Dan Buettner, the author of a book about the long-lived residents of the so-called “Blue Zones,” recently organized a small dinner party in New York, which was chronicled by the New York Times under the headline “My Dinner With Longevity Expert Dan Buettner (No Kale Required).” The idea for the feast was to replicate in New York the kind of dinner which might be served in Ikaria, a Greek island close to Turkey which is one of the iconic places where unexpectedly high numbers of people live to be over 100 years old and simply “forget to die.”

I have written about the “Ikaria” cookbook, written by Diane Kochilas, which contains wonderful recipes from the island, as well as lessons about the lives of people who live there.

Stew and red wine

So, what did Dan select to have for dinner? The centerpiece was certainly Ikarian stew, with black-eyed peas, fennel, onions, garlic, carrots, canned tomatoes, and more, to create a rich, flavor-filled mixture topped with plenty of extra virgin olive oil. There are several options for stews in the Ikaria cookbook. Such stews are a delicious staple on the island. Along with the stew there was a full-bodied red wine from Sardinia, another “Blue Zone” region.

It is interesting to note what was on Dan’s shopping list and what was not. On the list were the many vegetables, plus herbs. Besides those mentioned there were chickpeas, broccoli, celery plus avocados. For dessert, there were frozen berries plus tofu and local honey. There was also sourdough bread – a typical item in “Blue Zones.” A key item to start the day is Greek coffee. Not on the list were meat or butter, which, in Dan’s opinion, are to be eaten or used sparingly.

No ‘hedge clippings ”on the menu

In the article, Dan emphasized that raw food is not a priority—in fact, quite the contrary, since the long-cooked stews and soups are traditional. Juicing is not recommended since eating the whole fruits or vegetables is much healthier and controls the glycemic index. Ikarians do not eat “hedge clippings,” he said, referring to kale. They eat tasty vegetables and herbs.

But is the food the only reason Ikarians live a long and happy life? Regular walking over hilly terrain is a part of daily activities in Ikaria. Dan Buettner strongly advocates this type of regular walking and/or biking (he travels with a fold-up bike). Conversely, high-impact exercise and sports are viewed as potentially more damaging (to joints/soft tissues) or harmful.

The happy life part, however, is a key element. Spending time with the right mix of friends and family is very important. This natural or organic stress reduction has almost a magical effect. For New Yorkers and the rest of us, it is well-nigh impossible to avoid focusing on global catastrophes and everyday stressors. But we can get together with what Dan calls the “secret sauce”—the right mix of friends.  

Medical value of friendship

There is a tendency to be dismissive of the “medical value” of intangibles such as laughter and friendship versus the current vogue of “precision medicine,” which claims to shut down or eliminate the ails of humanity. Let’s remember that there is a science which studies the physiology, biochemistry, and other aspects of stress—from the “flight” and “fight” studies by Hans Selye, who studied adrenaline and non-adrenaline (the “stress” hormones) to specific studies examining the effect of stress on tumor rejection. Looking at the impact of stress on cancer, one can appreciate that more focus on the social details of day-to-day life is valuable.

The people on Ikaria “forget to die” in part because they are focused on living their lives in a joyous way, which turns out to be for over 100 years!

So whether it is the diet or the joy or something else entirely, we will keep you posted with any new updates. 

Dr. Durie sincerely appreciates and reads all comments left here. However, he cannot answer specific medical questions and encourages readers to contact the trained IMF InfoLine staff instead. Specific medical questions posted here will be forwarded to the IMF InfoLine. Questions sent to the InfoLine are answered with input from Dr. Durie and/or other scientific advisors and IMWG members as appropriate, but will not be posted here. To contact the IMF InfoLine, call 800-452-CURE, toll-free in the US and Canada, or send an email to infoline@myeloma.org. InfoLine hours are 9 am to 4 pm PT. Thank you.

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