This week, I’ve been discussing longevity and places around the world with the most centenarians (100 year olds). Okinawa, Japan is one of those places, as discovered by bluezones.com. Just how much healthier were the people of Okinawa than those of use here in the good old USA?
As you can see in the chart above, made with data from 1995, the people of Okinawa were much healthier than individuals here in the USA or even their counterparts in mainland Japan. If you’ll notice I did say “were” healthier. Sadly, as our western culture has infiltrated this beautiful island, the younger generations have forgotten the ancient and healthy food culture of the Okinawan people. But just what is that culture and it’s benefits beyond that of longevity?
What is the Okinawa Diet?
The Okinawan Diet is an ancient way of eating for the people of Okinawa, Japan. Okinawa is located in the Ryukyu Islands of Japan.
The life expectancy in Japan is 84 versus the USA life expectancy of 78.8. With that said, Okinawa has more than 5 times as many centenarians as the rest of Japan. So, what is the secret? What is so different about the Okinawan way of life? How do Okinawans differ from the rest of Japan or the world for that matter? It all boils down to the Okinawan diet and lifestyle.
The Okinawa Diet: Living to 100Nutritionfacts.org
What do Okinawans eat?
The Okinawa Diet is a whole food, plant based diet, rich in leafy greens, as well as yellow and orange vegetables. While they do eat rice, their main source of starch is purple sweet potatoes. They eat only small amounts of meat, mainly pork, and dairy. Legumes and soy are also emphasized in this anti-aging diet. The Okinawa diet contains relatively little processed food.
Health Benefits of the Okinawa Diet
- Large amounts of anti-oxidants
- naturally calorie restricted
- low fat and low sugar
- improved immunity
- improved brain health – not only are Okinawan people among the longest living, they also have some of the lowest rates of dementia in the world!
- lowers risk of heart disease
- lowers risk of cancer
- improved bone health
How you can eat the Okinawa Way
- Practice Hara Hachi Bu – this translates to “eat until you are eight parts out of ten full.” This is a practice from Confucius that reminds us to stop eating when we are 80% full
- Eat mindfully – In the west, we scarf down our food as if we haven’t eaten in weeks. It’s not uncommon to gobble up our food on the run or while driving. This is opposite of the Okinawa philosophy. Take your time and think about what and how you are eating. Think about your “satiety ” or fullness level.
- 1200 calories per day – I highly doubt the ancient Okinawa people actually counted calories. However, when you base your diet on plants, you will naturally eat fewer calories. The main concept here is our 2000 calorie diet here in the west is far too much. There is more and more research showing the longevity and anti-aging benefits of a calorie restricted diet. For more information on calorie restriction, see my article on the CRON DIET.
- Eat the rainbow – Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, of all colors. The colors of plants is what gives them specific nutrients not found in other foods. The more varied your diet, the more colorful your diet, the healthier it is.
- Start eating sweet potatoes – they don’t have to be purple. Okinawan people eat all colors of sweet potatoes. These tasty gems are filled with fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin B5, vitamin E and potassium.
- Limited amounts of HIGH QUALITY protein – stay away from CAFO and mass produced forms of protein. Since you will be limiting the amount of protein, you’ll want to go for quality over quantity. Aim for wild caught seafood, grass fed beef, pastured chickens/eggs, and organic pork.
- Limit grains and dairy – While the Okinawa diet does include dairy and limited amounts of rice, these foods are greatly limited. In fact, if not for the legumes, the Okinawa diet could be considered largely paleo in nature.
You don’t have to jump in with both feet, as we often try to do when changing our diet. Start gradually by implementing mindful eating. Add a few vegan meals to your week. Slowly begin to cut back on processed foods. You don’t have to go from eating the Standard American Diet 100% of the time to eating the Okinawa diet 100% of the time. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Use the 85/15 rule. Gradually work up to eating the Okinawa diet 85% of the, and allow yourself some fun foods 15% of the time.
Until next time, Namaste my friends.