My Dinner With Longevity Expert Dan Buettner (No Kale Required)

A few years back, I read this interesting article in The New York Times Magazine about a region in Greece where the average person has a decent chance of making it to 100! Was the fountain of youth found on the Greek Island of Icaria, you ask?

The article suggested that a healthy lifestyle was the likely reason for the local longevity…or at least that was the story they were selling. I mean if you had a fountain of youth on your island, would you let anyone know? “I just eat a lot of salad…” Hmmm…

I jest. Really napping, coffee, wine, preservative-free food, walking, and a heavy on the veggie diet may be the not so secret fountain of youth available to all of us all of these years.

Inspired by his findings, Dan Buettner, the author of the article, went on to produce a book called “The Blue Zones Solution,” which, according to food-obsessed writer  “takes a deep dive into five places around the world where people have a beguiling habit of forgetting to die.” This culinary adventure was detailed recently in the Times Style section, “My Dinner With Longevity Expert Dan Buettner (No Kale Required)”.

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The article was interesting for many reasons, but I wanted to highlight for our FIT readers that his findings suggested that there is no special cleanse or need to juice required for the average person to (potentially) elongate their life.

“People think, ‘If I eat more of this, then it’s O.K. to eat more burgers or candy,’ ” he said. Instead, as he ambled through the market dropping herbs and vegetables into his basket, he insisted that our life-extending banquet would hinge on normal affordable items that almost anyone can pick up at the grocery store. He grabbed fennel and broccoli, celery and carrots, tofu and coconut milk, a bag of frozen berries and a can of chickpeas and a jar of local honey. 

The five communities spotlighted in “The Blue Zones Solution” (published by National Geographic) depend on simple methods of cooking that have evolved over centuries, and Mr. Buettner has developed a matter-of-fact disregard for gastro-trends of all stripes. At LifeThyme, he passed by refrigerated shelves full of vogue-ish juices in hues of green, orange and purple. He shook his head and said, “Bad!”

“The glycemic index on that is as bad as Coke,” he went on, snatching a bottle of carrot juice to scan the label. “For eight ounces, there’s 14 grams of sugar. People get suckered into thinking, ‘Oh, I’m drinking this juice.’ Skip the juicing. Eat the fruit. Or eat the vegetable.” (How about a protein shake? “No,” he said.)

While many will tout the benefits of drinking juices for a denser concentration of nutrients, and as a better option between something like chips if you need something quick and on the go, the truth is, juice is high in sugar. And most juices are CRAZY expensive…so it is kind of a relief to hear that they are not a needed solution to our desire to look and feel better.

Moreover, Mr. Buettner suggests that high impact exercise is also potentially unnecessary. We have discussed the benefits of simply walking many, many times on this blog, and it looks like Mr. Buettner agrees.

It turns out that walking is a popular mode of transport in the Blue Zones, too — particularly on the sun-splattered slopes of Sardinia, Italy, where many of those who make it to 100 are shepherds who devote the bulk of each day to wandering the hills and treating themselves to sips of red wine.

“A glass of wine is better than a glass of water with a Mediterranean meal,” Mr. Buettner told me.

Red wine and long walks? If that’s all it takes, people, you’re looking at Methuselah.

O.K., yes, Mr. Buettner moves his muscles a lot more than I do. He likes to go everywhere on that fold-up bike, which he hauls along with him on trips, and sometimes he does yoga and goes in-line skating. But he generally believes that the high-impact exercise mania as practiced in the major cities of the United States winds up doing as much harm as good.

“You can’t be pounding your joints with marathons and pumping iron,” he said. “You’ll never see me doing CrossFit.”

Anyone who follows this blog knows how much the FITgals disagree with the CrossFit mentality. You should be working with a trainer to design a program that is right for you, and on the days you can’t get to the gym, ensure that you get those 10,000 steps.

It really can be this simple: healthful veggie-focused eating and walking a lot.

And yes…you read the above section correctly. Mr. Buettner also gives the thumbs-up to drinking WINE and COFFEE!! Walking, veggies, wine and coffee! No crazy expensive, disgusting powders. No super restrictive “diet”. Sounds pretty good to me…

Until he says to cut the cheese. (I love cheese…)

What are longevity no-no’s according to Mr. Buettner?

  1. Dairy (especially butter ) to which Mr. Buettner says: “My view is that butter, lard and other animal fats are a bit like radiation: a dollop a couple of times a week probably isn’t going to hurt you, but we don’t know the safe level…”
  2. Animal Fat: “Although it is by no means a stealth vegan manifesto, “The Blue Zones Solution” frequently mentions that men and women in these longevity-friendly regions tend to eat meat and fish only sparingly, and they almost never tangle with cow’s milk.”

Ok…so he says you can eat it, just not a lot. Moderation. I can totally do that.

Can you??

I hope this article inspires you to get back to the basics and stop searching for the fountain of youth. That fountain may just be in the veggie aisle…

Hope you are enjoying your summer FIT-friends!




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