The Okinawa Diet
Okinawa is a small chain of islands on the southern most tip of Japan. This part of the world has been home to more centenarians than any other area. Since 1975, Okinawa documented 900 citizens that reached beyond their hundredth year of age. Needless to say, this grabbed the attention of many scientists who wanted to understand what was so special about this place that allowed for so many of its inhabitants to live such a long life. These scientists have been studying these elderly in an effort to identify the determining factor in their longevity. The study determined that not only do Okinawans live longer but they also enjoy better overall health deep into their old age. Cancer and heart disease cases aren’t as common there. These people are healthy. What is their secret? Is it just genetics? Are the native people just blessed with long lives because of their lineage?
According to the Okinawa Centenarian Study, the reasons are both genetic and non-genetic. Many of the anti aging advantages that Okinawans enjoy are due to their diet and lifestyle. With so many people looking for a way to slow down their aging, imitating the Okinawan diet and lifestyle as closely as possible is the newest way to get healthy.
The Okinawans eat a simple but healthy diet of about half of what a typical American would eat in a day. A normal meal would consist of rice, leafy vegetables, tofu or fish. They eat more tofu, squid, octopus, and konbu seaweed than any other group of people. They eat plenty of soy products, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables.
One of the main factors that many believe is responsible for the longevity of the people in this area is the lack of food. This country has been through its hard times and the economy of the Okinawa prefecture is glim to say the least. The area has a saying- “hara hachi bu”- means eat until you are 80% full. As opposed to the mantra of Americans, where we enjoy an overabundance of food, where dinner means eat until you are 120% full.
The reason this lack of food has helped the native people to live so long is related to the oxidation of food and the free radicals that come from the metabolising of the excess food. Every calorie that is turned into energy leaves behind trace damage to the cells in the body until the damage accumulates into a break down of the body- aka aging.
Okinawans have 80% less risk of heart disease and stroke than the Western world. An autopsy of a centenarian woman from this area showed a remarkably clean arteries and plaque free. Again, their lifestyle and diet are responsible for this. Okinawans have a low level of homocysteine in their plasma. High levels of homocysteine causes cardiovascular disease. Lack of folate and B vitamins can cause higher levels of homocysteine. The Okinawan diet provides plenty of these vitamins through green leafy vegetables and fish.
Low Cancer Risk
Cancer is a killer of many of our elderly. Okinawans have reported a significantly lower amount of cancer mortalities than many other countries. They report less than half the amount of colon and ovarian cancer cases than North America, and a remarkable 80% less breast and prostrate cancer cases than North America. The study attributes this to their high fiber, high fruit and vegetable, high flavonoid, and high good fat diet.
Okinawans also report less osteoporosis and a slower rate of bone loss than many other parts of the world. Again this is related to their diet that is high in calcium and dietary flavonoids through plant based foods. It also helps that they get plenty of sunlight and healthy vitamin D.
Healthy Hormone Levels
Both women and men in the Okinawa region have significantly higher sex hormones including estrogen, testosterone, and DHEA. This results in a healthier amounts of muscle mass, bone density, and higher levels of immunity against many age related diseases. These healthy hormone levels also increase their libidos leading to a healthy sex life and increased energy.
With all these factors put together, Okinawans may be the healthiest people on the planet. Without moving to Japan, we can still benefit from many of the same health benefits by doing our utmost to eat sensibly and live an active and simple life. Even though it has been proven that some of the attributing factors of Okinawans longevity is due to their genes, about one third of their health, if not more, is directly related to what they eat. Diet has a major effect on our lifespan and can add up to a decade to our life if we eat right. Take a lesson from the Okinawan centenarians and live longer by eating well.
The Okinawan Diet emphasizes eating less foods that are high on the Glycemic Index. This means your carbohydrates would be lighter and your proteins would be lean but include some healthy fats. Some of the foods eaten in the Okinawan Diet Plan include mozuku, an edible seaweed, goya, a bitter cucumber, luffa, tofu, and plenty of green vegetables.
The Okinawans also lead a life of hard work and light physical activity like gardening, tai chi, and walking. It isn’t just an every once in a while thing for them, its an integral part of their lives. They have little stress in their life that turns them into mush on the couch when they come home from work but instead like to enjoy some light activity in the evening.
Understandably it wouldn’t be wise to quit your job and try to live off the land. We don’t have that luxury here, but living with less will allow you to take more time off and live a simpler life. Less stress and more time for a slower speed of life will have you living like an Okinawan in no time.