This year, the Fun Food Feed is featuring dishes inspired by Blue Zone Project communities.
Spring’s featured longevity Blue Zone Project community is the town of Albert Lea, Minnesota.
A Blue Zone (BZ) is a “small, homogenous geographical area where the population shares the same lifestyle and environment, and its exceptional longevity has been scientifically proven.”
BZ Project Communities differ from Blue Zones, in that they are not discovered, but intensionally created. The BZ team works with the community’s local leaders, government, businesses, schools and parks to create an environment where the healthy choice is the easy choice.
This environment supports the nine shared BZ lifestyle habits:
- Plant-Based Diet, including legumes as a staple
- Moderate Calorie Intake, stopping eating when feel 80% full
- Abstaining from alcohol, or limiting intake to 1-2 small glasses per evening.
- 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
BLUE ZONE – ALBERT LEA, MINNESOTA
The first community the Blue Zones Project team partnered with was the quiet town of Albert Lea, Minnesota, in 2009.
Albert Lea, Minnesota was chosen for its mid-range size and health.
Lead BZ researcher, Dan Buettner, organized a meeting with the town’s leaders, the mayor, city manager, superintendent of schools, head of public health, president of the chamber of commerce, and respected business leaders. Together they created a plan of how they would change the town’s ecosystem. There are four the BZ Project focus areas for Blue Zone creation:
MAKE THE HEALTHY CHOICE THE EASY CHOICE
We spend 90 percent of our time in the same places, and that environment dictates how easy it is to make healthy choices, or how difficult. By using the nine lifestyle habits of longevity (above), to improve where we live, work, learn, and play, we make it easier to get up and move, eat healthy, make new friends, find a reason for being—and live longer, better.
The world’s longest-lived people live in places that nudge them to move naturally. Working with city planners, schools, and worksites, we reshape communities so people naturally move more each day without thinking about it. We make it fun to leave home and participate in activities, enjoy an active commute, or easily walk to restaurants.
People make hundreds of food decisions every day. We help make healthy choices easier. This means working with grocery stores, restaurants, and worksites to offer and bring attention to foods that are more nutritious and tasty. And schools to implement programs and policies that help children create healthy habits.
The people we surround ourselves with, even friends of friends, strongly influence our health. We create connections in a community—between individuals and community organizations, faith based and community groups, and other social activities—so you can easily connect with your right tribe. As we say, belong to live long.
Results – Albert Lea, MN – Blue Zone Project
Twenty years have passed since the town of Albert Lea began its transformation. In 2015, it was reported to be saving millions of dollars in annual healthcare costs, and had jumped to 34th, from 68th out of 87 counties, in the Minnesota County Health Rankings.
Albert Lea was also ranked fifth in “The top 10 most affordable small towns in the United States that you would actually want to live” by Realtor.com in 2018, for its lakes, parks, walking paths, that the Blue Zones Project helped to optimize, and lists as “quality of life” indicators.
Impact of Community Design Improvements
• Added more than nine miles of new sidewalks and three miles of bike lanes
• More than a dozen businesses relocated to downtown Albert Lea
• Outdoor dining facilities created by three restaurants
• 96% increase in pedestrian traffic on Broadway Avenue, downtown, from 2014 to 2018
• 38% average increase in biking and walking throughout the community since 2009
• Ranked above the national and state average for people feeling active and productive according to the July 2014 Gallup-Healthways Well Being Index®
Impact of Healthier Workplaces
• 300% increase in funds given to the City of Albert Lea by its insurance carrier for its wellness program in 2014, and medical premium increases avoided for city workers in 2014 and 2015
• $128,000 in health care costs saved by a Blue Zones Project worksite within a year of opening a worksite clinic for its 500 employees
• The School District experienced no increase in Health Care Premiums and an 11% decrease in prescription costs as a result of their on-site clinic from 2014-2015
Impact of Healthy Foods Initiative
• Increase sales of 130.35% from the health market, 12% from produce, 35.31% from frozen fruit and vegetables, 52.3% from water, and a decrease of 4.66% in soda sales at the Hy-Vee grocery store from 2009 through 2015
• 59% increase in concession sales from 2014 through 2018 at City Arena after healthy options were added
• 60% increase in breakfast participation from 2014 to 2015 in schools where the Grab-n-Go breakfast program was implemented
• 17% increased participation in the Healthy Snack Cart program in the 2014 – 2015 school year
Results of Tobacco Cessation Initiatives
• Tobacco use eliminated at 550 units of public housing, 14 of the top 20 worksites as well as select other businesses, public parks, county fairs, other outdoor events, and outdoor dining
• Decline in smokers from 23% of adult residents in 2009 to 14.7% in 2016
Building Our Own Blue Zone
We can create our own individual or family Blue Zone, in our daily lives. We have the power to make the healthy choice the easy choice where we live, work, learn and play. A great place to start is in our kitchen.
There’s an old proverb: “Breakfast like a king; lunch like a prince; dinner like a pauper.” Most BZ communities eat a large breakfast and/or lunch, and a light dinner.
In Nicoya, breakfast most often includes beans and corn tortillas; in Okinawa, vegetable miso soup; in Ikaria, bread and beans; in Loma Linda, oats and smoothies.
This Spring’s Featured Recipe is adapted from head researcher Dan Buettner’s recipe for a Blue Zones Smoothie. As the weather warms, and fresh berries start to appear again at our farmers markets, it is a delicious time to enjoy a refreshing smoothie in the morning. Buettner shares that he “developed this smoothie while working on the Albert Lea Project and served it to 300 people during a breakfast one Fourth of July. It all disappeared.”
BLUE ZONES SMOOTHIE
Preparation Time: ~5 minutes
Yield: ~2 servings
- 1 cup frozen blueberries, or favorite berry
- 1 cup unsweetened plant milk (e.g. almond, oat)
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
- optional: one handful of baby leafy greens
- optional: one frozen banana or peach, sliced
- measuring cups & spoons
- serving glasses
- Place all ingredients in blender.
- Cover and blend until smooth.
- Serve immediately.
Buettner, Dan. The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and living like the world’s healthiest people. National Geographic Books, 2015.
Stultz, Sarah. “Blue Zones is Back.” Albert Lea Tribune, 2015.
Wilmes, Sam. “We are going to explore.” Albert Lea Tribune, 2017.
Top 10 Affordable Small Towns Where You’d Actually Want to Live, 2018 Edition.” Realtor.com, Mar 19, 2018.