- Healthy diet is important for a long life. But how do you get enough vegetables?
- Researcher Dan Buettner has studied tasty recipes from areas of the world where people live longer than average.
- According to him, ingredients such as miso, oil and spices give your vegetables an ‘umami taste’ so you don’t miss out on meat and therefore eat healthier.
- Read also: Healthy diet – beans, nuts and grains can add 10 extra years to your life
What if you’re trying to live a healthier life by eating more vegetables, but you’re not a fan of the taste of all the vitamin-rich stuff? Then consider cooking like some of the longest-living people on the planet.
So-called ‘Blue Zones’ are areas in the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives. This includes, for example, some regions of Greece, Italy and Costa Rica. But also, you won’t believe it, certain parts of the United States.
According to Dan Buettner, a researcher who developed the concept of Blue Zones has evolved, many residents of such regions are masters at creating delicious, nutritious meals from simple plant foods such as vegetables, beans, and whole grains.
“There’s a culinary treasure trove of food that gets overlooked because most of the food in our supermarket is junk,” he tells Insider during an interview about his new book.
Instead, Buettner suggests making healthy, plant-based meals just as delicious as a juicy cheeseburger or quality steak.
To make that happen, he recommends learning from the people who live in so-called Blue Zones, where people regularly live to be 100 or older, according to Buettner.
Tasty spices can enrich plant foods
Vegetables are often described as bland as they sometimes lack the savory flavor profile of meat known as “umami”.
“Cooking and potatoes is lazy. It’s not hard to throw a piece of meat in a pan and fry it. It almost always lands nicely on your plate,” says Buettner.
“But meatless ingredients like miso, mushrooms or seaweed can add a ‘tsunami of umami’ to your dish, especially when combined with herbs, spices and sesame or olive oil,” says Buettner.
The tastiest dish Buettner himself has ever eaten is an okra dish made by chef BJ Dennis, who specializes in the cuisine of his ancestors, the Gullah Geechee.
The dish, “Butter Beans with Benne Seeds and Okra,” featured in Buettner’s new cookbook, is prepared with fermented sesame seeds and bell peppers to add deep layers of flavor.
“It’s rich in umami, has a perfect balance between acid and heat and will make you cry with joy,” he says. “It’s prepared in a pot, takes only 20 minutes and can be served in a Michelin restaurant, but costs less than a dollar per serving.”
Healthy food does not have to be expensive, exotic or difficult
Another misconception is that healthy, plant-based foods are expensive, the ingredients are hard to find, or the preparation is too time-consuming. But according to Buettner, some of the best vegan ingredients are cheap and widely available.
Beans, rice and vegetables are the main ingredients of the plant-based Blue Zone diet and are available in all supermarkets. You also don’t have to stick to one cooking style, according to Buettner. While the Mediterranean diet has become increasingly popular for longevity, there is some evidence that other diets can be just as healthy.
As a result, you can eat healthily according to your personal or cultural preferences, regardless of the flavors, spices or degree of spiciness you like. “It’s more about the ingredients than the kitchen,” says Buettner.
“People worry that plant-based foods will taste bland because our taste buds are used to meats, cheeses and eggs,” he says. “But the opposite is true, and you will amaze your diners with the special flavors that vegan dishes can have.”