Okinawa isn’t just a region in Japan, it’s also the inspo behind a new eating regime designed specifically to maximise longevity.
Reason being: the country has the longest life expectancy of anywhere in the word (90-years-old for women and 84-years-old for men. And considering it’s just 82 and a half for the average Aussie adult, that’s a pretty good innings.
Okinawa takes things a little further though, with the largest number of centenarians (people who are 100-years-old or older) per 100,000 population. Clearly, the locals are doing something right - especially when it comes to their diet.
What is the Okinawa Diet?
Much alike the Mediterranean diet, this eating plan focuses on limiting processed food and chowing down on plenty of wholefoods, seafood and fresh vegetables, i.e. sweet potatoes, pumpkins, capsicums, bitter melons.
“The predominance of yellow vegetables makes this diet high in carotenoids which can lower inflammation and improve immune system function,” Dr Melissa Rifkin, a dietician at Montefiore Medical Centre tells Shape.
Tofu and mushrooms are also popular choices at meal times, and they do eat rice (but not as often as in the traditional Japanese diet.) They also follow the 80-20 rule, but with a bit of twist: In Okinawa, they aim to eat until they’re satiated, but not completely full (hence the 80 per cent.)
Here’s a sample day on a plate:
Breakfast: tofu with yellow capsicums (scrambled) and ½ a purple sweet potato
Snack: apple with peanut butter
Lunch: rice with lentils or soybeans and broccoli
Snack: seaweed salad or miso soup with carrots, shiitake mushrooms, tofu and radish
Dinner: brown lentils, spinach and pumpkin
Snack: soy milk
Is it healthy?
As the Okinawa diet involves mainly whole, unprocessed foods, it’s high in fibre and carbs and low in overall calories and fat – factors that could help with weight loss and weight management. (The average Okinawan eats around 1,200 cals per day, with us Aussies consume closer to 2,000 cals.)
However, there are a few caveats: since the meals are low in meat, dairy and wholegrains, it is low in certain nutrients (vitamins B, D, calcium and iron). It’s also high in soy – something that’s not ideal for the endocrine system (although the research is still out on this.) It’s important to consider the Okinawan lifestyle too: their exercise routines, relationships and environment may also be contributing to their good health and long lives. FYI, people in the Blue Zones (areas of the world with the highest life expectancy rates) average 14,000 to 18,000 steps per day. Australians manage much less than this (around 7,400 steps daily.)
Rifkin advises that only eating 1,200 calories may also be unsustainable for the average Joe. However, she adds that “with the current obesity epidemic, most people could benefit from shedding some calories from their daily meals. A 1,500 calorie diet may be a reasonable place to start.”