The Okinawan Diet

So far, we have been to America and reviewed the Standard American Diet (SAD), Southern France to visit Madam Jeanne Calment and the Mediterranean Diet and Norway to visit some reindeer and check out the New Nordic Diet. The last stop on our world tour is Okinawa, Japan.

Okinawans are another group of people who are known for living a really long time. Okinawa is an island about 400 miles south of mainland Japan and is considered to have a sub-tropical climate.

According to Wikipedia, there are 34 centenarians (people living to 100) per 100,000 people - more than three times the rate of mainland Japan! Is it their music? Maybe their workout program? It is hard to know for sure, but a lot of studies have been done on how they eat.

Okinawa has traditionally been less financially prosperous than mainland Japan. Interestingly enough, as the island has become more prosperous and "mainland" food has made it's way onto the island, the rates of chronic diseases like heart disease, some cancers and others have increased! A great paper by Craig Wilcox, Ph.D (and others) does a really good job outlining why they think the Okinawan Diet is so healthy, as well as some of its history. It is a little technical, so here is a 30,000 foot view of the Okinawan Diet:

  1. Lots of vegetables
  2. Lots of legumes (mostly soy in origin)
  3. Moderate consumption of fish
  4. Low consumption of meat and meat products
  5. Low consumption of dairy products
  6. Moderate consumption of alcohol
  7. Low calorie intake
  8. Rich in Omega 3 fats
  9. High mono saturated to saturated fat ratio
  10. Emphasis on low GI carbohydrates

Dr. Wilcox goes on to outline how some of the vegetables and fruits consumed in the traditional Okinawan diet have a very high micro-nutrient content, especially their version of the sweet potato. In addition, many of the herbs and spices used have anti-inflammatory effects. Both a high micro-nutrient content and increased anti-inflammatory substances play a major role in combating chronic diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, cancer, etc.

Let's Make It Work!

In large, the Okinawan Diet is similar to the Mediterranean and New Nordic Diet. All three emphasize lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, low quantity but high quality meat, low amounts of dairy, increased healthy fats and consuming complex (versus simple) carbohydrates.

Three additional points stand out about the Okinawan Diet from the others:

  1. This is the first diet that recommended reducing calorie intake. An article in the Huffington Post described it like this: Eating until you feel about 80% full.
  2. The Okinawan Diet is described as the "Poor Man's Diet." I will have more to say about this in a later post, but it is interesting that the more affluent a society becomes, the more their food tends to become processed and less healthy!
  3. The Okinawan Diet is the first time we have seen how certain components of a diet may impact health beyond just fuel, i.e. anti-inflammatory herbs and spices and a high micro-nutrient component.

The Okinawan Diet may appear a little more foreign to our eyes than the Mediterranean and New Nordic Diet, but I think it has a lot of promise. I, for one, am going to look more into it!

Next week, we will review how to integrate all of the information we learned in this last month's blogs into a usable set of principles to help you live a longer, healthier life!

Until then, To Your Health!

Doug Williams, D.C. Care Chiropractic Lafayette, Indiana

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