When we talk about longevity, Okinawa is one place that comes to mind. This southernmost region of Japan has some of the longest-living inhabitants on earth.
This makes Okinawa one of the "blue zones" - places in the world where the residents live longer and suffer from fewer age-related disabilities or diseases such as stroke, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. (Other blue zones include Sardinia, Italy, and Ikaria, Greece.)
Scientists have been studying Okinawa’s centenarians to learn the reasons behind their longevity, and many believe that their diet plays a large role in their long and healthy lives.
What is the Okinawa diet?
The Okinawa diet is a traditional one that the indigenous people of the Ryukyu Islands follow.
It comprises mostly vegetables and legumes, particularly soy. It is high in complex carbohydrates, and low in fat and calories.
Okinawans believe that we are what we eat, and revere food as medicine. So the “longevity food” they eat is good for health in general.
The diet, which features low levels of saturated fat and glycemic content, and high antioxidant consumption, is a probable reason for Okinawans’ lower risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and chronic diseases.
Benefits of the Okinawa diet
1. Promotes weight loss
Low in calories and high in fibre, the Okinawa diet can help with achieving a healthy weight, which is necessary for preventing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even certain types of cancer.
2. Rich in essential nutrients
Essential nutrients are vital for the body’s proper function, and antioxidants help to guard the body against cellular damage. The nutrient-dense, high-antioxidant whole foods in the Okinawa diet help to keep diseases at bay and slow down the aging process.
An anti-inflammatory diet can lower our risk of chronic diseases because:
it is low in refined carbohydrates such as white rice, which can cause blood sugar levels to spike, encouraging an inflammatory state in the body, increasing the risk of chronic disease;
it is low in saturated fat (which can increase inflammation), but high in omega-3 fatty acids (which reduces inflammation);
it is packed with vitamins A, C, E, and phytochemicals, which are antioxidants that protect your cells from free radical damage and reduce inflammation.
What’s in the Okinawa diet?
The traditional Okinawa diet is low in calories and fat, and high in carbs. Although regular Japanese diet includes lots of white rice, the Okinawa diet features the Okinawan sweet potato as its staple.
Fibre-rich vegetables make up 60 percent of an Okinawan diet, including seaweed, kept, daikon radish, carrots, bamboo shoots, pumpkin, and the Okinawan sweet potato.
Grains such as millet and wheat, noodles and rice make up about 30 percent, and soy foods like tofu, natto, edamame, and miso make up about five percent.
The rest is meat and seafood - white fish and the occasional pork, including the internal organs.