My mother was born next to the Amazon River, deep in the jungles of Peru. As a young woman, she emigrated to Chicago and eventually married my dad. When I was a boy, her mother also came to the U.S. and settled close to us in Michigan.
I remember my grandmother’s rice and beans as one of the best of her many amazing recipes. But as fond as my memories of them are, I know many people in developed countries think otherwise.
To them, rice and beans are nothing more than inexpensive ingredients used for side dishes, while all the really good stuff goes into more sophisticated main courses.
But The Blue Zones Kitchen Cookbook’s author Dan Buettner wholeheartedly disagrees!
“Beans reign supreme in the blue zones and are the cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world,” he proclaims. “Beans are packed with more nutrients per gram than any other food on earth.”
And there’s a reason to respect the National Geographic explorer and journalist’s high opinion of lowly beans. After searching the world for its longest-living people, he found them scattered in five pockets of villages and communities where healthy, simple foods like rice and beans were standard fare.
Dubbed his “blue zones,” these pockets became the topic of Buettner’s 2008 book The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.
Several years later, he and his research team returned to those communities (his 83-year-old father accompanied them to Okinawa!). Their goal was to spend time with their residents in the kitchen, recording and helping prepare the 100 recipes featured in this 2019 book.
Buettner makes clear that while blue-zone inhabitants eat primarily plant-based foods, only a few are vegans.
That said, he draws a stark contrast between their way of eating and the Western diet built around meat, sugar and processed foods. For The Blue Zone Kitchen Cookbook, he stuck with plant-based recipes.
My favorite facts about each of the cookbook’s zones?
Sardinia, Italy’s nine Melis siblings (aged a collective 852 years) said they ate minestrone soup every single day.
In Okinawa, Japan, about 60 percent of all calories consumed come from a purple sweet potato loaded with B vitamins, potassium and the powerhouse antioxidant anthocyanin.
Nicoya, Costa Rica’s centenarian Jose Guevara recommends zucchini and cornmeal stew and a bean, potato and onion stew as his favorite meals. At 106 years old, he advises anyone seeking a long life to “start your day with fruit, eat beans at every meal, and practice absolute honesty.”
Ikaria, Greece’s blue zoners do the Mediterranean diet one better by eating seasonal, locally harvested produce whenever possible.
The last — and only American — group to qualify as a blue zone is Loma Linda, California’s Seventh Day Adventist community. One of its members, Dr. Ellsworth Wareham, claimed a diet of:
and rice- or pasta-dish dinners with “huge” helpings of salad and vegetables. Did it work?
Apparently so! Dr. Wareham continued performing heart surgery into his 90s — and lived until 104!