The Okinawan Diet

Friday, May 18, 2007 - 5:20pm

By Allison Stevens, MS, RD

Want to know the secrets to a long, healthy, happy life? Perhaps you should turn to residents of Okinawa, an island with one of the longest life expectancies in the world (86 years old for females and 78 years old for males).1 More importantly the people of Okinawa (including the elders) thrive, living full, vivacious, healthy lives.

On a globe Okinawa is just a speck, a small group of islands located between Japan and Taiwan. But since Okinawa has one of the highest rates of centenarians (people living for over 100 years) in the world, the lifestyle practices of this set of islands, including eating and diet habits, are worth studying and learning from. The following are dietary practices often employed in traditional Okinawa. Although they may not guarantee you will live to 100, they can improve your eating habits, making for a healthier you!

Okinawans eat their vegetables

The Okinawans eat seven servings of vegetables a day!2 Varieties commonly eaten include cabbage, onions, zucchini, sweet potatoes, and green peppers. Adding these nutrient-filled vegetables (or other varieties) will surely improve the healthfulness of your diet.

Okinawans enjoy their food and this avoid over-eating

Take the time to savor your food and learn to eat consciously, since eating is an enjoyable process in Okinawa. Slow down and actually taste what you are eating and appreciate it. This helps you avoid over-eating, and more importantly can increase your satisfaction!

Okinawans garnish their food for visual appeal

Follow the lead of the Okinawans and add garnishes to your meals. For example, mint, sesame seeds, or red chili flakes will add visual appeal to your meal. As an added bonus, these fancy extras pack lots of extra nutrition and are virtually calorie-free!

Okinawans are great at portion control

In traditional Okinawa, serving sizes are up to half the size seen in North America.3 Gargantuan portion sizes in America contribute to obesity, so when eating out, only eat half of what you are served. At home, by using smaller plates and bowls, you can trick your mind into decreasing portion sizes without even trying!

Okinawans often go meatless

Many meals in Okinawa will be meatless or include seafood. Follow the lead of the Okinawans and add tofu to your meatless meal to ensure you get enough protein. Not only are you eliminating the high amounts of saturated fats that typically come with eating meat, you are replacing it with a healthier alternative, isoflavone-packed tofu!

1. BJ Willcox, DC Willcox, M Suzuki. "Evidence-Based Extreme Longevity, The Case of Okinawa Japan." Presented at the Presidential Poster Session of the American Geriatrics Society Annual Meeting, 2001.

2. BJ Willcox, DC Willcox, M Suzuki. "The Okinawa Program." New York: Three Rivers. 2001. p 115.

3. BJ Willcox, DC Willcox, M Suzuki. "The Okinawa Program." New York: Three Rivers. 2001. p 91.