Ever wonder how music legend Cher, who turned 77 in May, maintains her youthful glow? Of course, genetics play a role (her grandmother lived until age 96), but her secret might lie in embracing the habits of people living in Blue Zones, areas where individuals enjoy exceptional longevity.
Cher attributes her vitality to dietary shifts she made in 1991, including a focus on plant-based foods. “I try to avoid foods with a high-fat content because they make me sluggish and keep my weight up. Dairy products are not good for us,” Cher told People Magazine then. “I think cheese is one of the worst things for the body. It doesn’t digest well, and most cheeses are too high in fat and cholesterol.”
“I weaned myself from whole milk to nonfat milk—if I’m having milk at all,” Cher said.
Instead, Cher explained that she prioritizes plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, pasta, and legumes.
“The most important thing is to give yourself a fighting chance,” Cher said during the interview 32 years ago. “I don’t do drugs. I never drink coffee and almost never drink alcohol or eat red meat, so I’m way ahead of the game.”
These dietary choices bear a striking resemblance to the diets of people living in Blue Zones, parts of the world where people tend to live exceptionally long lives. These regions are Ikaria in Greece; Barbagia, Sardinia in Italy; Okinawa in Japan; Nicoya in Costa Rica; and Loma Linda, CA in the United States.
Cher’s Blue Zoner diet a secret to longevity?
Previous scientific evidence has found various health benefits of eating the way Cher does and new studies with similar conclusions continue to emerge.
Pexels/Jessica Lewis Creative
One recent study by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, published in the journal eLife, associated eating this way with maintaining a younger brain. This research involved 300 participants over 18 months and focused on a green Mediterranean diet low in processed meats and high in dietary polyphenols found in plant-based foods such as walnuts, green tea, and duckweed, that protect against oxidative stress.
The study, which primarily examined weight loss, found that even a 1 percent reduction in body weight led to a nine-month decrease in brain age, as evidenced by comparative brain scans taken at the beginning and end of the study.
“Our study highlights the importance of a healthy lifestyle, including lower consumption of processed food, sweets, and beverages, in maintaining brain health,” Gidon Levakov, PhD, one of the study’s leaders, said in a statement.
In addition to following plant-forward diets, Blue Zone residents prioritize natural movement, stress management, and community belonging. These principles collectively contribute to longer life expectancies.
Another study—conducted by La Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health—analyzed data from more than 110,000 participants in the UK Biobank cohort aged between 40 and 75, and used the Mediterranean Lifestyle index to evaluate lifestyle choices in three categories: food consumption, dietary habits, physical activity, rest, and social habits.
After a nine-year follow-up, the research revealed significant health benefits for those adhering to a Mediterranean lifestyle, including a 29 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 28 percent lower risk of cancer mortality.
Notably, the study also emphasized that these health advantages are transferable outside of the Mediterranean region. This means that like Cher, you don’t have to reside in a Blue Zone to reap the benefits of living this way.
“This study suggests that it’s possible for non-Mediterranean populations to adopt the Mediterranean diet using locally available products and to adopt the overall Mediterranean lifestyle within their own cultural contexts,” lead author Mercedes Sotos Prieto said in a statement.
“We’re seeing the transferability of the lifestyle and its positive effects on health,” Prieto said.
These studies are just two examples of research around the plant-centric diets of Blue Zoners, which have found a slew of health benefits to consuming staples such as beans, nuts, and olive oil, while mostly abstaining from animal products.
Beyond brain and heart health, plant-forward diets have been linked to reduced stress, improved mental health, and better sleep quality. Studies have also pointed to the benefits of consuming more antioxidant-rich foods in slowing memory decline.
On the flip side, typical Western Diets—which tend to be high in meat, dairy, and processed foods—continue to be linked with increased risk of illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease.
Celebrities embrace plant-forward Mediterranean diets
Cher moved to focus on plant-based foods more than three decades ago, and other celebrities are taking note now, too.
To steadily lose weight, John Goodman turned to a plant-forward diet with the help of health coach Mackie Shilstone. In combination with a shift in diet, elimination of alcohol, and a fitness routine, Goodman has been able to drop 200 pounds since 2007.
Director Kevin Smith, who survived a life-threatening heart attack in 2018, also transitioned to a plant-based diet with help from his vegan daughter Harley Quinn Smith. In addition to helping him regain his health, the change helped Smith lose more than 50 pounds within six months.
Similarly, Jacob Batalon, known for his role as Ned Leeds in the Spider-Man series, went plant-based in 2019 to improve his health. “I can feel the difference between eating a lot of meat and eating a lot of plant-based stuff and that’s really helped me,” Batalon told Men’s Health about the dietary shift in 2021 at which point he had lost 112 pounds.