If the apparent lack of mortality seen on Ikaria is anything to go by, the fountain of youth is not in northern India or St Augustine but rather in the foods they eat daily on this Mediterranean Island, where residents frequently have a lifespan that regularly reaches 100.

Here, on this Greek territory, people “forget to die,” a centenarian told longevity expert Dan Buettner. According to individuals in the know, the secret to the long lives enjoyed here is all in the diet. 

Surprisingly, it does not entail weird foods like deep-fried grasshoppers, chlorophyll, or pearl powder, but rather tasty foods that are easily accessible from almost anywhere.

Health and wellness contributor to CNBC, Diane Kochilas, explains that the contents of her pantry are inspired by the foods of the island and names these 12 as the main ingredients of longevity. 

1.) Beans and Legume

Beans and LegumesBeans and Legumes
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It is not news that beans and legumes are good for one’s health and Ikarian’s are a living testimony as to why. 

The National Institute of Health (PubMed) backs this up with findings of its own and calls them “dietary predictor[s] of survival in older people.” 

Additionally, PubMed indicates that the ingredients for long life locked in these beans and legumes benefit individuals across all ethnicities.

Kochilas’ collection includes broad beans, chickpeas, Gigantes (also known as giant beans), lentils, and split peas.

If you are of the mind, these foods can also help minimize your meat intake.

2.) Garlic

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“I couldn’t imagine my life or kitchen without garlic! It’s the ultimate flavor-packing, healthproviding natural ingredient. There’s a virtual pharmacopeia of goodness in every clove,” Kochila writes. 

She goes on to explain that her daughter combines it (raw) with mountain or sage tea, ginger, and honey, turns it into an infusion, and drinks it to offset seasonal bugs and cold weather.

Allotropic medicine and alternative health fundis, however, believe that the power of garlic extends beyond staving off the ailments that come with the change of seasons. 

Dr. Nikita Toshi, for example, agrees that garlic assists with cardiac health, improves brain function and digestion, balances blood sugar, boosts immunity, improves skin health, and prevents cancer and peptic ulcers.

But if we are looking for a living demonstration that garlic is good for the human body, let’s take it from Kochila’s 91-year-old friend, Yiorgos Stenos, who endorses it as an infusion. 

3.) Grains

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Grains play a vital role in the diet of the Ikarians and on this island, bulgur, farro, and whole wheat or gluten-free high-protein pastas are favored.

Greeks in general have a penchant for grains and eat lots of brown rice, oats, quinoa, and barley. 

According to Healthline, the benefits of eating grains are that they lower the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, which is essential for at least an average lifespan–especially because 79,535 Americans die of the latter annually.

In lowering the risk of obesity they lower the risk of heart disease, strokes, support healthy digestion, ward of cancer and chronic inflammation, and as Ikarians are proving, grains are “linked to a reduced risk of premature death”

4.) Herbs

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Kochila explains that most Ikaria families have a wide variety of dried herbs stowed away in their pantries and claims that she uses them in her cooking daily.

The health qualities of these aromatic and (sometimes) flavorsome plants that often grow wild are passed down from generation to generation, allowing the island to retain the knowledge of their benefits.

Kochila suggests using the basics like bay leaves, oregano, savory thyme, and mint. Other herbs that make it into Greek dishes are dill, parsley, chamomile, and rosemary.

Herbs in general are known for adding flavor to food and can be used to cut down on sugar, salt, and added fat. They also have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-blood clotting qualities, contain vitamins, and fight heart disease, cancer, and diabetes

5.) Nuts

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Nuts are a dominant feature in Greek cuisine and can be found in a variety of regional dishes, says  Kochilas. She recommends stocking up on almonds, pistachios, and walnuts. Though not quite part of the nut family, she also recommends getting sesame seeds and tahini.

For most parts, nuts can be nibbled on throughout the day, but they also make great components in recipes. Walnuts for example can be served with dried apricots and yogurt or added to fruit salad.

They also feature in savory dishes like almond fusilli pasta or chopped Greek salad with walnuts.

