You might think the goal of living to 100 years old sounds unattainable, maybe even a little silly. But think again. Did you know, for example, that the US is home to 97,000 centenarians? Meanwhile, the world's oldest woman is 117 years old. She lives in Japan, which has the highest rate of centenarians — 0.06% of the population are 100 or even older. Longevity is still considered a gift across cultures.
Living to 100 years old may sound like a daunting task, but with some changes in mindset, lifestyle, and particular diet choices, it can be done. Of course, reaching this age won't be smooth sailing, as health and wellness can be difficult to pursue. For instance, weight-loss journeys rarely follow a straight trajectory, as you end up experiencing losses, gains, and plateaus. The same goes for dieting — it’s really easy to slip up and eat something you “shouldn’t,” so it’s better to find a strong motivation for weight loss. Living to 100 years old may just be the right goal for you to find this balance, where you build healthy habits and treat yourself with compassion over a long period of time.
So how do we do it? Today, we'll look at the very specific diet of the Sardinians, known as a population of the world's longest-living people.
Sardinia is a small, largely isolated island off the coast of Italy, consisting of a cluster of communities where inhabitants are historically known to live longer than the average population of the same country or even when compared to the world population. It was one of the first official “Blue Zones” to be identified, with nearly 10 times more centenarians per capita than the US.
So what is the secret behind their long, healthy and prosperous lives? - Mainly, their nutritionally balanced diet. This is what we are going to explore - The type of food they consume on the daily, the key nutritional components of the food and surrounding lifestyle choices that complements their diet.
The Sardinian Diet
The Sardinian diet focuses on whole-grain bread, beans, garden vegetables, fruits, and in some parts of the island of Sardinia, mastic oil which provides natural medicinal protection against various ailments such as stomach or intestinal ulcers, breathing issues and muscle spasms, to name a few. Meat is often only reserved for special occasions or holidays, thus there is a lesser dependence on meat-based protein. In fact, most Sardinian recipes will encourage beans in place of meat.
Meanwhile, Sardinians are also reliant on dairy products from goat and sheep as a means for calorie intake. Aside from that, 47% of the total calorie intake in the Sardinian diet is due to whole grains. Studies find that long-term consumption of whole grains can improve total cholesterol, triglycerides, and hemoglobin levels, lowering the risk of chronic or cardiovascular diseases.
Some note-worthy Sardinian recipes include:
A Sardinian dessert made of pecorino cheese with citrus zest, fried to a crispy shell then topped with honey. The pecorino cheese and the local honey, both of which are popular products in this region’s cuisine, coalesces to produce a delightful savory taste that stays with you well after the first bite. The distinguishing element of this dessert is the soft and slightly zesty taste of the cheese, which is made from sheep’s milk.
2. Sardinian Paella
An Italian version of paella, where rice is swapped out for fregola pasta. Similar to couscous, the Sardinian Pasta offers more variety - including salted seafood, small portions of meat, and addition of a variety of flavor-inducing ingredients such as fresh tomatoes, chopped onions, basil leaves; seasoned with black pepper and white wine.
3. Spaghettini alla Bottarga
This is spaghettini noodles topped with bottarga, which is salted, pressed, and seasoned mullet roe (or tuna), i.e. preserved fish eggs. Bottarga, which acts as a brilliant cheese substitute, is grated over the pasta mixed with olive oil, garlic, starchy water and chili. Apart from being rich and creamy, but the fish eggs provide a healthful dose of protein.
4. Sardinian Herb Soup
A herb soup with beans instead of meat, featuring leafy greens such as spinach or kale, and can be served with fregola pasta. The herbs used in the soup has many medicinal properties and is native to the island itself.
5. Sa Panada
This is the Sardinian version of a chicken pot pie. Native to the Assemini region of Cagliari province, this savory dish is highly adaptable. It is rich and delicious, and can be plated as a starter, main course or even as a dessert. The fillings can be of any type of meat, or if you'd prefer a vegetarian version, the meat can be swapped with potatoes, garbanzo, or white beans.
This Sardinian stuffed pasta dumplings is made with cheese and potatoes, resembling dumplings from East-Asian countries. Culurgiones are flavored with pecorino and fresh mint, and seasoned with tomato sauces which elevates the dish and enhances of the overall piquancy of the dish.
7. Minstrone Soup
An Italian favorite, the Minestrone Soup is flavorful soup with protein-rich beans and fresh vegetables. It is known to maintain its taste and consistency for a long time. Therefore, it can be refrigerated for about a week and reheated, and yet it would taste just fine. Pro tip - the pasta does not freeze as well, so it is suggested that you freeze only the soup, and after reheating and thawing the liquid, add the pasta, and it’ll be as good as new.
8. Sardinian Strawberry Quinoa Salad
Its dressing is a combination of olive oil, orange juice, lemon juice, cider vinegar, and maple syrup. The strawberries used in this dish are found on the island of Sardinia, although strawberries from your own backyard would do just fine as well. This salad provides a good balance of nutrients - including antioxidants, vitamins and also a high protein-content.
9. Sardinian Pasta Fagioli
Italian cuisine is known for their fantastic pastas and Sardinia makes its own mark on the country’s cuisine through its delectable choices of pesto pastas. Sardinian Pasta Fagioli — a hearty serving of beans with pasta, with optional pecorino cheese on top. It is the perfect comfort food, known for its subtle texture due its preference for the lighter crème fraiche instead of heavy cream.
10. Gnocchetti Sardi
Gnochetti, a mini potato gnocchi, served with pancetta and pesto for a creamy pasta dish. Also known as Malloreddus, the gnochetti dough is rolled in small doughs and small grooves are made using a gnocchi board or by simply using a fork. The grooves form an essential texture that helps in retaining the delicious flavor of the tangy sauce.
Get the most out of your diet with Nymble
As you can see, some of the ingredients in Sardinian recipes may be hard to find at your local grocers’. However, as with any healthy diet, there are always substitutable ingredients you can use to get as close as possible to the authentic flavor, while still preserving the nutritional value that the Sardinian diet promotes. With Nymble, we encourage users to design your own recipes based on your own dietary goals, taste, and cuisine preferences. You can look through a range recipes and cuisines that you can modify to your liking. Nymble has an extensive catalog of Mediterranean and vegetarian recipes to choose from, that have similar nutritional benefits as the Sardinian diet. And, you can also customize and filter these recipes based on your diet specifications.
A Sardinian diet tends to swap out the meat in traditional recipes, opting to prepare beans with salads, soups, and whole-grain pasta. By understanding the basics of a Sardinian diet, we can make the necessary ingredient changes to adapt their recipes in pursuit of healthier eating habits. And while some ingredients may be hard to locate or buy, focusing on nutritional intake can help you figure out local alternative ingredients you can use to make these delicious and healthy meals.