For my topic today, I wish to propose an incendiary hypothesis on the “Blue Zones” diet, which has gotten a lot of press lately. For the purpose of this discussion, I plan to compare the diet and lifestyle choices of two out of the five long-lived cultures examined by Dan Buettner in his iconic book, i.e. the Ikarians and Okinawans. After reading about the diet/lifestyle of the Ikarians, I noticed right away that the staples in their diet comprised mostly wild greens, potatoes, feta cheese, black-eyed peas, chickpeas and lemons, Mediterranean herbs, coffee, honey, occasional meat and poultry, and of course fish, whereas the Okinawan diet consisted mostly of bitter melons, tofu, sweet potatoes, garlic, turmeric, brown rice, green tea, shiitake mushrooms, seaweeds, and of course fish as the primary protein source. With the exception of the commonality of potatoes, we can see that these two long-lived societies are not consuming any particular “magic foods” common to both that are getting them to their 100th birthday.
I therefore propose that the true success underlying both diets and lifestyles is in fact exclusionary in nature. The Ikarians and Okinawans are not surviving happily and healthily into their tenth and eleventh decade only because of the foods that they are eating, but even more so because of the foods that they are not eating, i.e. highly processed “edible food-like substances”, as I call them, such as Twinkies, Big Macs and Papa John’s pizza. Neither do these folks sit around all day on their rear ends glued to the television or a computer. They are not stuck in rush hour traffic and smog inside cars or texting and obsessively Tweeting or Facebooking. They don’t sweat the small stuff. They are mentally strong and resilient, without having to take antidepressants. They don’t drink too much alcohol or swallow a dozen pharmaceuticals every day to deal with the symptoms of a lifestyle that is an evolutionary mismatch. They abide in close-knit communities in loving relationships. As they grow older, they are treated with affection and reverence by younger members of their community. They live in harmony with nature. Their exposome is not polluted with carcinogenic toxins. They are not obsessed with the accumulation of objects and material wealth. In other words, they live lives that are pretty much the complete opposite of our Western debauched consumerist culture that so many of us arrogantly declare is the “greatest country on Earth”.
Please don’t get me wrong. I love the indomitable spirit and tireless innovations of Americans. I owe this country an immeasurable debt of gratitude, after she took me in as a refugee from Communist Hungary back in 1969. But let’s not kid ourselves! We Americans could learn a great deal from “Blue Zone” cultures like Ikaria and Okinawa, as previously delineated in this post. We have a tendency here in the West to confuse economic prosperity with genuine happiness and contentment, and most of us do not attend to our mental and physical wellbeing. If you want to live to see your ninth or tenth decade, in good health, you should start by first eliminating the specific foods and environmental inputs that are clearly harmful to your health, before obsessing over exactly which healthful foods are better than others. Chickpeas or sweet potatoes? Just set down the bag of Doritos and you’re already halfway to where you need to be! By taking this simple exclusionary approach, I guarantee that the foods which will be left in your diet are all good for your health. I would welcome some feedback on my ‘exclusionary hypothesis’.