Why am I in Ikaria? And a chat with Dan Buettner…

Posted on July 30th, 2012

It’s a fun story behind how I wound up here in Ikaria, a small island all the way over to the east of Cyclades which has been formally freed from the Turks for exactly 100 years this week (I have the commemorative T-shirt to show for it).

I’m also here for a very fun reason. Here’s a little video I just did in which I interview Dan Buettner, a National Geographic adventurer (such things do exist) and author of the New York Times bestseller The Blue Zones, which kinda explains things. We’re sitting in Thea’s Inn, at sunset, in Nas, Ikaria. And, no, it couldn’t be more idyllic. (PS, I know I stumbled at the beginning, but finding video editors in Ikaria is a bit of an issue!)

YouTube Preview Image

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing some insights and recipes and ideas from what I’ve learned from being here.

But to give you a little background, I’ll first share how things came about. It’s nice serendipity. Or miraio, which is what the Greeks call it.

About ten years ago, Dan set about exploring the regions of the world where people live the longest. These regions are called Blue Zones. Dan narrowed things down to five such zones, one of which is Okinawa in Japan, another is Icaria.

The population of Ikaria is only 8000 people; there are more than 90 people over the age of 100.

That’s not the half of it. The oldies also look 20 years younger than their years and get about on motor scooters, farm every day and are dead cheeky. There’s also zero cases of Alzeimer’s.

He also identified nine “stupidly simple” life principles that folk in said Blue Zones have in common and which seem to point to some sort of longevity blueprint. Then he wrote a New York Times bestseller – The Blue Zones – all about it.

The inverted commas on “stupidly simple” are mine. For, about three years ago, I wrote about Dan’s Blue Zones. And referred to his “seven years of tireless research” as, yes, stupidly simple.

Now, those inverted commas are Dan’s. Taken from a comment he posted on my blog that expressed some miffness with my throwaway line.

And from this professional frisson a beautiful e-friendship emerged.

We emailed back and forth for a few years, realising we have a freakish amount in common (we’re both in the Guinness Book of Records, we’ve both ridden across vast tracts of the world on mountain bikes, we’ve both preferred wandering the planet in search of adventures rather than doing the settling down thing).

We promised we’d do an adventure together.

And, so, a few months back Dan emailed to ask if I’d like to join him and National Geographic in Ikaria. He was returning to dig deeper into the eating habits on the island…to see if a longevity diet could be developed.

I just happened to have JUST booked my ticket to Europe, with no fixed plans.

I said, ABS-O-BLOODY-LUTELY.

For seven days we travelled around the island interviewing people, eating, drinking, and eating and drinking some more (It’s called research!). And being challenged by the things I was learning and absorbing. The Nat Geo kids have now left. I’ve stayed. Because it feels good. And I have more to learn…

Is there anything in particular you’d like explained or shared? You might have seen my Instagram photos and have questions?

 

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  • seeker

    aaoooooooooh i miss those coffee frappee things ….
    back at work – for the second time ever i didnt want to come home from my holiday!
    (the first time was when i came to sydney – sharp intake of breath – wow!((still here!!))
    loved greece.
    oh well, sydney is damn good too!
    piano piano …
    thanks for the vid sarah!
    xo

    [Reply]

    seeker Reply:

    ps what the?! – youre in the guinness book of records?!!! what for?! how cool. i love guinness!! he he :)

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  • Miranda

    I’ll be interested to see what it is that you take from the Blue Zone approach to eating. Each of the zones do not seem to consume much in the way of meats and their is a higher proportion of soy – tofu etc. This doesn’t seem to marry well with your current approach of Paleo style of eating.
    I am curious only as I have tried to follow a Paelo approach after being mainly a vegetarian for many years (I did eat fish) and I find it to be the reverse of what many have said – I do not feel ‘liberated’ or more vibrant – quite the opposite – I feel very sluggish and weighed down by the consumption of meats.
    I think I need to go back and read the book from the Integrative Nutrition – when I read that and I was tranisitioning the power of those words were liberating. So I think another read might be worth it – at least then I can remind myself that there is no ‘one way’ or specific diet approach that will work for everyone and it is only ourselves that know which way works for us.
    For me I don’t think Paleo is the best way – I want my oats and yoghurt back – and no more meat!!
    On another note – it is wonderful to read your continuing positive good fortune of further self discovery and journey to wellness Sarah.

