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The Okinawa Diet: For Better Health and Long Life

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The Okinawa diet is named after the largest island in the Ryukyu Islands in Japan. It refers to the eating habits of the indigenous people of this island, which is believed to be the cause of their exceptional longevity. Also, it is the name of a weight-loss diet plan.

While the average life expectancy in the United States is 78.8 years, it’s 84 years old in Japan – and five times as many people from Okinawa live to be 100 years as their peers in the rest of the country. (1, 2, 3) Researchers have studied the Okinawa’s residents for years, and the answer lies both in the typical Okinawan diet and the islands’ attitude toward eating.

okinawa diet for longer life
okinawa diet for longer life / photo credit: safebee

How Does the Okinawa Diet Works?

According to Nutrition and You, these are the 4 key points of the Okinawa Diet:

1. Diet Rich in Seafood and Vegetables

The islander’s traditional diet contains a relatively small amount of fish and more in the form of soy and low-calorie vegetables including legumes and bitter melon.

Almost no eggs, meat, or dairy products are consumed. Fish provides omega-3 essential fatty acids including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Aside from being an excellent source of protein, soy in the form of tofu, it also contains health benefiting compounds such as tannin antioxidants, soluble dietary fiber and plant sterols.

These phytonutrients offer protection against stroke, heart diseases, prostate and colon cancers.

2. Diet Rich in Antioxidants

Okinawa diet comprises mainly of green/orange/yellow (GOY) vegetables, roots, fruits and tubers. These foods are rich sources of antioxidant vitamins including vitamin-A, vitamin-C and flavonoid polyphenolic compounds like lutein, ß-carotenes, xanthins and minerals like iron, calcium, zinc and potassium.

3. Diet with Calorie Restriction

The diet of the Okinawan people contains 20% less calories than an average Japanese consumes. Their food average no more than 1 calorie per gram, and the average Okinawan has a Body Mass Index or BMI of 20.

Studies firmly suggest that the human body receives more harmful free-radicals from food than through the external agents such as viruses, bacteria, chemicals, etc.

4. Low in Sugar and Fat
The Okinawa diet is low in fat and contains only 75% of the cereals and 25% of the sugar of the average dietary intake of a Japanese. Limiting your sugar and fat consumption can help prevent coronary heart diseases and lower your stroke risk.

5 Longevity Foods from the Okinawa Diet:

1. Bitter Melons

Bitter melon or known as goyain Okinawa, is often served with other vegetables in a stir-fried dish named goya champuru, which is the cornerstone and national dish of the Okinawan diet.

Studies found bitter melon as an “effective anti-diabetic” as powerful as pharmaceuticals drugs, in helping to regulate blood sugar.

2. Brown Rice

In Okinawa, where centenarians consume rice every day, both white and brown rice are enjoyed. Nutritionally, brown rice is superior. Okinawan brown rice, is tastier as compared to the brown rice you are all familiar with.

3. Tofu

Okinawan tofu is considerably harder and sold in larger sizes as compared to regular tofu. It is the preferred ingredients for making the Okinawan stir fry meal known as Chanpuru. One characteristic of Okinawan tofu is that even after being boiled, cooked and battered it remains intact.

There are about 106 calories in Okinawa Tofu per 100 grams serving size. This amount is much higher than firm tofu. But, Okinawan tofu makes for the slight increase in calories by its added nutrition.

4. Seaweeds

Seaweeds in provide a low-calorie, filling and nutrient-rich boost to your diet. Wakame andkombu are the most common seaweeds eaten in Okinawa, which enhances many stews and soups.

Filled with folate, carotenoids, iron, magnesium, iodine and calcium, they also possess at least 6 compounds found only in sea plants that serve as effective antioxidants at the cellular level. Both are sold packaged and dried in the United States.

5. Shiitake Mushrooms

These smoky-flavored fungi grows naturally on dead bark in forests, which helps in flavoring Okinawan’s customary stir-fries and miso soup. They contain more than 100 different compounds which has immune-protecting properties.

Purchased dried, these mushrooms can be reconstituted by cooking or soaking cooking in a liquid like a sauce or soup, and most of their nutritional value remains.

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