OK, educate: I don’t want to die at 50. What do I do?
The first step is to think about who you hang out with.
There’s no silver bullet for longevity. I’m not gonna tell you to take a pill. If your three best friends are obese, there’s a good chance you will be. Surrounding yourself with people who don’t smoke or drink too much and who have a spiritual component in their lives has a profound impact over time. Cut out the toxic people in your life and spend time and effort augmenting your social circle with people who have the right values and a healthy lifestyle.
What’s the most important dietary change?
It’s very clear that the more meat you eat, the earlier you die. Cut out as much meat as you can. Don’t cut it out completely. That’s boring. Maybe go down to twice a week. That will have a huge effect. Have turkey on Thanksgiving, but don’t have it every night.
Does fish count?
Yes. None of the Blue Zone populations eat a significant amount of fish. All I can tell you is that it’s animal protein, and none of these cultures eat very much of it. You’re better off with a plant-based diet; that’s indisputable. Longevity is much more a function of what you don’t eat than what you do eat. The only proven way to slow down aging in mammals is caloric restrictions. We should take in about 40 percent fewer calories than we normally eat—but that’s unrealistic. Instead, try the 80 percent rule. In Okinawa they say hara hachi bu, which means eat until you are 80 percent full. How can you consciously cut out 20 percent of your calories? For one thing, eat off of a smaller plate—as Okinawans do. Use a ten-inch plate instead of a 13-inch plate, which is a common size in the U.S.
But booze is OK?
It is. I was most amazed when we discovered that Sardinian wine had at least triple the amount of antioxidants of any known wine, and Sardinians drink this wine with great frequency and gusto. So you say, wow, here’s an easy explanation. But it’s not that simple. You don’t see that in Okinawa, for example. They drink some sake, but not much.
I found it surprising that all of the Blue Zones consume pork, which probably has the worst reputation in the U.S.
Pork is interesting. It’s an anomaly and I would not have guessed it, but I can’t deny it. One Okinawan scientist studied this. His theory, and I’m not sure I agree with it completely, is that because pig is the most genetically similar to humans, there’s something in the pork protein that helps repair arterial damage. What he cites is that in America we die of heart disease and the Japanese tend to die of strokes, but in Okinawa they have fewer strokes. This is part of the reason they live longer. The doctor theorizes that it’s because they eat more pork than any other prefecture of Japan, and pork protein serves almost as caulking.
Sardinians eat a lot of bread and cheese. I guess that means that not all carbs are evil?
You should eat some fat, some protein, and some carbs. None of them are evil; it’s when the balance gets out of whack that you get into trouble. These diets [like Atkins, or the low-fat craze] are the worst. They do a huge disservice. No diet in the history of the world has ever worked. You can’t point to one that’s worked for more than six months. That’s why you go to the bookstore and see 1,287 diet titles.