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Living to 100: Living Pura Vida outside of the Blue Zones


Pura Vida" is a popular saying in Costa Rica, and it translates to "pure life" in English. It's not just a phrase; it's a way of life in Costa Rica, representing a laid-back attitude, a focus on enjoying life's simple pleasures, healthy eating, and a positive outlook on life. Costa Ricans use "pura vida" to express a range of emotions from hello and goodbye to thank you and everything's great. It embodies the country's friendly and optimistic spirit.

Parents live vicariously through their children. I know I do. And I love every minute of their courageous and adventurous lives.

My younger daughter had an opportunity to travel to Costa Rica with her WVU Davis School of Agricultural, Natural Resources and Design college for a weeklong "alternative" spring break in Costa Rica. Checkmark off the bucket list.

Costa Rica, located in Central America, is a small but incredibly diverse country known for its rich biodiversity, stunning natural landscapes, and progressive environmental policies. Here are some key aspects about Costa Rica.

Renowned for its lush rainforests, pristine beaches, active volcanoes, and diverse wildlife, Costa Rica is a paradise for nature lovers and eco-tourists. National parks like Manuel Antonio, Arenal Volcano, and Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve offer unique and immersive experiences.

Despite its small size, Costa Rica is home to an astonishing array of biodiversity. It boasts approximately 5% of the world's total species. You can find exotic animals such as sloths, howler monkeys, toucans, and colorful frogs in their natural habitats.

Costa Rica is a global leader in environmental conservation. The country has a goal to become carbon neutral and has made significant investments in renewable energy sources like hydroelectric, wind, and geothermal power.

The country offers a plethora of adventure activities, including zip-lining through the rainforest canopy, surfing in the Pacific Ocean, white-water rafting, and hiking up volcanoes. The varied terrain provides ample opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts.

Known for its high-quality coffee, plantations, especially in the Central Valley region, offer tours where visitors can learn about the coffee-making process and sample freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee.

Then there's the food.

  1. Gallo Pinto: This is a popular and traditional breakfast dish made with rice and beans, mixed with onions, bell peppers, and spices. It's often served with eggs, cheese, and plantains.

  2. Casado: A typical lunch dish, casado translates to "married man." It usually includes rice, black beans, meat (such as chicken, beef, pork, or fish), salad, fried plantains, and sometimes picadillo (a mixture of chopped vegetables).

  3. Arroz con Pollo: This dish translates to "rice with chicken." It's a flavorful chicken and rice casserole, often cooked with vegetables, spices, and sometimes beer.

  4. Salsa Lizano: While not a dish on its own, Salsa Lizano is a popular Costa Rican condiment used to enhance the flavor of many dishes. It's a brown, slightly sweet sauce with a hint of spiciness.

  5. Olla de Carne: This is a hearty beef stew made with various vegetables like yuca (cassava), potatoes, corn, plantains, and sometimes sweet potatoes. It's a popular dish during festivals and celebrations.

  6. Ceviche: Costa Rican ceviche typically features fish marinated in lime juice and mixed with onions, cilantro, tomatoes, and sometimes bell peppers. It's served cold and is a refreshing appetizer or light meal.

  7. Tamales: Tamales in Costa Rica are often made with cornmeal filled with a mixture of meat, vegetables, and sometimes rice. The mixture is wrapped in banana leaves and steamed until cooked.

  8. Empanadas: These are pastries filled with various ingredients such as cheese, beans, potatoes, or meat. They are then fried until crispy and golden brown.

  9. Chifrijo: A popular snack or appetizer made with a layer of black beans, rice, chicharrones (fried pork skin), diced tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. It's often served with tortilla chips.

  10. Patacones: Fried plantains that are flattened, refried, and then topped with various ingredients like black beans, cheese, guacamole, or ceviche.

  11. Coffee: Costa Rica is famous for its high-quality coffee beans. A cup of freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee is a must-try for coffee enthusiasts.

  12. Desserts: Costa Rican desserts often feature ingredients like coconut, condensed milk, and tropical fruits. Tres Leches cake (a sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk) is a popular dessert choice.

Do you notice a pattern? Beans and rice (as one unit) is in most every dish above. More about that discovery further on down the line.

Visitors can stay in eco-friendly lodges and participate in sustainable tourism activities aimed at preserving the natural environment. The country has a tropical climate with distinct wet and dry seasons. It has a true 12-hour day, 5:30am sunrises and 5:30pm sunsets.

Costa Rica's perfect blend of natural beauty, adventure, and environmental consciousness, making it a must-visit destination for travelers seeking an eco-friendly and diverse experience.

There is a region in Costa Rica, known as a Blue Zone. Only six areas of the globe are known as blue zones, where a combination of culture, mindset, diet, and environment help their residents live longer and healthier lives than most. 

These Blue Zone regions around the world have a higher than usual number of people living much longer lives, often surpassing the age of 100 years. Such areas have drawn the attention of researchers and health enthusiasts alike, as they offer valuable insights into the secrets of longevity and healthy aging.

While it's not a blueprint for longevity, it's a great way to help people create good habits to live healthier lives and age more gracefully.

Other blue zone areas of the world, you ask?

1. Okinawa, Japan: Known for its high number of centenarians, the Okinawa region emphasizes a plant-based diet, regular physical activity, and strong social support networks.

2. Sardinia, Italy: This mountainous island in the Mediterranean Sea has a high concentration of male centenarians. The Sardinian diet, rich in whole grains, vegetables, and goat's milk, is believed to contribute to their longevity.

3. Icaria, Greece: The residents of this Greek island follow a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, vegetables, and legumes. Regular physical activity and a strong sense of community are also significant factors.

