Nicoya, Costa Rica is one of the world's five Blue Zones, where people live longer than average.
Nicoyans don't eat much meat and consume more whole foods like beans, squash, and corn.
For a week, I ate like a Costa Rican SuperAger, making dishes like gallo pinto and rosquillas.
Nicoya, Costa Rica is one of the world's five "Blue Zones," where residents live longer than average. Some Nicoyans live well into their 90s and 100s, with one 100-year-old man still riding horses and herding livestock in a new Netflix documentary about the secrets of the world's Blue Zones.
One of the potential secrets to the Nicoyans' longer lifespan is their diet, which relies heavily on beans as a superfood. Nicoyans also don't eat much meat, which felt encouraging: I'm a pescetarian and follow a plant-based diet 80% of the time, but always worry I'm still not getting enough protein.
Hearing that a more veggie-focused, whole-food diet may be linked to longevity made me want to try eating like a Costa Rican SuperAger. Of course, I won't be able to tell if it will really help me live longer — but some more energy would be nice. Because I live in Brooklyn and can't harvest my own food as many Nicoyans do, I had to make do with meal-prepping two dishes and a snack. Here's how it went.
The recipes were delicious and easy to throw together.
The first meal I made was a Costa Rican rice and bean dish called gallo pinto, which is traditionally served at breakfast but I ate for other meals, too.
It was incredibly easy to put together: I just needed to chop some onion and bell peppers, cook the rice, and mix in the beans and spices. After about an hour of work, I had three full Tupperwares of a delicious base.
It challenged the idea that food needs to be complicated or expensive to be healthy and delicious.
The ingredients were versatile, so I never got bored.
I'd customize it with fried eggs (which Nicoyans use as a side dish), avocado, salsa, and hot sauce — whatever I was feeling and had in the fridge. It made breakfast, the meal I'm usually just trudging through out of sheer necessity, actually an enjoyable experience: Eating flavorful beans was more exciting than my usual blueberry oatmeal.
Most importantly, gallo pinto was filling. After a 10-mile morning run, I scarfed down a hearty plate with all the fixings and was surprised at how satiated I felt for the rest of the day.
I felt fuller for longer, even when working out.
The Netflix series mentioned that Nicoyans eat squash, beans, and corn — otherwise known as the "three sisters" by Indigenous cultures. Not only do these three crops nurture each other when they grow together, but they also form a complete protein — without the cholesterol found in meat.
The show didn't mention a specific Costa Rican recipe, so I found a simple stew consisting of butternut squash, pinto beans, and corn. It was an easy one-pot meal I made in bulk and ate throughout the week.
I discovered a new plant-based source of protein.
At first, I was skeptical that this stew would keep me full without rice or couscous. But eating it on its own for lunch was enough to fuel me throughout the day.
When I went to my weightlifting class later, I was legitimately surprised at how much energy I had without drinking any protein powder — something I always chug otherwise.
Homemade snacks curbed my sugar intake.
Reducing added sugars is one of the best things you can do to improve longevity, but it's one of the hardest for me. Emotionally, I need a lil' treat after every meal, and that is often a chocolate chip cookie (main treat) and a handful of leftover chocolate chips (second treat), plus perhaps ice cream (bonus treat) if I take a walk with a friend.
In the show, I caught a quick glimpse of rosquillas, which I could best describe as a mix between mini donuts and crunchy cookies. There are many variations throughout Spain and Central America, but the recipe I followed used Maseca (corn flour) and cheese.
Baking my own treats took effort but was worth it.
Since sugar was optional, I omitted it entirely, opting for a savory snack instead. I munched on the treats throughout the day, but didn't feel the expected sugar crash and subsequent grogginess I normally get.
While it took more effort to make these than opening a bag of chips, I didn't feel the creeping worry that usually accompanies my nose-dive into heavily processed food. Plus, when I was already full from my main meals, the voice in my head crying for a cupcake got a little quieter.
The recipe mentioned that making rosquillas is a great group activity. Maybe next time I'll invite friends over and try another Nicoyan longevity secret: Making room for more leisure.
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