Have you read about “Blue Zones”? They are five regions in Europe, Latin America, and Asia that U.S. researchers have identified as having the highest concentrations of people over age 100 in the world. A National Geographic explorer, Dan Buettner, studied these five communities to see what they might have in common. The results can be found in his book “The Blue Zone Solutions: Eating Like the World’s Healthiest People.”
There are several similarities among these communities, beyond their diet. One is that they have a high degree of social connection to family and community. They put family ahead of other concerns, and people of all ages are socially active and integrated into their communities. They smoke less and are more active as well. I found this aspect interesting because such strong community and family ties are not that unusual in many close knit ethnic or religious groups, who have a similar lifestyle–strong family and community ties, less smoking, more exercise.
One apparent distinguishing factor is diet: all of the Blue Zone communities eat a lot of legumes, and if they eat meat it is, on average, only about 4 or 5 times per month! And they “almost never tangle with cow’s milk” or its products. The majority of their food consumed comes from plants.
Only one of the Blue Zone groups is in the United States. A community of Seventh Day Adventist Church members in Loma Linda, CA were among the five world wide groups of healthiest people on earth. This caught my attention because my brother is a member of the Seventh Day church, and my sister has been closely involved with a Seventh Day wellness center in Northern CA called Weimar Institute. Coincidentally, my brother, my sister and I have all moved toward a plant based diet at the same time for varying reasons.
Because the health of the Loma Linda community is so much better than their neighbors, they have been the subject of numerous longitudinal studies since 1958 from the Loma Linda University School of Public Health. The results are compelling. Not only do they live longer, but studies have shown that they have a lower risk of heart disease, several cancers, high blood pressure, arthritis and diabetes! In the current study, more than 96,000 Adventists are participating. (This study is also one of the largest health studies of Black/African Americans and aims to help answer why Black/African Americans have a disproportionate amount of cancers and heart disease). Since Adventists share many similar lifestyle characteristics (e.g. non-smokers, strong social connections, etc.), their diet could explain the differences in health. The dietary status of the participants are as follows:
- 8% are vegan (No red meat, fish, poultry, dairy or eggs)
- 28% are lacto-ovo vegetarian (Consume milk and/or eggs, but no red meat, fish or poultry)
- 10% are pesco-vegetarian (Eat fish, milk and eggs but no red meat or poultry)
- 6% are semi-vegetarian (Eat red meat, poultry and fish less than once per week)
- 48% are non-vegetarian (Eat red meat, poultry, fish, milk and eggs more than once a week)
I hope you will take some time to explore the preliminary findings of this research, but a brief summary is below:
Our data show a progressive weight increase from a total vegetarian diet toward a non-vegetarian diet. For instance, 55-year-old male and female vegans weigh about 30 pounds less than non-vegetarians of similar height. Additionally, levels of cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, and the metabolic syndrome all had the same trend – the closer you are to being a vegetarian, the lower the health risk in these areas. In the case of type 2 diabetes, prevalence in vegans and lacto-ovo vegetarians was half that of non-vegetarians, even after controlling for socioeconomic and lifestyle factors.