    [Reply]

    Rose Reply:

    I love the mediterranean diet type of idea. A little meat, lots of veg (lots of wild greens), some goat milk products and some grains. With regards to the Blue zones having a high level of soy intake, I think that’s debatable. They might have a little soy here and there in Okinawa but I really don’t think it’s that much. They certainly don’t use soy in the Greek and Italian blue zones. Really great interview. I think we just take from that of works for you as an individual.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Hey Miranda and Rose…you’re both right. I don’t advocate large amounts of meat…I eat small amounts to flavour meals (one rasher of bacon, a few anchovies). I also turn to broths and stocks and also meat FAT and animal products (butter etc) more so. I think paleo can be interpreted as meat-based…but to my mind it’s not.
    On the soy front…you’ll find the Japanese eat theirs fermented (miso, tempeh). Also, the Okinawan’s eat pork…more so than tofu. The rest of Japan is not a Blue Zone.
    But, yes. It’s SO important to work out what works for you…

    [Reply]

    ekougi Reply:

    I think part of the mediterranean (Greek) diet that a lot of people wouldn’t realise (unless they’ve grown up in a very traditional family) is that they also fast a couple of times a year. They avoid all meat and meat products, some people even fast from oil. And a lot of devout people also have strict vegan diets on Wednesdays and Fridays.

    [Reply]

    Alice Reply:

    Hi Miranda,
    I agree with you, in that too much meat doesn’t give me that shooting-energy-out-of-my-fingertips-when-i-wake-up-in-the-morning-surfing-on-a-wave-of-optimum-health but a loose paleo approach kind of does… in its own funny way. There is no way on this earth that I could start my day with eggs and bacon, it doesn’t gel with me, makes me feel like I’ve eaten cement, but I know it is perfect for some other folk. I know fructose/sugars are bad, and while I’ve cut out most sugars/processed crap/gluten-y grains (I had a GP tell me at 23 years old I ‘probably have arthritis’ in my hands, so I saw a holistic doctor, cut out wheat and goodbye sore and swollen and achey hands) nothing makes me want to rise to greet the day more that a bowl of berries, half a grated apple and a mushed up tangelo with pumpkin and sunflower seeds, chopped almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts and whatever nut is lying around the house.

    So here is to all of us finding our little food things that make us feel good :)

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Hey Miranda and Alice, have you tried cutting out grains etc for a whole month? To give your metabolism the chance to adapt? I find if I’m still eating grains and then eat meat, it’s harder. Just an idea…

    [Reply]

    Miranda Reply:

    Thanks Sarah,
    I’ve tried almost everything! When I transitioned to Paleo I was eating grains – only in the form of rice cakes – and that’s it. I wasn’t having dairy either. The final part was getting rid of all grains. It just hasn’t worked very well for me and I think that a little bit of that has to do with my salycilate/amine sensitivities. I don’t eat processed foods, and my sugar is limited to only fresh fruit – and that is only a piece here and there. I am definitely re-reading Integrative Nutrition – that book is a great read and the history of the Institute and its ethos is very inspiring. It is great to read the rewards/experiences of others whom have studied there and the way that it became a wholistic change for them.

  • Ian

    Sarah…I’ve found following your Icarian experience fascinating. I’d be interested to hear more of the “spiritual” side of the Icarians as well as their sense of community, 2 other important (if I recall correctly) elements of Blue Zone societies.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    will do!

    [Reply]

  • Mia Bluegirl

    National Geographic adventurer?? That sounds like the coolest job in the world! (Anybody who doesn’t follow National Geographic on Instagram should. Even if you don’t have Instagram, just join up purely to follow National Geographic. Their photos are beyond amazing. Although Sarah’s are pretty sweet too!)

    I’m just dying to watch that video, as soon as I am not at work I will. Lovely to see you are still a bit of a nerd even when you’re on holiday Sarah. :) That’s awesome!

    [Reply]

  • http://cinnamoneats.wordpress.com Naz

    Very interesting clip right there, gives you a lot to think about. Looking forward to seeing what else you will find out over the course of your trip.

    [Reply]

  • michael

    The Paleo diet is not for everyone .. and a blog format is not sufficient to elaborate on the many reasons why this is so.
    This is also true of the Paleo workout .. it’s two steps up from the standard footy workout that I grew up with but not a patch on any longterm gentle disciplined practise of just about any martial Art ..
    Paleo looks good .. it’s an interesting process for (mostly) young people to make a connection between what goes in their mouth and how they look and feel.
    It’s a beginning ..

