Okinawa and the Secrets to a Healthy Diet and Longevity

What is the secret to a healthy diet and longevity?

Okinawa is an island located south of the mainland of Japan. It is 466 square mile island and is known as a “Blue Zone”, which is a place in the world where people live much longer than average and are much healthier than the general population. Other blue zones around the world include Costa Rica (Nicoya), Sardinia (Italy), Icaria (Greece), and Loma Linda, California (7th Day Adventists). In these areas you will find the highest concentrations of people that live to be over 100 years old. So many people in the world are in search of the perfect diet that optimizes physical health and allows people to live relatively free from disease. So what are the dietary and environmental secrets that help people to live beyond 100, be happy and experience far less disease than the rest of the world?

Let’s first take a look at an overview of what the dietary and lifestyle habits are of these folks and then look at things more specifically. This study provides all the information on Okinawans and all the lifestyle habits they have in order to live long. They found these components to comprise the secrets to health and longevity.

  1. Their diet consists almost entirely of whole organic plant food.
  2. Smoking is almost non-existent.
  3. There is a strong sense of family.
  4. Constant moderate physical activity is an inseparable part of life.
  5. People are social engaged and have a strong sense of purpose.
  6. No “time urgency” is in the culture. This doesn’t mean people are lazy by any means, they work hard, but they also know how to relax and enjoy life.
  7. Tea was consumed every day.
  8. Highly engaged in religion or spirituality.

Take a look at your life as it is compared to this chart and see if areas of your life don’t quite match up to this list. Have you made peace with your family? Do you constantly exercise or work out? Are you socially engaged? Do you have a strong sense of purpose? Do you live life at a frantic pace?  Do you have daily spiritual practices?

Next, let’s take an even closer look at the diet of the average traditional Okinawan. If we made a food pyramid of the diet of the traditional Okinawan diet and compared it to the food pyramid we have here in the USA, you will find some very shocking differences.

Even in the natural health world where the paleo diet (moderate to high animal protein) and the ketogenic diet (high fat) are very popular today, stark differences occur between what traditional Okinawans consume and these other two diets. Protein and fat are the macro nutrients which are the large focus of dieting in our world today. Interestingly, this is not the case here. Here are some stunning observations and a breakdown of their diet.

  1. 70% of the diet is composed of sweet potatoes (purple and orange varieties). Can you believe this?! Sweet potato has a very long history in Chinese medicine of being an extremely nourishing food for your digestive system.
  2. Another 20% of the diet is composed of carbohydrates including rice, legumes, vegetables and fruits. This means that 90% of the diet is full of carbohydrates, mostly composed of vegetables. Vegetables consist of over 75% of their traditional diet. Carbohydrates are seen as bad by many in our world and need to be restricted. This is largely because of the carbohydrates that people consume that are not healthy including refined sugar and gmo wheat that create metabolic problems. In the other blue zones organic, whole food carbohydrates on average consist about 65-75% of the diet.
  3. Less than 5% of their diet is composed of meat, chicken, pork, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds or fish. They get all the protein they needed from the plants that they consume. A common misconception that people have is that you don’t get enough protein from a plant based diet and this simply is not true.
  4. The food is organic, whole, not processed and is prepared in traditional ways.
  5. No refined sugar, fried food, or genetically modified foods (canola oil, sugar, corn, soy, wheat) are consumed.
  6. Soy is a food that is consumed in both fermented (miso) and non-fermented forms, but is not a huge part of the diet and historically was not genetically modified.
  7. Alcohol was optional and if consumed was done so lightly 1-3 times per week.
  8. A cultural calorie control habit was practiced called hara hachi bu. This habit consists of only eating until they are 80% full. Overeating puts a lot of stress of the digestive system and does not contribute to longevity or health.
  9. The foods that contribute to most of the health problems in the USA today including dairy, alcohol, pork, eggs, fried foods and genetically modified products like sugar, wheat, corn, soy and canola oil are either never consumed or are minimal. Pork, eggs, alcohol, and dairy are the only things they did consume from this list and it is less than 3% of the total diet, if at all. These foods are what most in the US consume today, contributing to all the major diseases we have today.
  10. Disease among traditional Okinawans is significantly lower than the rest of the world. Rates of cancer, heart disease and diabetes are minimal. Cancer, heart disease and diabetes contribute to over 70% of deaths in the USA today.
  11. Lastly, the last two Okinawan generations that have started to consume a SAD or Standard American Diet, are among the most obese in Japanese culture. Whereas traditional Okinawans are lean, slender and fit. On the island, 12 new KFC’s have popped up and younger people have forsaken the traditional diet and in return they are obese, diseased, not physically as active and are not living as long. This is proof our genes respond to our environment (epigenetics). If we put garbage in, health will decline and disease will abound. We are not victims to our genes.

In other blue zones around the world you will obviously see differences in the traditional diets of those areas due to the foods they had access to.  However, in other blue zones, protein and fat is usually minimally consumed. Carbohydrates in the form of vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fruits compose over 70% of the diet of all these zones. Many of the other environmental, social, physical, familial and spiritual components are also shared.  Chinese medicine also resonates with what has been found in this study and in the study of the other blue zones. A return to traditional dietary and environmental practices holds the key to longevity and healthy living.  What strikes you as the most interesting part of the study?  Please share this article and if you are interested in health and longevity, please call 407-255-0314 to set up your appointment with Dr. Scott today.

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