Already have an account?
Get back to the

Blue Zones and Mediterranean Diets: What the Longest Living Populations Are Doing Right

Fish drizzled in olive oil, fresh seasonal fruits, a glass of red wine… these as staples in your regular eating rotation sound pretty great, right? Luckily, they are included — or rather encouraged — in both the Blue Zones and Mediterranean diets, two lifestyle practices renowned for their bountiful health benefits.

Both Have Proven Long-Term Health Benefits

There’s a good reason both these diets have achieved so much popularity and positive reception from health and nutrition experts. Their core principles, which go beyond a balanced, nutritionally dense diet, have been proven to aid in preventing cardiovascular disease and extending the lifespan of its followers.

The Blue Zones and Mediterranean diet are often compared to each other, or at least referenced simultaneously. While many of their food groups have similarities, the individual approach differs. The Blue Zones diet is composed of more guidelines focused on lifestyle patterns, going beyond simply what you feed your body. On the other hand, the Mediterranean diet can be perceived as more of a straightforward pattern of eating.

Comparing the Blue Zones and Mediterranean Diet

salmon and greens on plate
Grilled salmon with a variety of dark leafy greens makes for a well-balanced lunch.Getty
Blue ZonesMediterranean
Allowed FoodsMostly plant-based foods; legumes and nuts daily; 100% whole grains; dark leafy greens; healthy fats (olive oil); plenty of fresh fruits and vegetablesFish three servings a week; poultry; legumes and nuts/seeds three times a week; fresh fruits and vegetables; olive oil
Foods to AvoidDairy, red meat, eggs no more than three times a week, sugar (refined/artificial); processed foodsProcessed or fatty meats; butter; refined carbs; saturated fats
LifestyleEating until 80% full, daily movement, connection with loved ones, guided by faith-based practices and community, sense of purposeDaily movement, mindful meals
Accessibility Fresh vegetables and fruits may not be as widely accessible or affordableFresh vegetables and fruits may not be as widely accessible or affordable; quality fish can be pricey

The Blue Zones Diet Is Based on the Longest Living People in the World

The Blue Zones diet is derived from research surrounding countries with the highest populations of centenarians — people living up to or past 100 years of age. This is indicative of their overall wellbeing and excellent health. They “are known to be in tip top health with a lower incidence of chronic disease like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.” says dietitian Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN.

basket of fresh vegetables in garden

The Blue Zones are composed of these five locations: Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.

A Nutrient-Dense, Mostly Plant-Based Diet

So what do these longest living people eat everyday? Well, most of the diet is centered around plant-based, whole foods that are high in protein, fiber and plenty of vitamins. You’ll find that legumes — beans, pea and lentils — are a major staple to be found in their daily meals.

According to Toby Amidor, “Researchers found that [legumes] were the most important dietary predictor of survival among the elderly, regardless of their ethnicity. For every 20-gram increase in daily pulse intake, they found a 7 to 8% reduction in mortality hazard ratio.”

This diet is also low in red meat and dairy consumption, with the foundations of their eating patterns including fish and a plentiful variety of fresh vegetables. There is an emphasis on dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, Swiss chard) which provide an excellent source of vitamin A and C, which are key in fighting against cell damage.

Julia Zumpano, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic, outlines some of the Blue Zones diet guidelines:

  • Very little meat – no more than five times per month.
  • No more than three ounces of fish three to four days per week.
  • Avoid dairy – goat and sheep-based products in moderation.
  • No more than three eggs per week.
  • Legumes everyday.
  • Limit sugar – no more than seven teaspoons added sugar per day.
  • Snack on nuts – two handfuls per day.
  • Choose sourdough or 100% whole wheat bread.
  • Choose 100% whole grains.

Cooking is a commonality with eating out being a rarity. This allows individuals to have better control over the foods they choose to eat.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN
sharing meal outdoors
The Blue Zones diet emphasizes the impact of connection and sharing meals with a community of loved ones.Getty

Living Long Goes Beyond Just What You Eat

Diet isn’t the only factor to credit for the long and happy lives of Blue Zones inhabitants. Although eating habits are a central aspect, their lifestyle patterns contribute greatly to the longevity benefits. These cornerstones of living to 100 include daily movement, meaningful social connection, a sense of purpose and belonging to a faith-based community. In other words, the Blue Zones lifestyle takes a more holistic and thorough approach to health — optimizing the mind, body and soul.

The Blue Zones diet is also much more of a lifestyle than a diet, with emphasis on longevity. It encourages consuming mostly a plant-based diet, eating till full – not stuffed, being active, finding a purpose in life, and more.

Keri Gans, RDN
woman walking in forest
Keeping active with daily walks, even if they are as short as 30 minutes, will do wonders for your health. Getty

Daily, Intentional Movement: It Shouldn’t Be Stressful

Blue Zones inhabitants stay active, but this doesn’t mean overextending yourself at the gym with a hard-hitting cardio or weights routine. Instead, research found natural movement — such as walking the neighborhood daily and gardening — to be an effective foundation of their lifestyles. Rather than staying sedentary all day, participate in consistent acts of intentional physical activity, even if it’s as small and simple as walking to the grocery store.

