Okinawa Island, roughly 640 km south of main island Kyushu, is famed for having a healthy population with long lives, compared to the rest of the world.
For starters, Okinawa is one of five regions in the world known as “blue zones”. The other blue zones are Ikaria in Greece, Ogliastra Region in Sardinia, Loma Linda in California and the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica.
It is said people who live in blue zones have exceptionally long and healthy lives compared to others.
The long lifespans of Okinawans could be explained by several factors – lifestyle, genes and environment. However, experts believe the Okinawan diet is one of the strongest influences for their longevity.
What is the Okinawa Diet made up of?
Let us explore the Okinawan Diet a bit in today’s article.
The Okinawa Diet refers to how the residents prepare and take their meals in the traditional Okinawan way.
Diet wise, the original Okinawa Diet is high in carbohydrates but low in calories and fat. It is emphasized on the usage of local produce – mainly vegetables and soya based products. Okinawans also consume small and occasional amounts of rice, noodles, fish and pork.
Okinawan culture treats food as medicine. Therefore the diet includes herbs and spices known for health benefits, e.g., turmeric and mugwort.
Health benefits associated with the traditional Okinawa Diet are often extracted and incorporated into modern diets focusing on weight loss.
With modern day technology in food production, dietary habits have seen a shift in the macronutrient part of the Okinawa Diet in recent years.
While still remaining low in calories and high in carbohydrates, the Okinawa Diet now contains more protein and fat.
Traditional vs Modern
Here is the macronutrient breakdown of the original and modern Okinawa Diet:
Carbohydrates – reduced to 58% from the original 85%
Protein – increased to 15% from the original 9%
Fat – huge increase to 28% from the original 6%
Okinawans are mindful of their eating practices. They also place importance on daily physical activity.
Foods in the Okinawa Diet
There is a rich supply of whole, nutrient-dense, high-antioxidant foods in the Okinawa region. These foods make up most of the Okinawa Diet.
As we know, essential nutrients are important for the body to function properly. Antioxidants protect the cells in your body from damage.
Although Japan is famous for its rice, surprisingly, Okinawans do not eat much rice. Their main source of calories is the famed sweet potato. This is followed by whole grains, legumes and fibre-rich vegetables.
A traditional Okinawa Diet
The main foods that make up a traditional Okinawa Diet are:
*Vegetables – 58 – 60%
Bamboo shoots, daikon radish, kelp, seaweed, sweet potato (orange and purple), bitter melon, cabbage, carrots, okra, green papaya and pumpkin.
*Grains – 33%
Wheat, rice, millet and noodles
*Soya based foods – 5%
Edamame, natto, tofu, miso
*Seafood and meat – 1 – 2%
Mostly white fish, seafood and occasionally pork
*Others – 1%
Alcohol, dashi (a broth), tea and spices. Drinking of Jasmine tea is very common.
We can see the foods listed above are quite restrictive. A Western diet consists of a lot more ingredients. A wider range of foods have not been accessible until now, because of Okinawa’s geographical location which makes it rather isolated.
Readers will also note the Okinawa Diet does not include much fruit, dairy, nets, seeds, and meat. Refined carbohydrates (white bread, pasta, pastries, sweet desserts, white rice, etc.) are practically non-existent.
Plant based foods
The traditional Okinawa Diet consists mainly of plant-based foods. These foods provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. These benefits combined with low-calories, low-proteins and high-carbs, are apparently contributing factors for longevity.
Apart from being colourful, sweet potatoes contain carotenoids which have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Eating soya-based food has been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease, and certain cancers.
Though seen as a high-salt diet, the Okinawa Diet is also high in potassium. Potassium may offset some negative effects of a high salt diet, as it will help your kidneys remove excess fluid that results in lower blood pressure.
Reduced risk of chronic illnesses
Apart from living long lives, Okinawans also have much fewer cases of diabetes, cancer and heart disease. This may be related to their emphasis on diet as well as physical activity.
In conclusion: It must be stressed the Okinawa Diet is based on the local foods and lifestyles of Okinawa residents. Emphasis placed on high-fibre, nutrient-dense vegetables, and lean protein sources. The Okinawa Diet does not encourage eating of processed foods, sugar and saturated fat. It may be high in salt and thus not suitable for those with high blood pressure.
Talk to your doctor or a registered dietician to see if the Okinawa Diet is good for you.
We hope our readers find this general article on the Okinawa Diet informative. Please note the contents of this article are not to be taken as medical advice. Readers should consult their doctor or a dietician for proper dietary advice.
30th October 2020 22:30
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