Author Dan Buettner has been researching blue zones—places where people live much longer than average—for 20 years as a journalist and National Geographic author. He recently traveled to five of the locations with the largest number of centenarians to develop The Blue Zones Kitchen, a cookbook aimed at helping readers better understand the lifestyles and diets of people living in longevity hotspots.
Buettner interviewed happy and healthy older people in Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, Calif., to understand and analyze their traditional diets. The book includes stories about the people Buettner met along the way. For instance, in Sardinia, he met a family that holds a Guinness World Record for long life: the family’s nine siblings have a combined age of 861 years. “Every day of their life they ate the same break- fast: sourdough bread and minestrone,” Buettner says. “That minestrone is my favorite recipe.”
Other blue zone dishes included Okinawan sweet potatoes with sesame seed oil and onion green; a simple garlic, olive oil, and tomato angel hair pasta recipe from Loma Linda; and Nicoyan black beans cooked with onions, garlic, and peppers on a toasted corn tortilla. Certain ingredients appear in recipes from multiple blue zones: cruciferous vegetables, rice, tofu, olive oil, and beans.
“People in some blue zones eat about a cup of beans a day, which probably adds four years to their live expectancy,” Buettner says. “Beans are full of fiber and protein and could cheaply replace meat in America and prevent much of the disease that is foreshortening our lives. But in America, we don’t know how to make beans taste good. In blue zones, they do.”
In his previous books—The Blue Zones, The Blue Zones of Happiness, and The Blue Zones Solution—Buettner argues that the key to longevity is a combination of factors—including daylong low-intensity physical activity, a strong sense of purpose, a supportive group of friends, and a family-first mind-set—that helps people avoid chronic disease. Since the publication of The Blue Zones, Buettner has been promoting longevity around the country and now has a full-time team of 120 people who help municipalities across America become Blue Zones Project cities. “We focus not on trying to change individual behaviors, but on helping to optimize living environments, so that the healthy choice is the easy choice,” Buettner says. “Much of that work involves lending assistance to city government to change policies to favor low-sugar and plant-based foods over junk foods.”
With The Blue Zones Kitchen, Buettner wants to continue that work by showing people how to cook delicious food that will promote longevity. In addition to providing healthy recipes, the book helps readers properly stock pantries so that it’s easy to cook nutritious foods. The book is also full of striking images that show not only delicious meals but also the kitchens where the food is cooked, the people doing the cooking, and the families eating healthy meals together. Buettner created the book with National Geographic photographer David McLain. “We weren’t interested in developing a book in a test kitchen with studio photography,” Buettner says. “We approached this book like a National Geographic assignment. All of the photography was shot in villages and homes where the recipes were made. The best way to introduce people to a healthier lifestyle is through their mouths.”