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Health and Longevity Updated

Published on: May 22 2015

The Weekend Essay for The Wall Street Journal (subscription might be required) reports on a detailed study of  people on the island of Sardinia off Italy who have extraordinary longevity. At first, researchers assumed genetics played a major role. After further research, they concluded genetics weren’t a factor. Instead, diet, exercise, family, and community played major roles. The dietary research shows that carbohydrates are fine as long as they are complex carbohydrates, not the refined stuff that’s prevalent in the west.

More than 65% of what people in the blue zones ate came from complex carbohydrates: sweet potatoes in Okinawa, Japan; wild greens in Ikaria, Greece; squash and corn in Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula. Their diet consists mainly of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and other carbohydrates. They eat meat but only small amounts, about five times a month, usually on celebratory occasions.

The cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world was the humble bean. One five-country study showed that beans were the only food that predicted a longer life—for each 20-gram serving (about two tablespoons) eaten a day, the chance of dying dropped by 8%. Fava beans in Sardinia, black beans in Costa Rica, lentils in Ikaria, soybeans in Okinawa. Seventh-Day Adventists, America’s longest-lived subculture, eat all kinds of beans, taking their cue from God’s injunction, in the book of Genesis, to eat the fruits of “seed-bearing plants.”


Americans spend about $110 billion a year on diets, exercise programs and supplements, but self-discipline is a muscle that fatigues. Research shows that such short-term efforts fail for almost everyone in less than three years. By contrast, successful strategies to avoid disease and yield longevity require decades of adherence—or entire lifetimes

For enduring gains in health in the U.S., we should shift our tactics away from trying to change individual behavior to optimizing our surroundings. We should make healthy choices not only easy, but also sometimes unavoidable—so that longevity “just happens” to Americans.



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