Burning the candle at both ends, or you just really, really want to live past 100? In a distant part of the world very much separate from the pot noodle, pizza box planet that is university, lies Okinawa, the southern-most island of Japan located in South East Asia. The relevance you may ask? Though renowned for its coral reefs and sub-tropical climate, what makes it so unique is its people's exceptional longevity. With a median life expectancy of 77 for men and 85 for women, and thirty-four out of every 100,000 peopling living to 100 years old, it has been a topic of both fascination and research by scientists asking the question: Can we eat our way to a longer life?
Decades of scientific research have found the low calorie yet nutritionally dense, high phytonutrients diet, rich in antioxidants and flavonoids, is the answer. Yet it is easy to fall into the trap of using overly intimidating scientific terminology such as the previous sentence, which makes it hard to understand how the Okinawan diet works. In its most simplistic form, the diet is similar to other healthy dietary patterns, such as the Mediterranean or the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, based on low saturated fat content, high antioxidant intake and low glycaemic load (which helps you feel fuller for longer). These dietary foundations are scientifically linked to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and other chronic diseases (neat!). Its central principle is that if you are able to decrease your risk of developing of chronic disease, you will in turn increase life span.
Along with the scientific foundations of the Okinawan diet lies a philosophical element- hara hachi bu- moulded on a Confucian teaching working on the principle to stop eating when you feel 80% full. It is a mentality of food consumption which in essence teaches you to eat mindfully, becoming conscious to take the time to actually think about what and how you are consuming food, creating a harmonious connection between stomach and mind, so often lost within the chaos of 21st century lifestyles. This is just one of the elements of the diet making it inherently lower calorie without plunging your body into starvation mode, so much so that Okinawans typically eat around 800 less calories a day compared to average US diets without compromising on nutrient density.
To determine why the diet increases life expectancy it is important to outline its foundations.
The traditional diet staple foods are root vegetables (principally sweet potatoes), green and yellow vegetables, soybean-based foods, and medicinal plants. Marine foods, lean meats, fruit, medicinal garnishes and spices, tea, alcohol are consumed in moderation. The principles of the diet include a high intake of unrefined carbohydrates, a moderate protein intake with emphasis on vegetables and legumes, fish, and lean meats as sources and a healthy fat profile that is higher in mono and polyunsaturated fats and lower in saturated fat, and also rich in omega-3.
Watch this space for the next article going into more detail on the components to the Okinawan Diet, before we follow up with the release of tasty recipes specially tinkered to your student needs (loans), and designed to make you feel better, work (play) harder, and live longer. Stay tuned to stay healthy folks.