4. Loma Linda, California, USA: Loma Linda is home to a community of Seventh-day Adventists, whose plant-based diet, emphasis on rest, and close-knit social circles contribute to their longevity.

5. Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica: As previously mentioned, the Nicoya Peninsula boasts a diet based on beans, corn, and squash, along with strong social connections and active lifestyles.

One of those lessons resides in the food culture of an 80-mile-long peninsula in Central America, named a blue zone in the early 2000s. 

The residents of Nicoya, Costa Rica—known for its coastal views south of the Nicaraguan border—have routinely enjoyed three foods together for at least 6,000 years, Dan Buettner, the Blue Zones LLC founder shares in his recent docuseries Live to 100 on Netflix.

Without a doubt one of the reasons people in Nicoya are living a long time is because they are eating this diet of beans, squash, and corn,” Buettner says in the film. “They call it the three sisters.” 

These plant-based foods are economical and practical sources of protein that have served Nicoya’s residents into old age. Contrary to the Western diet where meat is the primary source of protein, beans, corn, and squash provide the same amount of amino acids as protein at a low cost and without the cholesterol and saturated fat of red meat.


Cooking Class with Carol

The Nutritious Trio: Squash, Corn, and Black Beans – Unveiling the Secrets of the Nicoya Sisters' Diet

The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica has long been a source of fascination for researchers studying longevity and healthy living. One of the key aspects contributing to the vibrant health of the Nicoya Peninsula's residents, often referred to as the Nicoya Sisters, is their traditional diet. At the heart of their culinary practices are three essential ingredients: squash, corn, and black beans. Let's delve into the secrets of this nutritious trio that has sustained generations of the Nicoya community.

1. Squash:

The Versatile Powerhouse Squash, a staple in the Nicoya Sisters' diet, comes in various forms such as butternut, acorn, or zucchini. Packed with essential vitamins like A and C, squash boosts immunity and promotes healthy skin. Its high fiber content aids digestion, while the antioxidants help combat inflammation. In Nicoya cuisine, squash is often used in soups, stews, and casseroles, making it a versatile and tasty addition to their meals.

2. Corn:

Nature's Gold Corn, a sacred crop in many cultures, is a cornerstone of the Nicoya Sisters' diet. Rich in carbohydrates, corn provides a sustainable source of energy. It is also a good source of fiber and antioxidants. Corn supports digestive health and helps regulate blood sugar levels. The Nicoya Sisters incorporate corn into their meals through tortillas, tamales, and a variety of traditional dishes, celebrating the golden goodness of this nutritious grain.

3. Black Beans:

Protein Powerhouses Black beans are a protein powerhouse, vital for the Nicoya Sisters' balanced diet. Packed with protein, fiber, and essential minerals like iron and magnesium, black beans promote muscle growth, aid in digestion, and support heart health. Their low glycemic index helps regulate blood sugar levels, making them an excellent choice for sustained energy. The Nicoya Sisters prepare black beans in soups, salads, and stews, creating hearty and nourishing meals.

The Nicoya Sisters' Timeless Recipes

The Nicoya Sisters' recipes are not just about sustenance; they are a celebration of tradition, community, and well-being. One of their cherished dishes is a hearty stew combining squash, corn, and black beans. To prepare this nutritious delicacy, start by sautéing onions and garlic until golden brown. Add chunks of squash, corn kernels, and cooked black beans. Season with a blend of traditional spices and let the stew simmer until the flavors meld into a delicious harmony. Serve hot, garnished with fresh cilantro, and enjoy a taste of the Nicoya Peninsula's culinary legacy.

Embracing the Nicoya Sisters' Wisdom

Incorporating the Nicoya Sisters' dietary staples – squash, corn, and black beans – into our meals can offer a wealth of health benefits. By embracing the wisdom of this vibrant community, we can not only nourish our bodies but also honor a tradition that has stood the test of time. So, let's take inspiration from the Nicoya Peninsula and savor the goodness of this nutritious trio, inviting longevity and vitality into our lives, one wholesome meal at a time.

What to Do

Roasting Sweet Potatoes

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

place in center of oven and roast for 30-45 minutes until fork tender.

Remove and allow to cool slightly with skin on. The skin peels off easily and discard. At this point you can slice or mash and serve. Not much seasoning, except perhaps a little salt is required. The roasting process brings out the natural sweetness of the squash.

Roasted Corn

About half way through the roasted sweet potato process, cut the silks from the un-husked corn. Place on rack in 425 degree oven for 20-30 minutes until husks are roasted brown and the inside are steaming. Remove and allow to cool slightly with husks on. The husks remove easily. Discard. With a sharp knife, remove the kernels from the cob.

In a cast iron skillet, heat 1 Tablespoon butter and add corn. Sauté for 5-7 minutes until corn is golden and fragrant. Add salt or Tajin or taste.

Black Beans

  • 2 tsp olive oil

  • 1/2 onion

  • 2 cloves garlic

  • 15 oz can black beans (plus 1/2 cup water) or black bean soup, do not drain (I prefer Goya)

  • 1 tablespoon oregano, crushed In between palms of hands

  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar

  • salt and black pepper to taste


  • Chop onions and garlic.

  • Add oil to a medium-sized pot on medium heat.

  • Add vegetables to the pot and saute until soft, about 3 minutes.

  • Add drained beans(and water) or whole can of soup and oregano and bring to a quick boil.

  • Lower heat and cover, simmer about 15 minutes stirring occasionally (adjust water as needed).

  • add red wine vinegar, salt and black pepper



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