    [Reply]

    Miranda Reply:

    Thanks Michael,
    I really like the way you – quickly and without too much fuss – summed up the Paleo approach. You are absoultely right when you highlight that it isn’t for everyone – no diet is really. We are our own best tool to know what is right/wrong, feels good or doesn’t.
    I know I’m one of those ones where it just doesn’t work. But at least I tried it without dismissing the merits of why it might be successful for others.
    Back to listening to my own body :)

    [Reply]

    Mia Bluegirl Reply:

    At it’s simplest I think it has some good advice. Eat less processed crap, move every day, get enough sleep and sunshine and avoid stress. Anybody would do well to follow these recommendations.

    I think a lot of the internet purists have taken it too far though, and overcomplicated it.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Agree! Agree! Ditto cutting out sugar…it cuts out all processed foods.

    [Reply]

  • http://westendgirl.ca Ariane

    I would loooove to hear more about how you keep your health together while traveling, especially when getting shaken out of your comfort zone. I find especially if there’s hot temperatures, late nights, long excursions, I can really feel ill really quickly and my chronic health issues flare up. A flare up can easily spiral out of control too. Sometimes it seems there’s no real way to plan enough to prevent this when outside my familiar comfort zone bubble, and I’ve spent so many trips and holidays just feeling awful. So wondering if you have any good tips on that front. Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    will do Ariane

    [Reply]

  • Kathie

    Wow! Loved that interview, & then trolled thru all your other YouTube clips & just feel uplifted, excited (even tho I’m ot the one tripping) & really encouraged by all that you’re discovering & learning & passing onto us! Thank you, thank you, I ‘m loving it all! keep up the adventures & no more ‘wobbly’ moments, you are doing what you’re meant to ve doing!! Xoxox

    [Reply]

  • http://melbournenaturalfertility.com.au/ Nat Kringoudis

    Frappe! That’s the best. Oh and bluezones – love this. Also the horns… I miss those horns!

    [Reply]

  • http://www.arthousehomelife.com alison

    I wanna live like this. Would it be ok though if I just got a teensy bit of collagen injected into the frown line i now have over one of my eyebrows? Nah, didn’t think so. Better work on those other factors. Thanks for taking us with you on this journey. Loving it.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.essenceofwellnesscolorado.blogspot.com Ashley

    I have not read The Blue Zones and would love to hear what these nine “stupidly simple” life principles are!

    [Reply]

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  • http://www.thesparechangekitchen.com thesparechangekitchen

    Love the interview! Looking forward to hearing more about this subject.

    [Reply]

  • Nicole

    Hi Sarah,
    In one of my lectures (I’m currently doing yoga teacher training) we were talking about aging and the topic of Blue Zones came up. I remember our lecturer saying that another important ‘common thread’ in the Blue Zone communities was the way aging was perceived. I.e. Elders were really revered and respected – strong community leaders, etc. Aging was something to aspire to not, as in Western society, something to halt or reverse. I thought this was really interesting. Sorry I don’t have any references for that info, don’t have much time at the moment.

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  • Angie

    This is so interesting Sarah. I’m at work, so can’t watch the video yet. I have a question – if they are living longer than us, are they fertile for longer? Do they have babies in their 40′s or even later. I’m very curious.

    Thankyou! Angie

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  • Laura

    I love love love this! How interesting and inspirational! I wish Australia didnt make such a big deal about organic and just make it affordable! I would love to eat all organic fruit and vegetables but the prices are just crazy..today I saw “organic broccoli” in a supermarket – $9 FOR ONE PIECE!

    Can you tell me if you got too speak to the elderly women about medicinal herbs? I would love to hear the findings.

    I also have to agree, eliminating stress is a major contributor to longevity

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  • Laura

    Also…I bought Dan’s book today. Cant wait till it arrives.

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  • Cléo

    More of a “bullet point” question (even though I completely hear and respect what Dan has to say about “magic bullet” versus holistic approaches) is that of drinks. I hear coffee, water, and wine in what we have seen so far, perhaps some milk? What about the drinks you have in the video? Any tea? Any sparkling water at all, or all flat? Or anything else I am missing, really, including fruit juice (when you say “no juice in the video, do you mean no processed juice, or none whatsoever, even home-made from the whole fruit?)

    [Reply]

  • Cléo

    Oh, Sarah, if I may add one more thing… What about food conservation, fridges, etc? My husband and I always disagree on the proper storage of food (I am French and tend to keep fruits, including tomatoes, onions, etc.) and possibly some other things out of the fridge, and I really wonder if this has the slightest import beyond taste. Thanks!