The health benefits of nuts are that they are an abundant source of protein and fiber–meaning they help with muscle growth or maintenance, and digestion. 

They are rich in vitamin E which is an anti-aging supplement that is particularly helpful in regenerating skin cells.

Nut also contain fair percentages of minerals like calcium, magnesium, manganese, and zinc.

6.) Olives

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Olives are synonymous with Greek cuisine and their trees were the first to be cultivated in the Mediterranean around 7,000 years ago. The first olive tree to be grown on the island of Crete was around 3,000 BC and according to World History, they were being produced in Cyprus and on the Greek mainland by the late Bronze Age.

Today they remain a distinctive part of the Greek diet and are eaten either plain, as a snack, or as an ingredient in salads.

WebMD says that olives are rich in vitamins A and E and reduce the likelihood of cancer, diabetes, strokes, and heart disease.

7.) Olive Oil

Olive Oil
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If olives are healthy then so is olive oil.

“Olive oil is the defining food of the Mediterranean diet and an absolute must in the pantry,” Kochilas says.

She advocates using extra virgin (unrefined) olive oil.

In 2021 a study found that individuals who consume more than half a teaspoon of it were 14% less likely to develop heart disease. 

It is also believed to assist with skin health, brain function, and digestion.

8.) Sea Salt

Sea Salt
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The residents of Ikaria use the sea salt they find on their coastlines. 

The difference between sea salt and table salt is that the latter is mined from underground deposits which then requires more processing to remove certain minerals.

It is also fortified with iodine which can affect its taste negatively and contains relatively larger percentages of sodium, calcium, potassium, fluoride, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium.

Sea salt is healthier because it is evaporated from oceans and saltwater lakes. It has calcium, iron, and potassium in trace quantities which add to its flavor and are considered nutrients.

9.) Honey

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The people on Ikaria eat at least one teaspoon of honey per day, and according to Kochilas, it is one of the islanders’ secrets to longevity.

It’s not hard to imagine why: Sugar has a higher glycemic index (GI) making it more likely to spike the blood sugar.

Honey on the other hand,  along with its vitamins and minerals, is known to contain antioxidants. 

Some argue that honey contains only slightly more calories than sugar and that its health benefits compared to sugar are marginal. 

This may be true. But because honey is sweeter, less of it is required to sweeten foods.

10.) Dried Fruits

Dried Fruits
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Dried fruits including raisins have their special places in the Ikaria and Greek diets. These may include aronia and goji berries, prunes, sea buckthorn, currants or raisins, figs, and bananas. 

The people of Ikaria use these items for savory meals like salads and rice dishes or eat it with yogurt and nuts.

Like many of the other foods listed here, dried fruit helps fight certain conditions in that they lower blood pressure, improve blood sugar regulation, decrease inflammation and blood cholesterol, and discourage overeating.

Dried fruit has another rather unique benefit: It helps fight anxiety and depression.

11.) Yogurt

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The island of Ikaria makes its yogurt from goat’s milk. An important quality of goat milk is that, unlike the commonly used bovine variant, it is free of artificial hormones and thus considered purer.

It also contains less lactose and a more solvent version of casein allowing easier absorption.

It contains minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and chlorine, and less fat, sulfur, and sodium than cow’s milk.

12.) Feta and Similar Cheeses

Feta and Similar Cheeses
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Kochilas says that almost all the cheeses on the Ikaria are made from goat milk and fermented naturally.

Due to their low lactose content, individuals with lactase deficiency may find themselves more tolerant of the island’s cheeses.

Cheeses made from goat milk are easier to digest, contain probiotics, have less fat (making it ideal for individuals looking to lose weight), and like the milk itself, contain more nutrients.

The Greek Diet: One of the World’s Healthiest

The Greek Diet One of the World’s Healthiest
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The long-living mortals of Ikaria are perhaps a nod to the Greek diet in general, which is considered to be one of the healthiest in the world.

Unlike many other countries in the West, this nation, for the most part, avoids modern processed foods.

They instead favor meals with fresh vegetables, whole grains, fish, and a small amount of cheese and yogurt.