The tiny Blue Zone island of Ikaria, Greece, is known as a place where people forget to die. Blue Zones are areas around the world where people tend to have longer life expectancies and lower rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Ikaria is one of only five total Blue Zones, which begs the question, what are these islanders doing (besides losing track of time) to live to 100?
The Mediterranean Diet
The people of Ikaria, Greece, eat a Mediterranean-style diet. This diet includes fresh, nutrient-rich, whole foods that may reduce inflammation in the body. The diet also contains a lot of fiber, antioxidants, and healthy fats such as omega-3s.
It is known that this type of diet can help prevent heart disease and stroke and lower risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. The Oldways Mediterranean Diet Pyramid outlines the defining characteristics of the diet as follows:
The Ikarian diet especially emphasizes legumes, wild greens, potatoes, goat milk, honey, some fruit, and small amounts of fish. This plant-based diet focuses on local produce and appears to be a key to longevity. With more than 150 varieties of wild greens all over the island, there is plenty for the picking.
The Mediterranean is more than a Diet- it’s a Lifestyle
Residents of the island who live in the highlands and spend time doing yard work or tending to their gardens are among those who live the longest.
The Trick to Longevity
The people of Ikaria don’t only embrace a diet filled with nutrient-rich foods and healthy fats. They also enjoy a relaxed pace of life and the simple pleasures life has to offer. By incorporating physical activity into their daily lives and maintaining strong social bonds, these islanders can ignore their clocks and push past the bounds of time.
Let’s Get Cooking
Now let’s put some of these Mediterranean-style recipes to the test. Here are two recipes we tested in the kitchen authentic to the Blue Zone Ikaria, Greece.
Tomato Pasta Soup
Makes 10 servings. The following recipes have been taken and adapted from the Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 recipes to live to 100.
2 cups water
4 cups vegetable broth
1 - 15-ounce can fire-roasted chopped tomatoes (or equivalent ~2 cups fresh)
1 cup roasted tomato sauce, fresh or store bought
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound orzo or similar short cut pasta
Optional salt and pepper, to taste
Bring water and vegetable broth to a boil in a large pot. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, olive oil, and orzo. Stir to combine. Lower heat to bring soup to a simmer. Cook until broth is thickened and pasta is cooked, about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally so orzo does not stick to bottom. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Nutrition per serving: 223 calories, 4g fat, 7g protein, 42g carbs, 3g fiber, 423mg sodium
Winter Potato Salad
Makes 6 servings
8 cups water
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces (Yukon gold or red potatoes work best)
½ cup chopped fresh dill
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 to 5 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 cups arugula (chopped)
2 cups spinach (chopped)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 small head green leaf or romaine lettuce, chopped
Optional salt and pepper
Bring water to a boil in a saucepan. Add potatoes and cook uncovered until tender, they’re ready when pierced easily with a fork, about 12 minutes. Drain potatoes and let cool. In a small bowl, combine dill, olive oil, and vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Whisk to combine. In a serving bowl combine together the dressing and the potatoes. Add mixed greens and onion to serving bowl and toss to combine.
Nutrition per serving: 313 calories, 19g fat, 4g protein, 34g carbs, 5g fiber, 25mg sodium
Hope you enjoy!
Rachel Brennen, Dietetic Intern
Eating to Break 100: Longevity Diet Tips From the Blue Zones (2015),
Ikaria, Greece https://www.bluezones.com/exploration/ikaria-greece/
What is the Mediterranean Diet? (2020) https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/mediterranean-diet
8 Defining Characteristics of the Mediterranean Diet (2016) https://www.eatrightpro.org/news-center/nutrition-trends/health-promotion/8-defining-characteristics-of-the-mediterranean-diet
The sun and warmth of summer may be starting to wane, but the abundant harvest season is just ramping up! Many delicious fruits and vegetables are ripening as you read and are just waiting to be enjoyed. So get out to the last few Farmer’s Market days and take home some seasonal produce that is both nutritious and delicious!
Why “In Season”?
You may be wondering why you should even care about what produce is in season. I mean, all produce is available at the grocery store year-round, right? In season produce is at its natural peak ripeness, which has many great benefits! When a fruit or vegetable reaches ripeness, the nutrients are also at peak levels and efficacy. Local farmers near you are harvesting this produce right now, which means perfectly ripe fruits and vegetables are reaching you within a matter of days. Without long transport times, nutrients remain at their peak. Even better, you have an amazing chance to support local farmers, keep profits in your community, and benefit everyone. In season produce is also more affordable! Produce that may be otherwise out of your price range other times of the year is now cheaper because it is widely abundant. Lastly, eating seasonal produce means that your body is enjoying different nutrients throughout the year too. This ensures achieving the full spectrum of nutrients over a year. It’s similar to the phrase “eat the rainbow,” referring to different colors of fruits and vegetables containing different nutrients, but in a longer timeframe.
What’s In Season in August?
● Vegetables: corn, cucumber, eggplant, green bean, okra, pepper, squash, tomatillo, tomato, zucchini
● Fruits: blackberry, plum, fig, melon, nectarine, watermelon, peach
What’s In Season in September?
● Vegetables: chard, cauliflower, white cabbage, Savoy cabbage, cucumber, chicory, onion, bean, mushroom, lettuce, eggplant, nettle, potato, tomato, pepper, rhubarb, radish, rocket, shallot, courgette, pumpkin
● Fruits: watermelon, carnelian, fig, prickly pear, apple, melon, blueberry, blackberry, loquat, pear, plum, peach, nectarine
What’s In Season in October?
● Vegetables: beet, broccoli, Brussels sprout, cabbage, cauliflower, chicory, leek, okra, parsnip, pepper, pumpkin, shallot, sweet potato, turnip, watercress, winter squash,
● Fruits: apple, blackberry, grape, cranberry, date, fig, grape, pear, quince, starfruit, persimmon, pomegranate, plum, pineapple, winter cherry, banana
Here is a favorite recipe of mine that we made during a recent community cooking class at Verdant Community Center highlighting August seasonal produce:
Start by preheating the oven to 400F. To make the spice rub, mix all spices in a small bowl until well combined. Coat the pork tenderloin with the spice rub on both sides. Sear the pork in a hot pan until brown on both sides. Transfer the pork to a baking dish; deglaze the pan with white wine vinegar and pour over the pork. Bake the pork for 20-25 minutes, or until 145F in the center. While the pork is cooking, slice the peaches and set them aside. Mince the shallot and set aside. Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, honey, salt, and pepper and stir until well mixed; set aside. Remove pork from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes, then slice into 4 servings. Fill 4 bowls with arugula, and top with peaches, shallots, goat cheese, pork, and dressing. Enjoy!
Nutrition per Serving: 375 calories; 20g Fat; 26g Protein; 14g Carbohydrates; 2g Fiber; 283mg Sodium
A place for our consultant Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) to share nutrition science, yummy and healthy recipes, tips on seasonal ingredients, and other nutritional musings. Enjoy!