Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula is known for its beautiful beaches, stunning rainforests, and impressive waterfalls. It’s an environment that promotes peacefulness, wellness, and health—quite literally. The region is home to one of the world’s five Blue Zones, which are areas where people live considerably longer, healthier lives than the rest of the population. Here’s more about the secrets to the Nicoyan people’s longevity, including the types of food you’ll always find on their plates.

Why do people in Nicoya live so long?

In Nicoya, the average life expectancy is 85 years old. This is eight years longer than the rest of the country, where the average life expectancy is 77 years old, and nearly nine years longer than the US, where the average life expectancy is just over 76 years old.

costa rican ladyBlue Zones

In part, this longevity can be attributed to the environment. It’s mountainous, which is ideal for maintaining fitness levels, it’s peaceful, which promotes low-stress levels, and the abundance of tropical trees means that nutrient-rich fruit is consistently readily available. But there’s more to it than that, notes the official Blue Zone organization.

“[One longevity factor] is the ‘plan de vida,’ or reason to live, which propels a positive outlook among elders and helps keep them active,” it states. “Another is a focus on family and a special ability to listen and laugh.”

“Nicoyan centenarians frequently visit with neighbors, and they tend to live with families and children or grandchildren who provide support, as well as a sense of purpose.”

Diet also likely plays a big role. Nicoyans follow a traditional Mesoamerican diet, which has a big emphasis on the “three sisters” vegetable group: corn, squash, and beans. The trio is called the three sisters because it is often planted together, so each plant can support and nourish the other.

“[The three sisters] provide a symbiotic growing relationship, as well as a complete nutritional profile,” notes the Blue Zones. “Corn provides carbohydrates, beans are rich in protein and fiber, and squash yields both vitamins and healthy fats from its seeds.” 

The three sisters are also rich in antioxidants, which are plant compounds that help to tackle free radical damage in the body. Over time, this free radical damage contributes to the risk of chronic disease.

RELATED: Eat Like a Blue Zoner from Singapore: Ditch the Meat and Up the Whole Grains

What do they eat in the Costa Rica Blue Zone? 5 top longevity foods from Nicoya

There are many foods eaten regularly in Nicoya that undoubtedly contribute to the population’s overall health, and pretty much all of them are plants. To find out more, check out five of Nicoya’s top longevity foods below (and we’ve included some recipe inspiration for you, too!).

VegNews.BlackBeanTacosOrchids + Sweet Tea

1 Black beans

According to Dan Buettner, the explorer, author, and longevity expert who first connected the dots on the Blue Zone regions, black beans feature in nearly every single meal in Nicoya. They are rich in anthocyanins, an antioxidant that, research suggests, can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.
Try it in a recipe: Vegan Baked Black Bean Tacos

chayote cevicheThe Edgy Veg

2 Chayote

Chayote squash is versatile, incredibly nutritious, and pretty flavorful, too. It’s widely cultivated and consumed in various parts of the world, including Latin America, Asia, and the Caribbean. In Nicoya, it’s often eaten in Sopa de Yuca, which is essentially a chunky vegetable soup.
Try it in a recipe: Chayote Ceviche

VegNews.SimpleRawTostadas.FeatAlexa Gray

3 Corn

Handmade corn tortillas are made fresh most mornings in Nicoya, according to the Blue Zones, before they are eaten with beans, rice, and squash (hello, three sisters!). The specific type of corn flour used in the tortillas is called masa harina. It’s lime-treated, which is a process that helps to release niacin—a B vitamin that helps to reduce levels of bad cholesterol in the body.
Try it in a recipe: Easy Raw Vegan Tostadas With Corn-Pepper Tortillas

coffee beansPexels

4 Coffee

Most days in Nicoya start with a cup of lightly sweetened black coffee (and that is often followed by two or three more!). According to the British Heart Foundation, drinking coffee regularly is associated with a lower risk of death from chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson’s.
Try it in a recipe: Vegan Smoothie Bowl With Tahini, Coffee, Buckwheat, and Coconut


5 Fresh, local fruit

In the US, snack foods are often ultra-processed chips, candy, and crackers, but Nicoyans are all about fresh fruit. We’re talking papaya, dragon fruit, guava, mangosteen, pineapple, passion fruits, strawberries, and so much more. All are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which, unlike many ultra-processed foods, contribute to a significantly lower risk of disease.
Try it in a recipe: Healthy Vegan Avocado-Papaya Salmon Salad

For more on Blue Zones, read:
Share this

The 20 Best Vegan Deals for Amazon Prime Day (July 16 + 17!)