The Blue Zones

The Blue Zones are the five areas in the world that have exceptional longevity.  But not only longevity.  These are extraordinary places where people thrive not only in terms of health, but also with a sense of purpose and belonging.  The term Blue Zone first appeared in 2005 in a National Geographic article, and the term was coined when researchers  who were identifying places in the world with many 100 year olds circled a targeted region with blue ink.  The researchers not only wanted to find clusters of 100 year olds but to identify  cohorts of people who had grown old without chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer or hypertension.  The five zones are Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa, Japan, Loma Linda, California, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica, and Icaria, Greece.  The common lifestyle choices of these people in the Blue Zones are eating whole foods, mostly plant based, exercising regularly but moderately,  practicing stress management and focusing on the quality of social support and social engagement in their community.  These are all low tech, low cost interventions and these diet and lifestyle changes can make profound impacts not only on your health but your overall well being and happiness.  

Engagement is even more relevant during Covid. The pandemic has brought to light the effect of loneliness which can be defined as the gap between the social connections you would like to have and those you feel you actually experience.  In 2017 the US Surgeon General, Dr Vivek Murthy, called loneliness a public health epidemic that has only worsened with Covid.  The health effects of loneliness equals that of smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being alcoholic and is worse than the effects of obesity.  Cooking, planning meals and sharing them with those close to you ties us together as we feed not only our body but our soul.  This week’s recipe showcases a meal meant for many to share, to not only nourish but to create a ritual to slow down, communicate and forge relationships.

Here’s a recipe to serve a community. The sharpness of the daikon radish cuts through the sweetness of the butternut squash, and the crispy mushrooms bring in a meaty umami flavor. Water is used instead of stock in this recipe, which highlights the roasted vegetable flavors in this hearty soup.

Kitchen Prescription Recipe: Roasted Butternut Squash and Daikon Radish Soup, with Crispy Maitake Mushrooms

Roasted Butternut Squash and Daikon Soup, with Crispy Maitake Mushrooms


1 and 1/2 pounds of butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2 inch cubes
1 pound of white Daikon radish, trimmed, and cut into 2 inch pieces
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
6 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
1 quart of water
5 ounces of organic maitake mushrooms, pulled into bite sized pieces
Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the butternut squash and Daikon radish on the lined baking sheet, and toss with 4 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt. Roast vegetables for 35 to 40 minutes, or until softened and lightly browned. And a large Dutch oven, heat another tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion, and sauté until translucent, approximately 5 to 6 minutes. Add the roasted vegetables and the water, and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Carefully purée the soup using an immersion blender. Hot liquids expand, so do this slowly, and point the blender away from you. Adjust the seasoning.
Heat the remaining olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat, and add the Maitake mushrooms with a pinch of salt. Sauté for about four minutes, or until the mushrooms are browned and crispy.
Ladle the soup into bowls, top with the mushrooms, drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil, and serve.

K-P Cooking Tips:

Try to eat most meals at home.  When you cook at home you control the ingredients and can ensure that you are using fresh produce and high quality ingredients.  Restaurants tend to use more sugar and butter and fats.

Pre-plate food. People tend to eat approx 30% more when food is served family style.

Eat as a family or with friends which provides an opportunity to bond, discuss and talk out problems and share experiences.  Blue zone inhabitants never eat standing up or while driving or watching TV.  If you eat while driving or on your feet stress hormones can interfere with your digestion.

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