ONEAmong the many, many delicious plant foods we have to choose from, cereals are easily one of the most versatile and nutrient-rich — and with so many great options, they could deny that we could all benefit from consuming an extra portion (or two … or three) on a daily basis? Cereals make meals more palatable and well-rounded and are full of vitamins, minerals and fiber.
National Geographic associate and longevity expert Dan Buettner has devoted much of his career to studying the areas of the world that host the longest-lived people known as the Blue Belts. While the culture, lifestyle habits and traditions of each region vary widely, Buettner has identified a number of commonalities that he has been able to scientifically link to the longevity of the inhabitants. One of the most important areas of focus is, of course, the eating habits of those living in the Blue Zones.
Unsurprisingly, the longest-lived people on the planet tend to follow a plant-based diet. Eat lots of high-fiber, high-protein foods — think of lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, heart-healthy cooking oils like avocado and olive oil, and (no drum) whole grains.
It is easy to understand why whole grains are an important part of a longevity-enhancing diet. For starters, cereals have been shown to be effective in combating inflammation, as well as providing the body with protection against digestive cancers and cardiovascular health risks. Along with beans and starchy tubers, Buetter says cereals make up 65 percent of Blue Zone meals.
The most commonly consumed cereals in each of the Blue Zones vary by region (the five, as identified by Buettner, are Nicoya, Costa Rica, Loma Linda, California, Okinawa, Japan, Sardinia, Italy and Ikaria, Greece). “It’s important to keep in mind that there is no healthier cereal,” says registered dietitian and longevity expert Erica Mouch, RDN, CD. The best choice for everyone, he says, is more whole grains and more variety. (Do not have to ask us twice.)
Below, find the seven types of Blue Zones cereals or the varieties of cereals that the longest living on the planet regularly eat.
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Several varieties of rice – from white and brown to red or black rice – are essential in all five Blue Zones, but especially in Nicoya, Okinawa and Loma Linda. Brown rice and white rice are essentially the same, but white rice has been processed to remove the outer layers for longer shelf life and shorter cooking times. Because white rice no longer has this outer layer, it is lower in fiber than brown rice, Mouch says. “Brown rice has more vitamins B, E and K and twice as much fiber, potassium and magnesium than white rice. “Brown, red and black rice have different levels of antioxidants but similar levels of fiber, potassium and magnesium to brown rice,” adds Mouch.
That said, do not rush to dismiss white rice as “less healthy”. “People will choose brown rice, even though it is not their first choice in an effort to be ‘healthy,'” registered dietitian Samina Qureshi, RD, told Well + Good. “I see it so often with customers. All foods are nutritious and provide our body with valuable nutrients that meet our emotional and physical needs. I do not see brown rice as the healthiest option, it just has a different nutritional profile than white rice … Rice is the ingredient in my dish that absorbs all the flavor and gives life to a dish.I like to eat white rice with curry, salas, sabzis, stir-frys, chili, kabobs, grilled vegetables and almost anything you can think. ”Many Blue Zone residents would no doubt agree.
A daily routine at Nicoya is to make nixtamal corn dough by hand. In this process, the corn kernels are soaked in lime, ground in masa harina corn flour and baked or roasted on a fire in a tortilla. The results are too much delicious. Corn is used at Nicoya to make both savory and sweet dishes, such as pan de elote, a sweet dessert with corn cream. Cornbread is also a staple in Loma Linda.
“Corn is high in lutein and zeaxanthin, two powerful carotenoid antioxidants that support eye health and can help reduce inflammation,” says Mouch. “Corn also contains ten times the amount of vitamin A compared to most other whole grains.”
Millet is a deliciously nutritious whole grain cereal that is naturally gluten free. Millet is an excellent source of protein, copper, phosphorus, fiber and antioxidants. It is also an excellent source of manganese, which supports brain health, bone health and helps reduce inflammation, ”says Mouch. Like other cereal grains, millet is extremely easy to cook and works well in both sweet and savory dishes. Try it on a fluffy couscous pilaf, breakfast porridge, a bowl of cereal or homemade granola.
As cereals go, barley has one of the highest fiber counts (along with buckwheat and oats). In Sardinia, it is common to have a slice of pistoccu with meals, which is a delicious barley-based bread. “Barley is a grain of lower glycemic index due to its rich content of beta-glucan, which is an important type of soluble fiber. “Beka-glucan consumption has been linked to improved heart health, digestive health and reduced cholesterol levels,” says Mouch.
Oats have tons of protein, minerals, fiber and anti-inflammatory benefits that help harmonize your gut microbiome, strengthen your cardiovascular system and help you live longer. Part of the attractiveness of oatmeal is [also] how many different ways you can make it — and how many other protein-rich ingredients you can add to it, “Keri Gans, MS, RD, told Well + Good.” It’s basically a healthy vehicle for other healthy foods. “
Farro is a healthy type of wheat commonly cooked in Sardinian dishes — think of pasta, gnocchi and bread (pass out). According to Mouch, farro is a rich source of protein and complex carbohydrates, which in combination with its higher fiber content, help control blood sugar, lower cholesterol and digestion. “It actually contains more fiber than brown rice or oatmeal,” he says. “And most of the fiber in farro is insoluble fiber, which helps increase stool volume and acts as a prebiotic for our gut microbiome to support the nutrition of ‘good’ bacteria in the gut. “It supports overall reduced inflammation and longevity,” says Mouch.
Unlike grains, quinoa is a pseudo-seed (technically, it is a seed) derived from a flowering plant, similar to amaranth or buckwheat. It is also naturally gluten free. “Quinoa has all nine essential amino acids that the body does not produce, so it is considered a complete protein,” says Mouch. “This is quite rare for a plant-based food and just adds to the many reasons why quinoa is so good for you.”
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