When it comes to living past 100, the Japanese have a monopoly on the market. No other place in the world has such a high number of centenarians living in it, and the world’s oldest person is more often than not, Japanese. So how do they do it? Well, it has a lot to do with their diet.
More specifically, it is those that live on Japan’s southern Okinawa islands that seem to have the art of eating your way to 100 down to a fine art. The base of their diet revolves around the produce they have traditionally had local access to, namely a large amount of vegetables and tofu. In addition to this, they eat sparing amounts of fish and occasional pork, as well as a regular helping of squid and octopus.
The resulting lifestyle is now considered to be one of the healthiest in the world, and Okinawans have some of the lowest risks of arteriosclerosis and stomach cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer anywhere in the world. Quite interestingly, the staple of their diet, the purple fleshed Okinawan sweet potato, may be largely to thank for this. It is a vegetable rich in flavonoids, carotenoids, lycopene and vitamin E, all of which work to protect the body from the toll of time. In addition to this, the local bitter cucumber has been shown to lower blood sugar, and the Okinawans eat more seaweed and tofu than anyone else in the world. The fish they eat is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and the octopus and squid contains taurine – which lowers blood pressure. When you combine all this, and then take into consideration that they are not exposed to the vast amounts of processed foods, sugars and fats that we are, it is no wonder they live to such a ripe old age without the need for medical intervention.
Okinawans eat half the rice, and only 30% of the sugar that their mainland counterparts consume. They also consume significantly less fats, wheat, barley, grain, red meat and dairy. Quite surprisingly, their pork consumption is about 50% above the national average; although, it is not a day to day ingredient, and tends to only be eaten during traditional festivals. It goes to show the power of a predominantly plant based diet, used in conjunction with healthy amounts of meat, dairy and wholegrain.
One of the main factors thought to influence the success of the Okinawan diet is calorie density. On average, an Okinawans that reach the age of 100 have typically consumed one calorie per gram of food consumed. Although not a conscious decision, the foods the Okinawans eat have an extremely low calorie density, which allows them to eat a larger quantities of varying foods, exposing them to a much wider spectrum of nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants.
Although the diet is largely responsible for the Okinawan’s longevity, it is not the only factor responsible. Things like DNA, activity, healthcare, upbringing and even regional climate can all play a part in health. Even you gender can affect your lifespan – 85% of centenarians are female. So should you be heading out to buy sweet potatoes, tofu, fish and squid? Well, it largely comes down to lifestyle choices, and at the end of the day, you have to make the decision for yourself; but if you are considering making such a large move, make sure you also spend the time assessing the other aspects of your lifestyle, as it is an overall healthy way of living that will carry you into old age – there is no quick fix.