Anti aging, Nutrition

Europe’s Blue Zone: Sardinia

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Dan Buettner’s study of the so-called Blue Zones starts with the area within Sardinia designated as one such area.  In this area, people live to be over 100 at a much higher rate than in the U.S. for instance.  One town of 2500 produced 7 centenarians which take a group of about 35,000 people in the U.S.  This is one thing that makes this a Blue Zone. Buettner writes of his interviews with some of the older people he met including one man still in his 70s at the time of the interview.  He also writes of his introduction to the people of this area, called Barbagia, by Dr. Paolo Francalacci, a genetics professor at the Sassari University.

Why This Area in Sardinia?

As you can guess given the good doctor’s background, he gave a great deal of information based on the genetics of the people.  Essentially, this area was settled by a wave of Iberians after the last Ice Age.  Driven by succeeding invaders, whom they did not inter mate with, into the mountains the people were both genetically and geographically isolated for several thousand years.  In fact their language today is more ancient Roman than modern Italian which the author went on for several pages to make his point.

It was not until the Rockefeller Foundation’s campaign to modernize in about 1950 did modern medicine along with roads come into the area.  It seems that Buettner thinks the medicine allowed the special genetics of the people as well as their lifestyle to actually begin producing centenarians.

Regardless of such genetically mandated things as smaller red blood cells that made the people on the whole resistant to both malaria and blood blots, Dr. Pes, the man who first brought real data about Blue Zones to the notice of demographers around the world, feels that it is actually, “… the environment, the lifestyle, and the food are by far more important for a healthy life.”  This leads us to the thing that is so special about this particular Blue Zone.

What Is Special in Barbagia?

Perhaps the most special or significant aspect of the people in this area of Sardinia with respect to living longer is the rate of men who achieve this distinction.  While elsewhere in the world women outnumber men at a rate of 4 to 1 in achieving 100, here it is not so.  Men and women equally are capable of reaching the age of 100 and the rate is 1 to 1. Why do men seem equally able to reach 100 in Sardinia?  To answer that, we need to discuss the lifestyle and diet of the area.

What Do These Blue Zone People Eat?

The thing that might surprise you at first is that these people in the Barbagia region do NOT eat a Mediterranean diet.  When they first arrived in this area, they were hunters and gatherers.  Later on they became herdsmen with flocks of sheep and goats as well as some cattle which is what they mainly are today.  In fact, agriculture as a whole was very late coming to the area and has only been around a few thousand years and not the 10,000+ you normally see quoted.

However, they do grow gardens and that is mostly what they depend on in addition to their flocks.  This does not, however, mean that they eat a lot of meat.  Meat is usually served on Sundays and at festival times.  But they do eat a lot of cheese especially pecorino cheese made from their sheep’s milk.

The rest of the diet is mainly made up of fava beans, bread and the vegetables they raise.  The grain used to make the breads and some pasta are obtained by selling the livestock and buying the grain “staples”.  If a report from the 1940s is accurate, the vegetables were mainly served at dinner at night as a vegetable soup.  Vegetables mainly consist of zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and the fava beans.  But that isn’t the sum total of what they eat as indicated by what Buettner mentions as he visits several people over 100.

In one home there were sausages but no mention of what they were made from.  In another, he met the man he had come to see out back of the home in the middle of butchering a cow.  Admittedly most of the meat would go to his children’s families and friends.  Once Buettner was asked inside the home, he was served a Sardinian cookie made with raisins, almonds and a jam made from cooked wine.  So it’s not all vegetables, beans and bread.

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