This year, the Fun Food Feed is featuring longevity blue zone regions (BZ) from around the world, and dishes inspired by them.
Summer’s featured longevity blue zone region is Ikaria, Greece.
A blue zone region is a “small, homogenous geographical area where the population shares the same lifestyle and environment and its exceptional longevity has been scientifically proven.”
National Geographic researchers originally identified five blue zone regions: first Sardinia Italy, next Okinawa Japan, and the Seventh Day Adventists of Loma Linda California, then the Nicoya Peninsula of Coast Rica, and Ikaria, Greece.
Nine shared lifestyle habits were found in all five populations:
- Plant-Based Diet, all zones including legumes as a staple
- Moderate Calorie Intake, stopping eating when feel 80% full
- Moderate Alcohol of 1-2 glasses per evening (except Adventists who abstain)
- Moving Naturally, growing gardens, walking to the store, house and yard work by hand
- Life Purpose
- Stress Reduction, with meditation, prayer, naps and socializing
- Belonging, to a positive community, often faith-based
- Family, with members committed to helping each other
- Social Circle, of several supportive members with healthy behaviors
These populations with a high proportion of centenarians have not lasted indefinitely, depending on the above factors being maintained.
BLUE ZONE REGION – IKARIA, GREECE
Jagged mountains rise steeply from coastal planes on the island of Ikaria, Greece.
Strong winds buffet the island, without natural harbors.
This geography forced Ikaria to be self-sufficient. Its mountainous regions’ isolation allowed traditions to persist over time. Goats and sheep roamed virtually untended in the rocky brush-covered landscape. Cheese and wine were not produced for export, but for household use. Small village homes each had a walled orchard and garden.
Ikaria is believed to have been inhabited since before 7000 BC. It was populated by the neolithic indigenous people of what is now Greece, the Pelasgians.
The island derives its name from Icarus, son of Daedalus in Greek mythology. In the story, Icarus is said to have fallen into the sea nearby.
A commonality shared by centenarian communities is meeting hardship with resilience, unity and humor. Ikaria has had its share of hardships throughout history.
In the early 16th century, the Ottoman Empire claimed Ikaria as part of its realm, though sent no officials there for several centuries.
In the 17th century, Archbishop of Ikaria, J. Georgirenes, described its residents as proud people who slept on the ground. “The most commendable thing on this island,” he wrote, “is their air and water, both so healthful that people are very long-lived, it being an ordinary thing to see persons in it of 100 years of age.”
Ikaria remained part of the Ottoman Empire until 1912, when the Icarians expelled the Turkish, thereby achieving independence. They maintained their independence for five difficult months, facing food shortages and possible control by Italy. Then, Ikaria officially became part of the Kingdom of Greece.
During WWII, the island was occupied by Italy and then Germany, leading to loss of lives and property. There are no exact figures on how many people starved, but in the village of Karavostamo alone over 100 perished from starvation.
In the late 1940s, after the Greek Civil War, the government exiled thousands of Communists and radicals to the island. To this date, a number of locals have remained sympathetic to left parties and communism, and, for this reason, Icaria is referred to by some as the “Red Rock.”
In 1999, Blue Zone researchers Dan Buettner, Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain set out to learn more about the longevity of Ikaria’s 164 residents over 90.
Pes and Poulain were joined in the field by Dr. Antonia Trichopoulou of the University of Athens, an expert on the Mediterranean diet. She helped administer surveys, often sitting in village kitchens to ask subjects to reconstruct their childhood eating habits. She noted that the Ikarians’ diet, like that of others around the Mediterranean, was rich in home grown vegetables.
The top longevity foods from Ikaria include potatoes, beans (garbanzo, black-eyed peas and lentils), wild greens, herbs, olives and lemons.
Trichopoulou found that her subjects consumed about six times as many beans a day as Americans.
Ikarians also enjoy sourdough bread made from stone ground wheat.
Buettner called on Dr. Ilias Leriadis, one of Ikaria’s few physicians, in 2009. Leriadis introduced him to local “mountain tea,” made from dried herbs, which is enjoyed at the end of the day. Teas can include wild marjoram, sage, mint tea, rosemary and dandelion leaves with lemon. “People here think they’re drinking a comforting beverage, but they all double as medicine,” Leriadis said.
One day, on Dr Leriadis’ outdoor patio, he and Buettner sat down to a table with Kalamata olives, hummus, heavy Ikarian bread and wine. Leriadis spoke about how Ikarian culture supports longevity. “People stay up late here,” Leriadis said. “We wake up late and always take naps. I don’t even open my office until 11 a.m. because no one comes before then.” He took a sip of his wine. “Have you noticed that no one wears a watch here? No clock is working correctly. When you invite someone to lunch, they might come at 10 a.m. or 6 p.m. We simply don’t care about the clock here.”
Pointing across the Aegean toward the neighboring island of Samos, he said: “Just 15 kilometers over there is a completely different world. There they are much more developed. There are high-rises and resorts and homes worth a million euros. In Samos, they care about money. Here, we don’t. For the many religious and cultural holidays, people pool their money and buy food and wine. If there is money left over, they give it to the poor. It’s not a ‘me’ place. It’s an ‘us’ place.”
This Summer’s Recipe is for Centenarian-Style Salad Boats. Icarians are known for their boat crafting abilities. These boats are constructed from Icarian staples greens, chickpeas, potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, artichokes, red onion, kalamatas, rosemary, mint and oregano. A splash of red wine vinegar and olive oil vinaigrette christens their bows.
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1-2 Tablespoons organic certified extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon rosemary, ground
salt to taste (~1/2 teaspoon)
black pepper to taste (~1/2 teaspoon)
Salad Boat Ingredients:
1 head dark green lettuce (romaine), separated into individual leaves
1 gold or red potato, cut into wedges
1 ripe tomato, cut into wedges
1 artichoke heart, steamed and cut into wedges (or canned)
1 red or orange bell pepper, deseeded, cut into strips
1 cucumber, sliced into rings or half moons
1 red onion, sliced into thin strips
1 – 2 cup(s) chickpeas, cooked (or canned)
1/4 – 1/2 cup kalamatas
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon oregano
Optional: lemon wedges for garnish
Salad dressing jar with lid
Steamer pot or can opener
1. Place vinaigrette ingredients in jar, close lid tightly and shake until emulsified.
2. Assemble salad boats, and arrange on serving platter.
3. Serve with vinaigrette and optional lemon wedges.
Buettner, Dan. The blue zones solution: Eating and living like the world’s healthiest people. National Geographic Books, 2015.
Anthony J. Papalas. Rebels and Radicals Icaria 1600–2000. 2004
Joseph Georgirenes, A Description of the Present State of Samos, Nikaria, Patmos, and Mount Athos (London 1677) pp 54–70.
Dan Buettner. “The Island Where People Forget to Die.” New York Times, October 24, 2012.