The Blue Zones Solutions: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People
By Dan Buettner
As in The Blue Zones, his earlier paean to the world’s traditional diets and lifestyles, author Buettner’s new book begins with detailed descriptions of centenarians preparing their indigenous cuisines. He finishes off these introductory tales with a description of a regional Costa Rican diet filled with eggs, cheese, meat and lard, which he dubs “the best longevity diet in the world.”
Then Buettner turns to how we’re to adapt this, and his other model eating practices, into our current lives. At this point he suddenly presents us with a twenty-first century pesco-vegan regimen that is the opposite of the traditional food intake that he has just described in loving detail. He wants us to fast every twenty-four hours by eating only during an eight-hour period each day. He wants us to eat almost no meat, poultry, eggs or dairy products at any time. Aside from small amounts of olive oil, added fats are not even mentioned, except to be warned against.
Instead, Buettner urges us to eat fish daily, something that, historically, only coastal peoples ever did. Apparently we are to disregard the toxic load of mercury and other contaminants that he confusingly points out are now found in seafood. We’re also to eat two handfuls of nuts and seeds daily, an overload of calories high in often-damaged and always-inflammatory omega-6 oils, when we are already consuming as much as twenty times the ideal amounts. In fact, only one or two handfuls of soaked fresh nuts and seeds twice a week gives us the small, safe amounts of these essential fatty acids that we may need.
All of this constitutes a shocking misrepresentation of traditional eating. At this time of modern dietary peril, when a faithful account could have been so helpful, Buettner instead further contributes to the precipitous demise of our nutritional heritage. Why? In the service of the increasingly trendy yet unsubstantiated notion that a vegan-type diet is the ultimate in healthy eating.
Accordingly, Buettner’s choice of what he and his team consider an exemplary American diet is that of the vegetarian Seventh Day Adventists. He admits that its highly processed soy protein content is a problem, though he nevertheless advocates that everyone consume lots of tofu (with no regard for the now well-substantiated objections to soy foods). Then he quotes a study that found 16 percent of typical Adventist meals to be actually composed of animal products: meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, and fish, further confusing his message.
Buettner includes a chart showing that the Adventist diet consists of 75 percent vegetables, fruit, and grain, with 24 percent protein and fat. What it does not contain much of is sugar (one percent). As we know from Price’s surveys, this is key. The macronutrient composition of the healthful traditional diets he surveyed varied widely, but one thing they all had in common was little or no sugar. Again strangely, although Buettner forbids the traditional consumption of meat and fat altogether, he encourages what he found to be the average Blue Zone consumption of sugar, up to seven teaspoons daily.
The Adventist diet, mostly comprised of carbohydrates, makes its adherents vulnerable to a problem that we see constantly at our virtual clinic: carbohydrate addiction. The ninety-nine-year-old, strictly vegan Adventist interviewed for the book was still extremely physically active, yet he would allow himself only two meals a day “to prevent weight gain.” When Buettner describes what the man’s breakfast consisted of, it became clear why. “…A giant bowl of whole-grain cereal floating in soy milk, a cornucopia-like bowl of fruit, a stack of whole wheat toast, a large glass of pulpy orange juice” and some nuts and nut butter. He sounds like most of the vegans and vegetarians who come to our clinic, desperately trying to lose weight by skipping meals or through more formal starvation dieting attempts to make up for their helpless over-consumption of sweets and starches. Traditional diets that include a better balance of protein and fat tend to prevent this problem. But, since our cutting of calories from fat and meat and our increases in “fat-free” carb consumption in the 1970s, that balance has been fatally lost.
I recently published a major update of my book, The Diet Cure, which starts with a chapter on the brain-targeted nutrients that can stop all cravings for refined carbohydrates. My entire next book, out later in 2016, will address the public health crisis now facing our nation and the world: our mass over-consumption of processed and toxic sugars, starches and oils. Despite the recent and on-going scientific exposé of sugar in particular, the toll of weight gain and diabetes rises ever higher. Knowledge and willpower are inadequate in the face of the virulent biochemical addiction that the food industry has unleashed on us. The use of amino acid supplementation, which eradicates the powerful brain-generated cravings for these drug-like substances, is a quick and effective means to return us to the health-restoring diet of our forebears. Before it’s too late.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2015