Okinawa is one of the five Blue Zones of the world. Loma Linda (USA), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Sardinia (Italy), and Icaria (Greece) are the four other regions where the residents consistently live over the age of 100 years. Blue Zones were discovered by the National Geographic team led by Dan Buettner.
The largest of the Ryukyu Islands, Okinawa offers the best combination of geography and environment to sustain longevity. However, diet is the most crucial aspect contributing to the long and healthy lives led by Okinawans. Let’s explore the Okinawa diet and how you can incorporate its health benefits.
What Is the Okinawa Diet?
The Okinawa diet is the eating patterns followed by the inhabitants of Okinawa. Okinawa food plan is generally high on carbs and low in calories, and plant-based food items feature prominently in this diet, with occasional pork and fish. In contrast with the traditional Okinawan diet, the modern Okinawa diet includes some amount of fats and proteins too.
The macros(1) for both the diets are as follows:
|Original Okinawa Diet||Modern Okinawa Diet|
|Fat||6%, including 2% saturated fats||28%, including 7% saturated fats|
In addition to following mindful eating practices, regular daily exercise, Okinawans also treat food as medicine and make use of herbs and spices that possess medicinal properties.
Benefits of Okinawa Diet
Here are the key health benefits of the Okinawa diet:
The island of Okinawa is said to have the highest number of centenarians. If you are wondering why do Okinawans live so long, then the answer is simple – it’s because of their highly nutritious and antioxidant-rich diet. The antioxidants are responsible for slowing down the aging process by protecting and repairing the cells.
Further, the anti-inflammatory nature of the diet also reduces inflammation. Studies(2) also indicate that low-calorie, high-carb(3), and low-protein diets increase lifespan in people.
2. Reduced Risks of Chronic Diseases
In addition to living longer, Okinawans are less prone to chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, or heart issues. The Okinawan diet contains essential nutrients, anti-inflammatory compounds, and fiber. The presence of healthy foods like sweet potatoes and soy products(4) help keep chronic diseases under check.
3. Weight Loss
Given that the diet is low on calories and high on fibers, it helps in maintaining a calorie deficit, which helps in losing weight. The 80/20 eating rule, where you eat until you are 80% full, also instills discipline, especially amongst those who have a poor relationship with food.
Further, the diet also emphasizes on daily physical activity, which will help with weight loss at a rapid yet healthy rate. Finally, the Okinawa diet also helps in maintaining a healthy BMI.
Foods to Include in Okinawa Diet
What do Okinawans eat? Here is a detailed Okinawa diet food list:
- Vegetables, primarily sweet potatoes, bitter melon, and dark leafy greens
- Shiitake mushrooms and bamboo shoots
- Legumes and lentils
- Soybeans and soy products like natto, miso, tofu, and edamame
- Seaweed like kombu, hijiki, and mozuku, and kelp
- Herbs and spices like turmeric, Okinawan peppers, mugwort, and fennel seeds
- Whitefish and seafood (in moderation)
- Whole grains like millet, rice, and wheat or their noodles (in moderation)
[Read: Liquid Diet]
Foods to Avoid in Okinawa Diet
The Okinawa diet restricts the usage of the following foods:
- Animal meats like beef and chicken (eggs can be consumed in moderation)
- Processed meats like bacon, salami, hot dog, etc.
- Dairy and dairy products like cheese, yogurt, and butter
- Fruits and nuts that are high in calories
- Sugar and sugary foods and beverages
- Refined carbohydrates and processed foods like bread, pasta, chips, etc.
- Baked goods like muffins, cakes, and brownies
A Day in Okinawa Diet
If you wish to follow the Okinawa diet plan, here is an overview of what the different meals would look like:
- Tofu and yellow pepper stir fry with roasted sweet potato
- Miso soup topped with soft boiled egg
- Congee with some natto
- Rice with lentils served with crispy edamame and steamed broccoli
- Pork ribs served over a bed of rice along with stir-fried bitter melon
- Tofu and vegetable soup served with pickled daikon radish
[Read: 1300 Calories Diet]
- Brown rice with spinach and pumpkin loaded lentils
- Rice noodles miso soup with some natto and pickled vegetables
- Boiled sweet potato salad with cabbage, mushroom, and bamboo shoot stir fry
- Seaweed salad
- Carrots and Radish
- Jasmine tea
- Millet grain brandy
- Soy milk
Drawbacks of Okinawa Diet
Even though the Okinawa diet is loaded with health benefits, the possible downsides include:
[Read: Pescatarian Diet]
Following the traditional Okinawa diet and the Okinawa diet recipes can be really difficult, especially for those who have adapted to the Western diet. Further, conventional Okinawan ingredients and food items may not be readily available. Thus, the diet may seem to be fairly restrictive.
It may also be mentioned that the diet also excludes certain food groups like dairy, seeds, nuts, and fruits, which are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.
2. High Sodium Content
Given that the diet is high in fiber is yet another cause for concern, especially for those suffering from hypertension(5). A few versions of the Okinawa diet supply as much as 3,200mg of sodium can increase the retention of fluid within the blood vessels, causing an increase in blood pressure.
However, the Okinawa diet is also loaded with potassium, which offsets the damaging effects of sodium. Further, avoiding sodium-rich foods like miso and dashi can help control sodium intake.
3. Not a One-Size-Fits-All Diet
While the Okinawa diet may seem like a blessing to lose weight and lead a healthier life, the results may vary depending on the individual’s genetic structure and lifestyle. For instance, Okinawans take about 14,000 to 18,000 steps a day, while an average American takes about 5,000. Thus, merely following the diet is not a magic cure.
Even though the Okinawa diet is tough to follow, it is well worth the effort. It helps maintain a healthy weight and battles chronic diseases while protecting the heart. The focus on unprocessed, whole grains and plant-based foods ensures that we are mindful of the healthy and nutritious foods that we eat. Further, other principles like revering food, and eating until satiated enhances the health benefits.
1. What Do the Okinawans Eat for Breakfast?
Okinawans prefer eating a nutrient-dense and filling breakfast consisting of tofu, eggs, vegetables, and whole grains like rice or millets. Soups and porridge are fairly common breakfast items. Miso soup is a breakfast staple in Okinawa.
2. Do Okinawans Eat Eggs?
Traditional Okinawa dictates that a few eggs can be consumed in a week. However, the Modern Okinawa diet allows for eggs in a somewhat greater quantity.
3. What Kind of Tea Does Okinawans Drink?
Okinawans typically consume green tea and jasmine tea.