Health & Fitness

What is an Okinawan diet and should you go on it?

Okinawans are likely to live to a century, more than anyone else in the world. Some researchers say the key to their longevity lies in their diet. Is it time to make the switch to the Okinawa diet?

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Okinawans also consume lots of jasmine tea, and add a dash of antioxidant-rich spices like turmeric to their food.

In fact, compared to the average Japanese diet, the Okinawan one consists of only 30 percent sugar and 15 percent grains.

Lifestyle wise, Okinawans are diligent with their daily physical activity and practice mindful eating so they don’t overeat.


What’s not in the Okinawa diet?

As a result of Okinawa’s geography (it’s in relative isolation), it doesn’t have access to a lot of foods for most of its history.

This means they don’t get to eat beef or chicken, or processed meats like sausages, ham, bacon and other cured meats.

They also have limited access to eggs and dairy products like milk, cheese, yoghurt and butter, processed cooking oils and breakfast cereals, snacks like cookies, pastries, or chips, nuts and seeds and legumes (other than soy beans).

So if you’re planning to wholly adopt this diet, those are the foods you’ll want to restrict.


How you can adopt the Okinawa diet

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The good news is you don't have to follow the Okinawa diet strictly to reap some of its many benefits. You can easily incorporate some changes into your diet, such as:

Doubling up on your greens. Three-fifths of your plate should be filled with vegetables, preferably deep green ones like kale and spinach or brightly coloured ones like bell peppers and pumpkins. The remaining two-fifths should be split between proteins and grains equally.

Switching red meat for half to one serving of fish. Even better, increase your intake of legumes like soybeans.

Going for soy or soy foods. For instance, include some tofu or replace dairy milk for soy milk.

Adding a variety of mushrooms to your meal - button, shiitake, oyster, and enoki - and replace your meat with them wherever possible.


Should you go on the Okinawa diet?

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“When looking at diets that promote health and long life such as the Okinawa diet, it is important to look at it as a whole and extract elements from it,” says Dr Pooja Vig, functional medicine nutritionist at The Nutrition Clinic.

“Traditional diets have evolved as part of a complete lifestyle; it came from what was available in the environment, as well as restrictions that the environment placed on its people. With the Okinawa diet, for example, the level of minerals in the water and soil play a big role in its health benefits - as does the use of root vegetables, such as purple sweet potato in place of large quantities of rice.”

Bonnie Rogers, functional medicine health coach at The Nutrition Clinic, agrees. 

“I see so many clients that try to restrict their lifestyle and diets. They usually end up with nutritional deficiencies and lose sight of why they started following the diet in the first place. So I urge clients to avoid following the latest diet without first looking into what nutritional needs they might have. What works for one might not work for another.

“Also, very few people stick to a prescribed diet long-term if it doesn't fit into their lifestyle. So take the parts that make sense, such as increasing vegetables, being more active, and eliminating processed foods, instead of being too rigid and following an unsustainable short-term fad diet,” urges Bonnie.