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Power Nine: Part 1 – Food

Well, I thought we’d get the “diet” out of the way when I tell you about my two-year Blue Zone journey with food–one of the Power 9 principles. Two things that I love about the Blue Zones are that it’s carb-friendly and loves wine. Whew, that was a close one! First of all, this is a lifestyle, not a diet. Instead of forcing you to remove carbs or drink shakes, Blue Zones encourages increasing your plant-based foods while eating smaller portions of meat and dairy. I realized I had to live with the changes I made forever, not just for a short time like I would on “diets.” That took some real thought. And here are some tricks I’ve learned so far.

First, it’s not about food as much as it is about eating wisely. I did not change my meal plans at all other than increasing my side dishes. I ate more whole grains such as brown rice, beans, and veggies. That’s right; I kept eating the same foods and only added to my favorite meals. I would argue that if you are an essentially fast food connoisseur, you can do the same. Add baby carrots, a banana, a handful of nuts, or an apple to your daily routine, and you are already on the road to success. The trick is adding to your diet and not taking away the foods you love. 

Here are some breakfast tips that worked for me:

I can eat oatmeal maybe once a week. It’s just not my favorite thing to eat. But eating wisely is easy. I love granola and found it’s a great base to add nuts, fruit, and even coconut for a fast, energy-filled start to my day. Another option I discovered is morning glory muffins filled with carrots, apples, walnuts, raisins, coconut, and whole grains; they taste amazing. And in the fall, I enjoy whole wheat zucchini pumpkin muffins. And some days, I’ll blend a fruit smoothy with almond or coconut milk before heading out the door. Blue Zones has hundreds of recipes available, but if you find something that works for you and is healthy, go for it!

The other on-the-go breakfast meal I have are frozen breakfast burritos filled with homemade hashbrowns, black beans, peppers, onion, salsa, a little bit of homemade turkey sausage for flavor, and scrambled eggs. The trick to this meal is to make a huge batch and freeze them so they’ll last you for several months. And on the weekends, I’m going to enjoy eating and baking my favorite breakfast goodies, including coffee cake, because the Blue Zones journey is all about moderation and not extremes.

Here are some of my favorite lunch ideas. Eating wisely means you can add a salad to your favorite lunch rotation. Throw in a hard-boiled egg, beans, quinoa, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, and fresh veggies, and turn your salad into a feast! And if you’re going to make a sandwich, you can do the same thing. I love to put hummus or avocado on my sourdough bread instead of mayo. If meat and cheese is your thing, consider adding lettuce, tomato, cucumber, zucchini, and maybe some peppers or sprouts, and you’ve really beefed up your boring sandwich into something extraordinary.

And let’s not skimp on dinner, my friends. Happily, I discovered some of my favorite ethnic foods are great for the Blue Zones journey. Take Ethiopian and Indian food. My favorite dishes are the lentils and garbanzo bean choices. They are full of so much flavor you don’t care if they’re healthy. Another great food is Mexican food. You can make or buy refried beans with olive oil and roasted garlic, and you’ll love how they turn out. You can also add black beans, peppers, onion, and mushrooms to your main dish and turn them into a savory food experience. 

Don’t get me started on soups. Make your favorite soup and stews, and empty out your vegetable drawer in your refrigerator. Add beans, lentils, barley, or brown rice for a most satisfying meal. Minestrone is not only a family favorite in my house but is the perfect soup for adding a medley of flavorful vegetables. If pasta is your thing, consider making it with pesto, skipping the meat in your marinara sauce, and adding more vegetables.

And here is what I’ve learned on my journey. I don’t eat the vegetables I don’t like. Why would I do that to myself? My food is supposed to taste good, not bad; that’s the whole point of an enjoyable meal, and an important part of eating wisely. The second thing I’ve found, and this did take time, is that I now find meat dishes lacking flavor. I now naturally gravitate towards vegetarian dishes because they taste better. This is no joke. I crave vegetables more than ever before. 

Here’s what I’m still working on, diary. I love dairy. I love it in my coffee and tea. I love it as a snack and as a meal. And it makes me sad to think of life without cheese. Do you agree? Here are the tricks I am incorporating into my diet. I am slowly adapting to coconut milk in my cappuccinos. It doesn’t foam as much, but I’ve found that it increases the coffee flavor without milk. But tea without milk is unthinkable, so I’ve switched to organic milk. Butter stays in my diet, as a rule. Sorry, not negotiating that one. 

And as for cheese, well, that is my weakness. Almost every weekend, my family enjoys a charcuterie spread. Now, I can live without the nasty carcinogens and phosphates from salami, but I am going to have cheese on the board. So, sticking with the Blue Zones idea of adding to my diet, I now enjoy a handful of mixed nuts, hummus, dates, figs, goat, and sheep cheeses in addition to my cow cheese. And you know what? I’m generally eating less cow dairy and enjoying more flavor with nuts, figs, dates, and sliced apples. In the end, I still win because I love what I’m eating. It just turns out to be more Blue Zones approved.

Now, let’s talk about dessert! I’ve made another lifestyle change. If I want something sweet, I have to make it from scratch. Is this a punishment? I don’t think so. I still love cookies; I just make the dough in larger batches to freeze, so it’s always on hand. And I’m gravitating toward oatmeal cookies instead of chocolate chip cookies. When I want pie or cake, I make it homemade. And here’s what I’ve learned from this: I don’t miss the candy and store-bought baked goods because nothing can compete with my homemade desserts. This is a win-win in my book.

When I go grocery shopping, I spend a lot of time in the produce aisle, skip the snack and soda aisle, buy way less meat than before, and make it a rule to read the ingredients on the labels. If I can’t pronounce the ingredients, I don’t need to buy the food, which weeds out prepared meals and all junk food. And in general, my grocery budget is going down despite inflation. 

This process means I’m bumping into another Power 9 principle, which is all about natural movements, and cooking homemade meals qualifies as that. I firmly believe that food tastes better when made from scratch, not from a box or a can. But none of these things happened overnight. It’s been a process, and I am still learning more things to add to my diet.

I understand if you don’t have time to make everything from scratch. There have been times when I haven’t been able to as well. But I can still add healthy foods to my day. I always have a container of mixed nuts in my purse. Apples and bananas are a great option to grab on your way out the door. And one can still gravitate to salads and healthier options on most menus.

Here’s the great news. I feel better than I did before eating this way. My food cravings have shifted, and it is a lifestyle change that can last forever. I haven’t taken anything away from my diet. I’ve only added to it. That’s what eating wisely is all about.

Cheers!

For more information on the Blue Zones and the Blue Zones Project–Lake County, visit their website. I highly recommend taking their RealAge Test–it’s what started me on my Blue Zones Journey. 

Trudy Wakefield

Trudy is the owner and editor for The Bloom. The Bloom's dedicated to showcasing all the good parts of life. If it's good news, you'll probably find it here.

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