Longevity expert and The Blue Zones: Secrets for Living Longer author Dan Buettner is hot on the trail of the lifestyle habits central to centenarians long, healthy, and fulfilling lives in his new Netflix docuseries Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones.
The four-part series features Buettner’s travels through Blue Zones like Okinawa and Sardinia—hot spots where people live significantly longer than the rest of the world. The first few episodes have us ready to power down a helping of purple sweet potatoes, get more steps in, and possibly scratch our desk jobs to become shepherds in the name of longevity.
But the long-lived people of Ikaria might do longevity best. In the show, Ikarians turn to food and drink for a longer life and healthspan (or the quality of life in those extra years), and we’ve never been more on board.
Why Is Ikaria a Blue Zone?
While Ikaria, Greece shares common features of most Blue Zones like red wine (in moderation), clean air, frequent walking, social connection, and an unprocessed diet, Buettner believes the rough terrain and isolated island life make Ikarians more resilient.
Situated between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean Sea, Ikaria is a small island that’s been settled for at least 10,000 years. “By the middle ages, [Ikaria] was almost completely isolated from the rest of the ancient world,” Buettner explains.
The Ikarians couldn’t depend on a boat with supplies. Instead, they had to figure out how to work the land, identify indigenous plants and greens for food, harness herbs and spices for medicine, embrace bees, and cooperate amidst hardship. “It’s through that difficulty that they emerge as one of the healthiest populations on the planet,” Buettner adds.
MORE BLUE ZONES
Greece is one of the homes of the Mediterranean diet. “With its olive oil instead of butter, greens, and sparing use of meat, we know that [the Mediterranean diet] produces healthier populations,” says Buettner.
Buettner isn’t wrong. Studies show that those who follow a Mediterranean diet tend to live longer, have a lower risk of chronic disease, and enjoy a better healthspan (or the quality of life in those extra years) (1, 2). The Mediterranean diet might even reverse your brain’s biological age, according to a recent study published in Epidemiology and Global Health (3).
To eat like the Ikarians, stick to the usual healthy fare of the Mediterranean like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, herbs, spices, nuts, olive oil, two or more servings of fish a week, poultry, and modest amounts of red meat and wine.
Ikarians are also heavy tea drinkers. Ikarian favorites like sage, rosemary, and mallow tea are loaded with antioxidants—which are known for their anti-inflammatory properties (4). Inflammation is linked to everything from heart disease and arthritis, to a shorter healthspan and lifespan, but anti-inflammatory drinks can help (5).
Wine from Ikaria
Sure, Ikarians like their tea, but when Buettner asks a local Ikarian the best tea to drink on a daily basis, she’s quick to punch back with: “wine.” A woman of good taste. And Ikarian wine doesn’t only taste good, it packs more nutritional value than your average bottle of two-buck chuck.
“Greek myth says the god of wine was born here,” says Buettner. The Ikarians have been using the same grapes and ancient wine-making process for centuries. Instead of an oak barrel, Ikarian wine is stored in a clay vessel that’s buried under a few inches of dry dirt, where it’s humid and cool.
Ikarian wine is natural—an impressive detail considering the wine available in the U.S. is typically loaded with more chemicals (gums, sulfates, tannins, and mega purple, to name a few) than you can count. But it’s also earned the nickname “medicinal wine,” due to its naturally high antioxidant levels as well as heavy mineral content thanks to the Ikarian granite the grapes are crushed in.
According to Buettner (and a few small studies), when you drink Ikarian red wine with an antioxidant-rich meal (like a Mediterranean-loaded plate) the wine increases the absorption of the antioxidants found in the food (6).
A unique staple of the Ikarian diet is honey. “[Ikarian] beekeepers actually move their hives as the season progresses. It might be with the wildflowers near the coast, but eventually they end up in these pine forests near the top. So the bees are gathering the nectar from different types of plants, and with that are other types of micronutrients and bioactive compounds,” explains Buettner.
Not only is Ikarian honey packed with nutrients, it’s raw. Most store-bought honey has been boiled, which destroys the pollen grains, a beekeeper explains to Buettner. Ikarian honey, on the other hand, isn’t pasteurized or boiled—it goes straight from the bee to your tea.
Raw honey appears to have the upper hand for health benefits. One review suggests that raw honey appears to have antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties and may help in the treatment of diseases like diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular, neurological, and gastrointestinal diseases (7).
Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones is available for streaming now on Netflix.
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