The Sardinian Diet May Be the Secret to Longevity

2009-10-21 13:09

Sardinia is the second largest island off Italy’s coast. Besides being beautiful, there is a medical mystery about Sardinians that have scientists scratching their heads. Sardinia claims its place as one of the top “blue zones” for longevity, where people live to be well over 100.

At least 220 of Sardinia’s current 1.6 million people have reached 100, twice the average of the rest of the world, and 20 times as many as in the United States. Interestingly, men and women share longevity equally, whereas elsewhere, women reach 100 4 times more often than men.

Sardinia, particularly the central-eastern part of the island, is one of five blue zones that have been discovered by National Geographic Magazine writer Dan Buettner. The other zones of longevity include:

  • The islands of Okinawa, Japan – home of some of the longest lived people on earth
  • Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
  • Ikaria, Greece – the most recently discovered blue spot has the highest percentage of 90-year-olds on earth. Nearly 1 out of 3 people live into their 90s. they also have 20% lower rate of cancer, 50% lower rate of heart disease, and almost no dementia, according to Buettner.
  • Loma Linda, California – the only location known in the United States, this area is home to a group of Seventh-day Adventists who live to be centenarians.

Scientists believe Sardinian men share a genetic trait passed from father to son that makes them less likely than the general population to die from heart disease or stroke. But while researchers look for genetic clues, the people of Sardinia attribute this phenomenon to their unpolluted air, lack of stress, and a healthy diet, including wine with very high levels of antioxidants.

The Sardinian diet is a balance of healthy nutrients, fresh locally grown foods prepared simply with olive oil, lemon and garlic to compliment dishes. Meals are served in small courses usually with a pasta or soup first, a main dish with a focus on plant-based foods such as vegetables, legumes, and nuts, and ending with a salad to aid in digestion.

Meat intake is low in Sardinia, typically only once or twice a week. When meat is eaten, it is generally regional and consists of lamb, lean pork, oily fish, and shellfish. The most common method for cooking meat is over a woodfire or spit. One dish meals containing a little meat and a lot of seasonal, locally grown vegetables are also popular in this area.

Farms in Sardinia grow many different fruit and vegetable crops, including tomatoes, oranges, figs, apples, apricots and grapes. Artichokes (carciofi) are a regional favorite and eaten in the winter season.

Desserts are primarily a little cheese and fresh fruit. The cheese, called Pecorino, is made from the milk of grass-fed sheep and is high in omega-3 fatty acids. There is another type of cheese, called Cazu marzu or rotten cheese, which contains live maggots that ferment the cheese. Sardinians eat this because they feel the bacteria are good for the gut, however it is considered illegal, and can only be purchased on the Black Market.

Because of the dangers associated with this cheese, it is considered an illegal and is only available on the Black Market....Definitely not for the faint-hearted

The wine of Sardinia is a very dark, red wines called vino nero, which means “black wine”. Wine is consumed with the meal. Some wines local to the Sardinian island include Occhio di Pernice, Cannonau, Vermentino, Malvasia di Bosa, Moscato, Mirto, Fil’e ferru, and Abbardente.

As the Sardinians say "A Kent' Annos", which means may you live to be 100.

Sources Include: ABC News, In Italy, Go-Sardinia.com, and the journal Experimental Gerontology.

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Comments

The whole low on meat aspect is actually pretty inaccurate. I'm Sardinian and there wasn't a single day we didn't have meat, and in central Sardinia it is normal to eat whole roasted bores at least once a week. Fatty meats are essential for a healthy nervous system. Also, we don't eat much pasta. That's an Italian thing -- and we aren't Italian. Grain products such as breads and pasta cause inflammation of the arteries which leads to heart disease. Cholesterol is a must in a diet and is needed to repair such damage, but when eaten in conjunction with damaging grains, the cholesterol keeps piling on to fix the damage causing clogging of the arteries. Also, the sudden blood sugar spike pushes cholesterol into the fat cells which otherwise would be used to maintain the brain and nerve functions. Seafood is also a big part of the diet on the coast as well as local wild plants and fruits. But you won't see a meal where chicken, or pork, or beef, or donkey, or horse isn't on the menu.
Thank you for your post, Sardinian. I know that everything you write is true. The outright lies the media and anti-animal protein and fat people propagate are truly sickening. These people just lie, lie, and lie some more. I live in Japan, and I also get sick of reading all the lies about the "Okinawan Diet," where people live very long. The media and the anti-meat crowd repeatedly say that Okinawans live on vegetables and a bit of fish; this is an OUTRIGHT lie. They absolutely live for pork and fatty pork! It is an absolute staple of their diet! Their meals are loaded with it.
According to a new paper on Sardinia, they don't eat a lot of meat. In addition, food habits have probably changed from a few generations ago. See: Pes, Poulain, et al. Lifestyle and nutrition related to male longevity in Sardinia. In journal: Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases
To the man who claims he's Sardinian. I am Sardinian, born and raised and I cannot relate with any of the statements you made. No bread or pasta? We're not italian??? LOL So when exactly did Sardinians seperate from Italy? Why didn't they send me a letter? Nobody told me. I've been living a lie for 63 yrs, wow. All this time thinking I'm italian and yet the whole time I wasn't. Why did they teach us italian in school, it was a mandatory class. We had to learn Sardo and italian. How peculiar. Pistoccu, Pane Carasau, Su Coccoi, these popular and ancient sardinian breads that I've been eating since birth must have been a figment of my imagination. I can't really remember eating donkey or horse, mostly porccedu, lamb, and fish, even lumachi. I have family in the north and I reside in the south, yet we seem to eat more or less the same things, differing slightly. Very bizzare.
thank you, Anna, well said!
Oh thank you Anna. Were we perhaps trolled? Your comment is clarifying indeed.
A peer reviewed paper on the Sardinian diet was based on the research of Pes, Tolu, Poulain, et al. in 2011. It reported that meat was consumed 4 to 5 times a month by the average person. The researchers noted that the average per capita meat consumption was very low all over Sardinia even though the pastoral population in the highlands used to eat meat at a higher rate. Pes, et al. Lifestyle and nutrition related to male longevity in Sardinia: an ecological study. 2011, Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Disease. Five of the researchers are Italian. Their research could be in error but I doubt it since other reports have confirmed these findings. I think the author of the EmaxHealth report, Denise Reynolds, is correct. I should mention, that Salaris, Poulain and Samaras published a study on the longevity of Sardinians. We found that shorter men lived 2 years longer than taller ones. Therefore, Sardinian longevity may be due to both their better diet and shorter stature. This paper was published in the journal Biodemography and Social Biology in 2012. Title: Height and survival at older ages among men born in an inland village in Sardina (Italy), 1866-2006. Tom