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  • Vasiliki

    The “key” to longevity in Greece is not just the food that they eat, or the environment that they are surrounded with. Observation of Orthodox Christian fasting is the “hidden pearl” … wisdom of abstaining from all foods containing protein on specific days of the week and for specific periods in the year works in harmony with the Theological symphony of Creation and Christ as the centre.

    There are some scientists who are starting to research why fasting on a Wednesday?Friday as opposed to any other day of the week provides more optimal biological benefits … their is a harmonisation with the universe that has not been explored. Linking of diet to theology and thus longevity.

    The Orthodox belief that man was not created to be corrupt and that the human body is designed to be immortal links the health and well being of the body to the health and well being of the soul which nurtures and feeds the body. The more “alive” a soul is the “younger” the body is since “life” renews the body to its natural state.

    Sorry for not being able to elaborate this whole theological philsophy further .. it is truly difficult to do over a blog page and even whilest being at work.

    Again, if you have time … explore a monastery in the area. Ask the locals if they know of any “enlightened elders” (holy man) and spend some time …

    God Bless.

    [Reply]

  • Geraldine

    Hi Sarah
    Can you share some tips and info on travelling/accommodation in ikaria please, is it an expensive place to visit? Say you want to do it on a budget, but also to experience life there as a local, could you still find comfortable accom?Is it safe to go if your female traveling alone? Are there wwoofing opportunities? So many questions, I know!
    Thank u :)

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  • http://www.shashenjewels.com eilish bouchier

    Sarah
    Great post loved the interview. Keep on doing, sounds like you are just hitting your stride. Yahoo for you!

    x e

    [Reply]

  • Lauren

    I think it important to note that the pork that is spoken about here would be 100% free range and organic…it’s entire life. This would create vast differences in it’s nutrient profile to the ‘normal’ pork found at the supermarket and therefore the health benefits on the Blue Zone people. Pork especially is better consumed organic, as pigs have a higher intelligence, get stressed, this stress translates into the flesh that is eaten.

    Organic meat-whatever it is, has a lower omega-6 load than non organic and greater nutrient profile. Just like vegies, if you eat it, it is important to try eat at least free range and grass fed, and best is organic.
    Quality over quantity…a mantra for everything in life.

    [Reply]

  • Miwa

    Hi Sarah

    Have you read The Jungle Effect by Daphne Miller..? It stated many similar points. It’s a book about all the healthiest diets around the world focusing on cold spots for specific diseases. A common thing being mostly a plant based diet, eating with people never alone etc. Well worth a read!!!

    Miwa

    [Reply]

  • Lauren

    Hi there everyone,

    Sorry if this is a bit left of centre……but
    with all this about healthy eating and exercise etc, what’s everyones take on the use of Botox and fillers etc. Cos it seems to me theres alot of very health conscious people in the media who appear to have had it done.
    Does this contradict …. whats your opinion on this Sarah? honestly
    Just saying…

    lauren x

    [Reply]

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  • http://www.aboutikaria.com yiannicart

    Sounds great! My mother is an Ikarian, and we are going for a holiday next summer. This is really pumping me up to feel healthy and break the Australian diet for a while!
    Also, I think the Ikarian genes are quite strong in general. Most of my relatives have lived to ripe old ages, even here in Australia. My Pappou even has the health of a young adult, and he is in his 70s!

    [Reply]

    yiannicart Reply:

    PS: If anyone wants to have a look at my website dedicated to Ikaria (at http://www.aboutikaria.com) it would be very appreciated. It explains a lot about the history and culture of the Ikarian people.

    [Reply]

  • Neesy

    Your description of the Greeks being ‘freed’ of Turks makes it sound terrible. This was an policy which was not strongly administered for over 185 years. Only 89 years ago Greeks and Turks lived together along the Greek Islands and the Turkish Coast and then faced the horrible exchange of populations.

    [Reply]

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  • guest

    Pressing fruit into juice, separates the sugar from the fiber, hence there’s a much stronger glycemic spike from juice than from eating the fruit whole. From a blood sugar perspective, fruit juice might as well be sugar water.

    The only way to mitigate this problem, is to subsequently FERMENT the juice, into wine, hard-cider, etc. Sugar is converted to alcohol, no more glycemic problems. Slainte!

    [Reply]

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