicoya, Costa Rica, known for its coastal views south of the Nicaraguan border, have regularly enjoyed three foods together for at least 6,000 years, says Dan Buettner, the founder of Blue Zones LLC, in his recent docuseries . Live to be 100 years old on Netflix.
“Without a doubt, one of the reasons why the people of Nicoya live so long is that they subsist on beans, squash and corn,” Buettner says in the film. “We call them the three sisters.”
These plant-based foods are economical and convenient sources of protein that have served the people of Nicoya well into old age. Unlike the Western diet where meat is the main source of protein, beans, corn and squash provide protein at low cost and without the cholesterol and saturated fat of red meat.
“They spend a fraction of what we spend on meat and dairy, and they get all the protein they need,” Buettner says in the film. “It just goes to show that you don’t have to be rich to eat healthy.”
Here are the health benefits of the “three sisters”.
In Nicoya, families traditionally prepare tortillas by dipping corn kernels in wood ash.
“Traditional processing of corn increases the nutritional value,” Buettner explains in the film.
Tortillas are rich in complex carbohydrates, which are essential for maintaining energy. Corn itself is also high in fiber, so it digests slowly and keeps you full.
The good news is that even if you don’t make homemade tortillas, you can enjoy corn in other ways or add it to salsas, salads, or vegetable chilis.
Black beans contain antioxidants that boost the immune system, Buettner explains in the film. They are also a substantial source of protein for muscle growth and fiber to manage blood sugar levels.
Buettner advocates a daily dose of beans in his book, American cuisine from the Blue Zones: 100 recipes to live to be 100 years oldand they feature in many of his recipes.
“(Beans) reign supreme in the blue zones and are the cornerstone of all longevity diets around the world,” he writes in his book.
Beans are also more accessible than other protein sources: You can get them for less than $2 a pound, he previously said. Fortune.
Whether in soup, tacos, or on their own, beans are another easy addition to your recipe collection.
Squash is rich in vitamins A, B, and C, as well as magnesium and potassium, which are essential for bone, blood, and heart health, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Their antioxidants also help reduce oxidative stress, which can cause cell damage and disease.
Adding seasonal squash to your next dish can be a great way to start incorporating it into your diet. Fall varieties include butternut squash, acorn squash, and spaghetti squash. Consider roasting them as a side or filling them with other vegetables and grains, like quinoa and tomatoes.
The Blue Zone Way of Eating is not a strict diet, but a lesson in how combining tasty, inexpensive plant-based whole foods can be tasty and contribute to your longevity.
“Find the ingredients you love, and if you can learn how to combine them to make something delicious, you’re on your way to eating up to 100 of them,” he previously said. Fortune.
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com
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