On the Greek island of Ikaria, “people forget to die,” according to the Blue Zones. The organization, which classifies hotspots of longevity around the world, claims that the tiny island in the Aegean Sea is home to people who live well into their old age, free of many of the diseases that plague the rest of Western society. In fact, research suggests that on Ikaria, one in three will make it into their 90s. It turns out, there are many secrets to their healthy longevity, but one big factor is diet. Below, we’ve highlighted some of the most popular foods eaten by the Ikarian people and how to cook with them. And, spoiler alert, they’re all plants.

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Ikaria, GreeceUnsplash

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Why are the people in Ikaria so healthy?

Across much of Western society, people are rushing, busy, and stressed. In fact, at the end of 2023, one poll from Gallup found that nearly half of Americans frequently feel stress. But regularly feeling this level of stress can have an impact on health. It can lead to an increase in blood pressure, for example, and damage our immune systems, too.

On Ikaria, people live a far more relaxed pace of life, which means they are significantly less stressed. They also breathe clean air, follow an active lifestyle (helped by the mountainous terrain of the island), enjoy the odd glass of red wine, and have strong social circles. They also follow their own version of the Mediterranean diet, which in itself, is associated with significant health benefits. Earlier this year, the US News & World Report named the Mediterranean diet as the healthiest diet to follow for the seventh year in a row.

“The Mediterranean diet focuses on diet quality rather than a single nutrient or food group,” noted the ’US News & World Report,’ which compiled its 2024 diet list with the help of more than 40 nationally recognized dietitians. “Numerous studies have shown that it reduces the risk of chronic health conditions, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes while promoting longevity and improving quality of life.”

The Mediterranean diet is not vegan, but plant-forward, and this is also the case in Ikaria. There, people eat meat rarely, drink goat’s milk, and eat predominantly plants.

How to follow the Ikarian diet: 7 top longevity foods in Ikaria

Below, we’ve listed just a few of the top foods they eat, but note that this is just a fraction of the many, many different herbs and other plants that are eaten in abundance across Ikaria. 

VegNews.TamalesIgnacio ‘Nacho’ Urquiza

1 Wild greens

According to Ikaria’s travel website, the island has always been isolated, and as a result, underdeveloped. This means that the people had to learn to feed themselves by foraging for food, and many still choose to source their food this way. Many different types of wild greens are eaten on the island, but one of the most popular is horta, an edible green weed. “It is served raw with lemon and olive oil or in cooked warm salads, soups, savory pies, and other recipes that can be either vegetarian or combined with meat and fish,” notes the Ikaria website.
Try it in a recipe: Wild Greens and Black Bean Vegan Tamales


2 Olive oil

Just like the rest of the Mediterranean, olive oil is eaten in abundance across Ikaria. This oil is associated with many benefits, including supporting heart and brain health. In fact, in 2023, one study found that consuming just half a teaspoon of olive oil per day could cut dementia risk by 28 percent.
Try it in a recipe: Grain-Free Vegan Lemon Olive Oil Cake

Rosemary BagsUnsplash

3 Rosemary

Herbs are extremely popular on Ikaria, and they are usually consumed in herbal teas or cooked into delicious recipes. Rosemary is a particularly popular choice, which makes sense because it is associated with many significant health benefits. Research suggests it contains phytochemicals, which have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties.
Try it in a recipe: Vegan Greek Lemony Roasted Potatoes

VegNews.Red Lentil Marinara SpaghettiAshley Madden

4 Lentils 

Pulses, like lentils, are another staple on Ikaria. “[Beans and legumes] are among the seminal ingredients of the Ikarian way of eating,” Diane Kochilas, whose family hails from Ikaria, wrote for CNBC earlier this year. “Adding them to your everyday meal plan is proven to increase longevity and can help you phase meat out of your diet.”
Try it in a recipe: Vegan Red Lentil Marinara Spaghetti


5 Garlic

Garlic is another popular ingredient across the Mediterranean region, and Ikaria is no different. “I couldn’t imagine my life or kitchen without garlic,” wrote Kochilas. “It’s the ultimate flavor-packing, health-providing natural ingredient. There’s a virtual pharmacopeia of goodness in every clove. Modern-day Ikarians swear by it.” Research does indeed suggest that garlic contains compounds like allicin, diallyl, and s-allyl cysteine, all of which likely have strong beneficial biological effects on the body.
Try it in a recipe: Vegan Tomato Garlic Garden Tart

VegNews.TabboulehSarah Bond

6 Bulgur

Whole grains are associated with many benefits. They are nutrient-rich, and contain fiber, B vitamins, minerals like iron and zinc, and antioxidants, all of which are associated with supporting heart and digestive health. On Ikaria, people eat many different types of whole grain, but bulgur is among the most popular.
Try it in a recipe: Easy Vegan Bulgur Tabbouleh Salad

VegNews.AlmondCheese.HannahKaminskyHannah Kaminsky

7 Almonds

Ikarians eat plenty of nuts, including almonds. These delicious, nutritious nuts contain healthy, monounsaturated fats, which are heart-healthy, as well as calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous, which help to maintain healthy bones. They can also help with healthy weight loss, research suggests, largely because they’re high in protein and fiber, which help with feelings of fullness.
Try it in a recipe: Vegan Almond Cheese

For more on the Blue Zones, read:
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