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Okinawa diet

Okinawa diet plan, off late, has taken the center-stage of discussion among nutrition-scientists, and health-conscious individuals alike.

What is so special about Okinawa islanders' diet?

One may wonder how East-Asians, especially Japanese live longer than their counterparts in other parts of the world. The indigenous Okinawa islanders, situated at the southern tip of Japan in the vast Pacific Ocean, have an interesting diet plan. People here, however, reportedly have longest life expectancy than anywhere else on the planet!

goya chanpuru- contains slices of bitter melon
Goya chanpuru. Bitter melon slices stir-fried with tofu, onion and egg, in one of the Okinawa delicacies. Photo courtesy: jetalone

Reports suggest that, on an average, a typical Okinawan may live for about 110 years of healthy productive life. This is partly because of their genetic makeup. However, recent community research studies on Okinawa population suggest that the most important factor influencing their longevity is the simple food they eat, passed to them through their ancestors for centuries.

Okinawa island (Japan) on the world map
Okinawa island circled in red.

Salient features of Okinawa diet:-

  1. Calorie restricted diet: The diet of the Okinawan people is 20% lower in calories than an average Japanese consume. Their diet consistently averaging no more than one calorie per gram and the average Okinawan has a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 20. It has been widely recognized that the food consumed itself contains more free-radicals than through the external agents like bacteria, viruses, etc. Calorie restriction, therefore, thought to improve health and slow the aging process in some animal models like rodents by limiting their dietary energy intake below daily-average needs.

  2. Anti-oxidant rich diet: Okinawa diet composes mainly green/orange/yellow (GOY) vegetables, fruits, roots, and tubers. These foods are rich sources of anti-oxidant vitamins like vitamin-C, vitamin-A, and flavonoid poly-phenolic compounds like ß-carotenes, luteins, xanthins, and minerals like calcium, iron, potassium, and zinc.

  3. Low in fat and sugar: The Okinawa diet is low in fat and has only 25% of the sugar and 75% of the grains of the average Japanese dietary intake. Low-fat and limited sugar in the diet can definitely help prevent coronary heart diseases and stroke risk.

  4. Vegetarian and seafood rich: The islander's traditional diet includes a relatively small amount of fish and somewhat more in the way of soy, low calorie vegetables like bitter melon, and other legumes. Almost no meat, eggs, or dairy products are consumed. Fish provides omega-3 essential fatty acids like alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Soy (in the form of tofu), besides being a very good source of protein, contains health promoting compounds like soluble dietary fiber, antioxidant tannins, and plant-sterols. Altogether, these phyto-nutrients offer protection against heart diseases, stroke, colon, and prostate cancers.

Advocates of Okinawa diet (The Okinawa Diet Plan, a book by Bradley Wilcox, MD, D. Craig Wilcox, PhD and Makoto Suzuki, MD), divide food items into four categories based up on their caloric density, as follows:

  • The "featherweight" foods: Food groups that provide less than or equal to 0.8 calories per gram belong to this category. Citrus fruits like orange; low calorie vegetables like spinach, cucumber, etc. One can eat freely many servings per day without major concern.

  • The "lightweight" foods: Food items with a caloric-density from 0.8 to 1.5 calories per gram fall in this category. Certain fruits like banana and vegetables like potato are examples in this category. One should consume these in moderation.

  • The "middleweight" foods: Food group having a caloric-density from 1.5 to 3.0 calories per gram, such as cereals like wheat, legume products, and lean meat included under this category. It is advised that one should eat only while carefully monitoring portion size.

  • The "heavyweight" foods: Food items which provide 3 to 9 calories per gram (300 to 900 calories per 100 g) belong in this category. Many oils and fats, nuts, oil seeds and red meat fall in this category, which one should eat only sparingly.

Here is a list of few interesting books on the Okinawa diet plan available from the amazon.com stores.

okinawa program

The Okinawa Program : How the World's Longest-Lived People Achieve Everlasting Health--And How You Can Too

Author: Bradley J. Willcox

okinawan diet plan

The Okinawa Diet Plan: Get Leaner, Live Longer, and Never Feel Hungry

Author: Bradley J. Willcox

longevity secrets

50 Secrets of the World's Longest Living People

Author: Sally Beare

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