A little known island in the Ryukyu Islands of Japan is home to one of the longest-living people in the world. In the Okinawa Island, there are, on an average, 34 centenarians per 100,000 people. The life expectancy is 90 for women and 84 for men. A huge contributor to longevity is the Okinawan diet and lifestyle, which our diet-conscious generation can take cues from.
Okinawan falls in the ‘blue zone’, which is an anthropological concept that describes the typical lifestyle and environment of the world’s longest-living people. The islanders have a body-mass index (BMI) of 20.4 in early adulthood and middle age. It’s worthy to note that a BMI of 18.5 to 25 is considered normal.
These are three golden rules of the Okinawan diet.‘Hara Hachi Bu’ – Eat till you’re 80% full
Residents of Okinawan consume close to 1200 calories in a day, quite contrary to the 2000 calories that is taken as a standard for average calorie intake. One of the key reasons for this is the famous Confucian teaching ‘Hara Hachi Bu’ that reminds them to stop eating when their stomach is 80% full. Okinawans eat mindfully and slowly and this ensures that they give enough time for the body to tell them when they’re full. Eating less extends to calorie restriction and helps in prolonged life.Eating nutrient-rich food
Okinawans eat a plant-based diet and believe there needs to be a balance in the nutritional intake. Their diet consists of 30% green and yellow vegetables. These foods are rich sources of antioxidant vitamins. The islanders also enjoy a certain purple sweet potato that is rich in anti-oxidants and is less fatty than the regular potato. Apart from these, they also consume fruits, medicinal plants and beans as staples. Okinawans consume seafood too, almost half a serving per day. The diet is high in anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals and low in fat and sugars. This helps in lesser free radical damage in the body and hence, prevents the aging of body cells.Food types
Okinawans have categorised food into four types according to their calories and the portion size that should be taken. These categories are as follows:
Featherweight: These foods have 0.8 calories per gram and can be consumed many times in a day. These consist of foods such as spinach, cucumber and other low calories vegetables, citrus fruits like orange and more.
Lightweight: Food having 0.8 to 1.5 calories per gram and should be eaten moderately. These include banana, potato, sweet potato and more.
Middleweight: These foods contain 1.5 to 3.0 calories per gram and their portion size need to be regulated. Wheat, certain cereals, legumes and lean meat are included in this group.
Heavyweight: As the name suggests, foods in this category are advised to be eaten judiciously. They consist of foods that have 3 to 9 calories per gram and comprise of oils, nuts, oil seeds, red meat, sweets and processed foods and condiments. A traditional Okinawa diet discourages the intake of these foods.Apart from these dietary habits, Okinawans limit the consumption of grains and dairy products. They are also very active, as they take up gardening and the likes to be healthy.