For secrets to living a long, healthy life, many people turn to the habits of people in the Blue Zones. These are areas in Italy, Greece, Japan, Costa Rica, the United States and more, where people regularly live into their 90s and 100s.
Bestselling author Dan Buettner has made it his life’s work to shine a light on these communities and understand their lifestyles, uncovering the habits that help them live longer than most of us.
In a recent social media post, he shared the meal that “the longest-lived family in the world” eats every day.
The Melis family, from Sardinia, Italy, holds a world record for longevity. They took the Guinness World Record title for the highest combined age for nine living siblings in 2012.
“Nine siblings, collective age: 861 years. Oldest sibling is 109. Every day of their life, they had the exact same lunch,” Buettner said in the video.
The 1 meal the longest living family eats everyday
“The longest-lived family in the world eats this meal every single day,” Buettner wrote in the Instagram post. The meal consists of:
- Three-bean minestrone (garbanzo, pinto, and white bean)
- Sourdough bread
- A glass of red wine (2-3 ounces)
While many factors besides what you eat will play a role in how long you live, this meal exemplifies what Buettner calls the Blue Zones diet, which emphasizes whole foods and plants.
3-bean minestrone soup
Buettner said the family eats a chunky minestrone made with a variety of garden vegetables grown nearby, and it always contains three types of beans: garbanzo, pinto and white bean.
“People who live the longest, healthiest lives tend to eat half a cup to a cup of beans daily. Plus, the soup is rich in vegetables, which are top longevity foods,” Samantha Cassetty, a registered dietitian based in New York City and the co-author of “Sugar Shock,” tells TODAY.com.
“It’s also noteworthy that the soup uses three types of beans and multiple vegetables. Research suggests that eating 30 unique plant foods per week can improve your gut diversity, a marker of a healthy gut. Your gut regulates health functions, like blood pressure and cholesterol, inflammation, mood, weight and nutrient absorption, so you’ll be more likely to live a longer and healthier life if you have a healthy gut,” Cassetty explains.
While bread often gets a bad rep, it can be part of a healthy diet —and choosing a sourdough variety can be especially beneficial for gut health.
“People in the Blue Zones eat fermented foods daily. Naturally fermented sourdough bread … doesn’t produce the same blood-sugar spikes that white bread does, helping maintain healthier blood-sugar levels. Over time, high blood sugar can contribute to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes,” says Cassetty. “Plus, there’s evidence that the resistant starch in sourdough bread may contribute to other health benefits, like increased satiety and better insulin sensitivity.”
A glass of wine
Buettner stressed that the family enjoys a “small” glass of wine, 2 or 3 ounces, half of a typical 5-ounce serving.
“Alcohol can raise your good HDL cholesterol levels, but even a drink a day is associated with other health risks,” says Cassetty. “However, they may be drinking less than a drink a day. It’s also possible that wine boosts the enjoyment of their meal, and that’s a factor that often gets overlooked when we’re talking about healthy lifestyles.”
And as Buettner pointed out, they didn’t choose this meal because “my diet requires me to do it.’ No, they loved it.”
Cassetty adds: “Keep in mind that this meal is eaten in the presence of loved ones. Maintaining a strong social circle helps improve happiness and combat loneliness, bringing additional health benefits beyond the nutrients in the meal.”
Is this a balanced, plant-based meal?
A few commenters inquired about this lunch not containing enough protein, a common concern about plant-based meals. But this meal does deliver in the protein department.
“A typical minestrone soup has 8 grams of protein per cup, but most people eat more than that,” says Cassetty. “A can of soup has closer to 2 cups, so you could get about 16 grams of plant-based protein from the soup. Sourdough bread can add another 4 grams of protein, bringing the total protein to roughly 20 grams.”
“A balanced meal contains mostly whole, plant foods and adequate protein. This meal certainly fits the bill,” adds Cassetty. “You can get all the protein you need from plants as long as you’re meeting your calorie needs and varying your protein sources.”
For those with higher protein needs, she recommends adding more beans to the soup, but also reminds us that it’s smart to spread your protein intake throughout the day rather than consuming all your protein in a single meal.
Is eating the same meal every day a healthy choice?
Eating the same exact thing every day can sometimes be a red flag for dietitians, but Cassetty says this meal gets the green light.
“I’d be concerned if someone was eating the same thing every day if it lacked plant diversity or was low in plant foods, but this meal is 100% plant-based and has a lot of variety within the meal,” says Cassetty. “Also, you can mix up the veggies in the soup using what’s in season, so that will add more plant variety to your diet.”
Eating the same midday meal can also help take the stress out of meal planning.
“One thing people struggle with is making decisions about what to eat. This can be a real challenge when juggling family, work and other priorities,” says Cassetty. “Eating the same meal for lunch daily reduces decision fatigue, which can lower your stress levels. So, having the same meal on repeat can be an appropriate stress-busting routine, and reducing stress has health benefits and is a tenet of the Blue Zones philosophy.”
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