Blue Zones researcher shares 2 cheap, 'revolutionary supplements' you can find in any grocery store

Blue Zones researcher shares 2 cheap, 'revolutionary supplements' you can find in any grocery store
  • Blue Zones researcher Dan Buettner considers some foods to be like "powerful supplements" for longevity.

  • Beans are rich in fiber, protein, and linked to longer lifespans in elderly people worldwide.

  • Walnuts are one of the only tree nuts with a good dose of omega-3s, which are great for your heart.

It's a warm, sunny day in Beverly Hills, and it feels like just about every important business person and political advisor in the world has arrived for the annual Milken Institute Globel Conference.

Everybody here wants to know: "Can you live to 100?" That's the title for a six-person panel on stage Tuesday morning at the conference, and the room is packed. The panelists are discussing what might be some of the best ways to help people live both healthier and longer.

Businessman Peter Diamandis, founder of the XPRIZE, is the most experimental of the bunch. He has been telling the crowd what he does for longevity: lifts weights, prioritizes protein in his diet, tries to get at least eight hours of sleep a night, and takes off-label rapamycin, plus quercetin and berberine supplements.

After hearing all this, researcher and journalist Dan Buettner turned to the audience: "I have two revolutionary supplements to tell you all about," he said. The crowd chuckled, recognizing that the items he was about to recommend probably weren't actually supplements at all, but rather a few foundational ingredients of a tried-and-true lifestyle.

Buettner has spent the past two decades exploring the world's "Blue Zones," the world's alleged longevity hotspots where people have lived long, happy lives without much pharmacological intervention. In those regions, he has found two cheap grocery store items that are a staple of many people's diets: Walnuts and beans.

Blue Zones aside, there's plenty of evidence from various studies around the world showing the health-boosting benefits of these two ingredients.

Beans are high in protein and stave off snack cravings

A hand pouring black beans into a plate.
Nico Schnico for BI

"If you want to take a supplement, take about 80 black beans a day," Buettner said.

Beans are hearty, cheap, protein-rich, belly-filling foods that people living in many of the world's longevity hotspots prioritize at almost every meal.

Buettner recommends trying to get in roughly a cup of them a day yourself. One of his favorite ways to eat more beans is by simmering a Mediterranean minestrone soup in his slow cooker.

He points to one 2004 study that surveyed hundreds of elderly bean fans in Japan, Sweden, Greece, and Australia, and showed that generally, people who ate more beans tended to live longer (a roughly 7% reduction in mortality for every 20 grams of legumes). Other foods people ate didn't seem to have the same strong longevity ties.

Walnuts are good for your 'gut garden'

squirrel eating walnut
Squirrels know what's up. NurPhoto/Getty Images

"If you don't like beans, we also found that people who eat between 15 and 30 walnuts a day are living about three years longer than people who don't eat walnuts," Buettner said.

Walnuts are a favored nut among Seventh Day Adventists of Loma Linda, California, people who routinely live about 10 years longer than other Americans. Adventists get creative with their walnuts too, substituting them into meatless loaves for dinner, or sprinkling them on cereal in the morning.

Walnuts are also the healthy snacking choice of journalist Michael Pollan, who has been investigating the health and environmental issues tied to our industrial food system for decades.

Experts say eating nuts, instead of nut butters, is great for your "gut garden" (aka your microbiome) because it packs in plenty of fiber to keep things chugging along. Walnuts also have plenty of linoleic acid in them, an Omega-3 fatty acid that is good for heart health, and not very abundant in other tree nuts.

Olive oil is also a science-backed addition to your diet

olive oil on spoon
Bloomberg Creative/Getty Images

"What about olive oil?" Diamandis asked Buettner, seemingly intrigued by the Blue Zone guru's research-backed eating advice.

Buettner responded that he's "all for olive oil."

Olive oil is the darling substance of biohacker tech bros like Bryan Johnson, who recently started selling his own pricey line of EVOO for $37 a bottle. But experts say more reasonably-priced oils from your local store will work just fine.

Behind the hype, there's good research backing up the benefits of regular olive oil consumption. Not only is olive oil use associated with better heart health over butter, there's also evidence that it may protect brain health directly, by reducing inflammation and protecting the blood-brain barrier — shielding our noggins from some cognitive decline. A new 30-year study of more than 90,000 people across the US suggested even just a dash of olive oil a day might lower a person's risk of dementia death by about 28%, even if the rest of their diet isn't very healthy.

"Olive oil shots!" Diamandis said with a smile.

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