The Mediterranean Diet: Balance Over Restrictions

As with the Blue Zones diet, the Mediterranean diet is about eating foods that make you feel good. This diet reflects the dietary patterns of, you guessed it, the Mediterranean — primarily Greece, Italy and Spain. “The diet promotes fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, grains, and seafood. Small amounts of red meat is encouraged, and regular exercise and enjoying meals with family and friends.” Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN tells Women’s World.

salmon and avocado with nuts

The Mediterranean Diet Includes Plenty of the Foods You Enjoy

The Mediterranean diet’s foods are not all that different from the Blue Zones. It also encourages lots of fresh produce, legumes, and whole grains. Meat is less restricted — just make sure to choose lean cuts of pork, beef and lamb and opt for three to four ounce portions.

Plus, you can still enjoy reasonable servings of cheese, yogurt and red wine. “Dairy foods are lower in this plan, but many Mediterranean countries do include yogurt and cheese! Plus, milk and dairy foods provide a ton of beneficial vitamins and minerals so do remember to include three servings of dairy per day,” Amidor asserts.

Julia Zumpano, RDN, LD, provides us with the diet’s encouraged key component goal servings, based on research from the Cleveland Clinic:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables: Three servings fruit per day, three servings vegetables per day (one serving = 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw)
  • Legumes: Three servings per week (one serving = 1/2 cup)
  • Fish (especially omega-3 rich): Three servings per week (one serving = three ounces)
  • Poultry: Choose white meat instead of red meat
  • Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts: Three servings per week (one serving = one ounce, two tablespoons of nut butter)
  • Extra virgin olive oil (two to four tablespoons per day)
  • Whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables

Being Mindful During Meals is Important

Many of us may be accustomed to scarfing down food without second thought or chewing away mindlessly while watching TV. However, the Mediterranean way encourages taking the time to sit down with family and friends and being present for each bite. Intentionally slowing down and enjoying your meal in this manner allows for better digestion and conscious awareness of when we are actually full.

The idea of sitting for meals is important. Even if you don’t have the time, being mindful when you eat can be life changing. If you can’t spend the time sitting for your meals daily, just sitting by a window or stepping away from your screen to mindfully eat is really what it is really about.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN
watering plants outside
Whole, plant-based foods are the foundation of centenarians’ meals.Getty

The Mediterranean Diet Is Great for Heart Health

Fats have been long demonized in main media, but there is a world of a difference between unsaturated fats (aka the good for you sources) and saturated fats. The Mediterranean diet is high in these unsaturated fats, with its main components being extra virgin olive oil and nuts. Plus, the Omega-3s that can be found in fish, another staple of this diet, help to reduce inflammation as well as the risk of stroke and heart complications.

Extensive research has consistently linked the Mediterranean diet to a reduced risk for coronary heart disease. A study published by the National Library of Medicine links elder adults who had followed the Mediterranean diet to a “50%–70% lower risk of recurrent heart disease.” Another study found that adults who consistently consumed olive oil and nuts had a lower rate of major cardiovascular incidents like stroke compared to the groups who had partaken in a reduced-fat diet.

It consists of a wide variety of foods packed with beneficial nutrients including antioxidants, encourages physical activity, eating with friends and family and being social, and getting adequate sleep.

Keri Gans, RDN

Both the Blue Zones and Mediterranean Diets Are Optimal for Health and Longevity, And Are Not Overly Restrictive

There is certainly some overlap in the foods outlined by the Mediterranean and Blue Zones diet. They both emphasize whole foods, minimal animal and dairy products, healthy fats, plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, as well as nuts and legumes. Therefore, it’s no surprise that these diets are conducive to excellent health — including strong immunity, reduced risk for disease and cancer and lower cholesterol.

How to Implement These Takeaways Into Your Life

Key to what makes both the Blue Zones and Mediterranean diets sustainable and more importantly, enjoyable, is the emphasis on balance. You won’t find the restrictive, tough rules of something like 75 Hard here. Foods are nourishing and don’t sacrifice flavor or variety. In addition to a feel-good diet, a relaxed lifestyle is encouraged, which of course does not omit indulging in wine here and there.

What’s important is slowly integrating these principles into your everyday routine — mindful eating, daily movement and connecting with community and loved ones. Small changes can and will make a difference. You can start by swapping out red meat for fish, choosing seasonal vegetables and fruits over processed crackers or sweets and prioritizing legumes and nuts as protein sources.


What is the biggest difference between the two diets?

The most straightforward answer to this is that the Mediterranean diet is derived from that respective region — Greece, Italy, etc. — and the Blue Zones diet is based on five research-backed zones around the world.

Julia Zumpano summarizes: “The Blue Zones diet is focused on longevity, it [includes] lifestyle components such as daily movement and social connection. The Med Diet is a style of eating but does not specifically have set criteria meaning how often you can eat certain foods. From a dietary standpoint the Blue Zones diet compared to the Med diet it is more heavy focused on legumes, nuts, and grains, allows less meat/dairy/eggs, has strict guidelines for sugar. Overall the diets are very similar.”

How affordable or accessible are these diets?

Although these foods strongly emphasize fresh fruits and vegetables and whole foods like fish and nuts, which may come at a higher price point, these eating styles can be adapted to be more easily accessible to your personal lifestyle.

“We don’t live in that part of the country and not all foods are readily available or affordable where you live in the US. However, the eating pattern is healthy and can be modified to fit individual budget and accessibility by choosing canned fish, canned/frozen fruit and vegetables with little added sodium and added sugar,” states Toby Amidor.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

Use left and right arrow keys to navigate between menu items. Use right arrow key to move into submenus. Use escape to exit the menu. Use up and down arrow keys to explore. Use left arrow key to move back to the parent list.