Buettner has discovered what he believes is the answering to reaching such an old age and being healthy right up to the end: diet. So he has set out to capture the recipes of the world's longest living people.
"Individuals get lucky, but populations don’t," Buettner told NBC's Maria Shriver in the TODAY series, "Eating to 100." "There’s too many people to chalk it up to collective luck, or even genes," said Buettner.
No matter where people live, foods make up all longevity diets: beans, greens, grains, and nuts.
"They know how to make them taste good and they know how to optimize them for their health," Buettner said.
In the TODAY series, "Eating to 100," Buettner and NBC's Maria Shriver visit three of the Blue Zones:
On the remote Greek island of Ikaria, people outlive the average American by more than a decade. On Ikaria, 97 percent of the people are over age 70 and Buettner found only three cases of dementia. By comparison, there's a 50 percent change of dementia for Americans who reach 85.
A common side dish is wild dandelion, boiled like spinach. These greens have 10 times more antioxidants than red wine, according to Buettner. Chickpeas, also a favorite on Ikaria, are the cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world, said Buettner.
The Nicoya Pennisula is famous for beautiful sandy beaches, exotic wildlife and people who seem to defy the limits of age. In Nicoya, about 1 in 250 people live to 100, compared to 1 in 4,000 who make it to 100 in America. Their diet of rice, beans and tortillas would be viewed as unhealthy in America. But it's way better than you think.
"If the average American could add a cup of beans a day, it would extend their life by four years," said Buettner.
Loma Linda, California
An hour west of Los Angeles is Loma Linda, California, where nearly half of the city belongs to the 7th Day Adventist Church. Most of the church members don't eat meat or fish and they never touch alcohol or cigarettes. And they live about seven to 10 years longer than the rest of Americans, according to the Adventist Health Study.
In Loma Linda, eating healthfully is part of the religion. Their diet is inspired by the Bible, the diet of the Garden of Eden. The citizens of Loma Linda are always on the move. They take afternoon nature walks and follow a strict lifestyle established over 150 years ago by the church's founder, Ellen G. White.