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Okinawa-Style Eating

Jun 19, 2015

Fitness Handout

From Italy to India, many countries can teach us a lot about healthy eating—and fortunately, a number of traditional eating habits from various nations can be easily implemented into our diets to give them a nutritional upgrade.

Take a cue from the time-honored dietary strategies of Okinawa, Japan. Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, dietitian, freelance nutrition writer and recipe developer in Waterloo, Ontario, shares how.

Okinawan Diet

In the Southern-most part of Japan lies an island that has gained worldwide attention for housing some of the world’s longest-living people. Researchers say the dietary lifestyle of the Okinawans is a major reason why more people there live to see triple digits than elsewhere on the planet (Willcox et al. 2014).

This traditional diet is moderate in calories and anchored by “functional” plant-based fare such as soy (namely miso and tofu), sweet potatoes, sea vegetables, mushrooms and other indigenous vegetables. Okinawans consume little in the way of red meat, eggs and poultry—instead focusing on fish and soy for their protein.

Want to eat your way to a century? Try these Okinawan eating practices:

Eat less of everything. Some of the longevity of Okinawans is thought to stem from their low-calorie diet (Willcox et al. 2007). They are known to practice a rule called “hara hachi bu,” meaning they eat only until 80% full. Since our brains are about 15–20 minutes behind our stomachs, it usually turns out that when you think you’re 80% full, you’re actually really full. The result of living by this rule (and keeping active) is that Okinawans end up being slimmer, which goes a long way in stalling chronic disease.

Gather a crowd. In Okinawa, mealtimes are often a social activity involving interaction with friends and family. Researchers believe that communal meals are one reason why Okinawans eat more slowly and make more thoughtful (and healthy!) food choices.

Schedule teatime. Instead of drinking sugary sodas or chemical-laden diet versions, many Okinawans are sipping green tea. Researchers at Oregon State University found that antioxidants in green tea can rev up the immune system to keep your health in tiptop shape (Wong et al. 2011).

Reel in seaweed. Items like kombu, nori and wakame are common types of sea vegetables regularly enjoyed in Okinawa, where they’re added to soups, rice and noodle dishes. Beyond being low in calories, sea vegetables soak up ocean-borne nutrients as they dance in the currents.

To learn healthy eating practices from Scandinavia, the Mediterranean and India, please see www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/culinary-culture-club.

References

Wilcox, B.J., et al. 2007. Caloric restriction, the traditional Okinawan diet, and healthy aging: The diet of the world's longest-lived people and its potential impact on morbitity and life span. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1114, 434-55.

Wilcox, D.C., et al. 2014. Healthy aging diets other than the Mediterranean: A focus on the Okinawan diet. Mechanisms of Aging and Development. doi: 10.1016/j.mad.2014.01.002.

Wong, C.P., et al. 2011. Induction of regulatory T cells by green tea polyphenol EGCG. Immunology Letters, 139 (102), 7-13.

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