Discovering Blue Zones In America

Dan Buettner

A recipe of plant-forward cuisine coupled with human connection can lower your risk of chronic disease and add years to your life.

image of Dan Buettner

In this Episode of The Human Upgrade™...

Dan Buettner joins the show to talk about the origins and food foundations of Blue Zones. He discusses how they were discovered, what makes them different, and what’s changed for people living there over the past few decades. And the big question—is it still possible to live to 100?

Dan, an explorer, National Geographic Fellow, award-winning journalist and producer, and photographer, has studied and written extensively about the five places in the world—dubbed Blue Zones—where people live the longest, healthiest, and often happiest lives. He’s partnered with epidemiologists, anthropologists, medical researchers, demographers, and statisticians to take a data-based approach to everything from genetics to census data.

Combining this intensive research with cultural immersion, Dan’s brought out aspects of Blue Zones lifestyles—like food and social connection—that form a foundation for human life quality and longevity. He’s the bestselling author of a series of Blue Zone books, including one on happiness. “Longevity and happiness right now are so interlaced, you can’t pull the two apart,” he says.

The five nutritional pillars of every Blue Zone diet are whole grains, greens, tubers like sweet potatoes, nuts, and then beans,” Dan explains. “Ninety to 100 percent of their calories come from whole food, plant-based sources. In a word, they eat a high carbohydrate diet—about 65% complex carbohydrates, not simple carbohydrates.”

In Dan’s latest Blue Zones adventure, he took a road trip across the United States to explore food and communities. He found that pockets of Blue Zones do exist throughout the U.S. He talked to heritage cooks passing on recipes to younger generations. He uncovered the traditional roots of plant-forward cuisine in the United States and presents both traditional and revolutionary ideas in vegetarian food in his newest book, “The Blue Zones American Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100.” Stunning photography and recipes show the vitality of both food and people from five distinct areas:

  • Indigenous, Native & Early American
  • African American
  • Latin American
  • Asian American
  • Regional and Contemporary American

Dan also dug deep into the country’s food history and brings to light the dramatic changes in food processing, regulation, government intervention, and leadership choices that have influenced food supply. He combed through 60 oral histories, scientific reports and academic papers to reconstruct traditional American diets. In “The Blue Zones American Kitchen,” you’ll find out why the 1970s were the worst decade for America’s food environment.

Listen on to learn how a Blue Zones lifestyle—right at home in your own kitchen—can help you avoid chronic illness and live longer.

“The same things that are driving longevity also drive happiness: getting enough sleep, having a sense of purpose, being socially connected, and having low stress.”

Dan Buettner

More about Dan Buettner: Dan’s articles about the Blue Zones in The New York Times Magazine and National Geographic are two of the most popular for both publications. He’s appeared on The Today Show, Oprah, NBC Nightly News, and Good Morning America. He keynoted speeches at TEDMED and Google Zeitgeist. He was named as “One of the Best of Davos” at the Davos World Economic Forum in 2018.

He works in partnership with municipal governments, large employers, and health insurance companies to implement Blue Zones Projects in communities, workplaces, and universities. These well-being initiatives apply Blue Zones lessons to entire communities by focusing on changes to the local environment, public policy, and social networks. To date, the program has dramatically improved the health of more than 5 million Americans.

Fun Fact: Dan previously set three Guinness World Records in distance cycling: Americastrek, a 15,500-mile ride from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina; Sovietrek, 12,888 miles around the world; and Africatrek, a 12,172-mile ride across Africa across the Sahara, through equatorial Congo, and to the continent’s southern tip.

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