Okinawa is a group of islands just south of mainland Japan and is known as “the land of immortals.” Residents not only have one of the longest lifespans and number of centenarians in the world, two-thirds of those who live to be 100 are still living independently at the age of 97.
Okinawans, according to studies, also have low rates of heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.
According to an article published in the Huffington Post, researchers now believe that their fountain of youth is linked to their diet. Scientists from the Eat-Lancet Commission say that their traditional diet that consists of vegetables, soy products and seafood is an excellent protocol maximizing human health while minimizing environmental impact.
Among the favorite foods of Okinawans are sweet potatoes, green and leafy vegetables, yellow root vegetables, tofu, bitter melon and modest amounts of seafood, lean meat, fruit and tea. Their lifestyle plan also includes the occasional glass of locally brewed brandy and plenty of physical activity.
Whitney Linsenmeyer, a spokesperson for the U.S. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that people don’t have to completely switch over to the Okinawan diet to reap the benefits.
“The important thing to remember is that we can adapt the underlying principles of another culture’s cuisine to our own regional diet,” she says. “In other words, someone trying to follow the Okinawan diet may have a hard time finding the plentiful fish and native vegetables in a landlocked state, but can generally adapt the principles of a diet rich in green, leafy vegetables and lean protein.”
Overall, the Okinawan diet is a low-calorie, high-carbohydrate diet with medium consumption of protein and very little meat, refined grains, sugar and dairy.
Dietitian Shelley Maniscalco, president of the consultancy Nutrition on Demand, says the diet has many strengths.
“It’s high in fruits and vegetables which we know confer many health benefits—likely more than we even know at this time,” she says. “It’s high in plant protein, contains seafood and is rich in greens. These qualities are consistent with what we known to be a dietary pattern that encourages health and longevity.”
On the flip side, the typical American diet contains too much saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar and salt. It also lacks fiber. Americans also consume higher amounts of calories than Okinawans who honor a tradition to stop eating when they are 80 percent full. It’s called hara hachi bu and is a cultural practice which roughly translates to “eat until you are 8 parts full.” Okinawans consume approximately 1,800 to 1,900 calories daily which is several hundred calories less than what is prescribed for the average North American. This lower calorie intake not only leads to their consistently lower Body Mass Index or BMI, but also to their remarkable health and long life spans.
It is believed that as a result of their conscious and conscientious eating habits, Okinawans have been able to avoid the choric diseases commonly associated with aging like Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and cardiovascular disease.