Okinawan people are inhabitants of Okinawa island in the Pacific Ocean. A humid, hot land – a subtropical piece of Japan.
Overall, Japan usually ranks first as a nation with the longest live expectancy. In other words, this is a nation with the greatest number of centenarians. Centenarians are those folks who have attained and lived past the ripe age of a century.
Before 2000, the Okinawa island had the longest life expectancy of all Japanese prefectures (there are 47 in total). Today, it’s on the 26th place. It’s losing its position due to increasing soaking in western ways of living and ubiquitous effects of globalization. But before that Okinawans were the longest-lived people on the planet! And this was with the already existing western footprint in their society. That’s because the very first time that the islanders started to feel the influence from the continents was back in the years following the end of World War II. Advancements in transportation and communication, a rise in Japan’s prosperity… Due to all this, now Okinawan children eat way more grains, animal-derived foods and fat than their grandmas and grandpas.
Still, today Okinawans are among the longest lived populations in the world. See for yourself: according to the 2014 paper, in the Unites States, there are 10–20 centenarians per 10000 people while in Okinawa there are 50! Approximately 5 times as many.
Not only the islanders live for a long time, they rarely suffer from illnesses. That includes those that are associated with old age. And that’s exactly what we want to hear. Otherwise, what’s so good about living a hundred years but walk in a pain with cane?
While there are several factors dictating a life expectancy, the most important one is food and eating patterns of course. Are you intrigued to know what is on the foodcloth of ancient Okinawan grandmas? Keeping in mind what I said above it makes sense to look at the Okinawan diet before or shortly after 1945. Luckily, there is data available from 1949, which is pretty much what we want. So, let’s have a look:
Okinawan diet foods and way of eating in 1949
- 67% of all calories came from sweet potatoes (including young leaves)!
- 12% from soaked brown rice
- 9% from other vegetables. The most common were bitter melon, okra, daikon, hechima, and konjac
- 6% from legumes. Soybeans were the favorite obviously
- 3% from other grains. Barley was one of them
- only 2% from fish, meat, eggs and milk! Pork was highly valued for some reason, go figure why
- 1% from other foods. Like shiitake mushrooms, burdock, turmeric and green papaya. Plus seaweeds such as kombu, mozuku, wakame (all three are sources of fucoidan, more on it later)
A sweet potato, grains and some other foods were cooked with a tiny bit of oil. Some vegetables and herbs were marinated, others eaten raw. They drank mostly sanpin – an aromatic jasmine green tea – a satisfying meal in itself.
Out of all calories they ingested daily, a whooping 85% were coming from carbohydrates! And listen to this: only 9% from protein and 6% from fat! This sounds far too extreme. Maybe, but only if you live in a hectic megapolis. Understand that these people had a peaceful country lifestyle and were relatively isolated from the chaos of the outside world. A little work in the garden, constant support from long-life friends, genuinely warm neighbors, a heavenly weather and nature… I would guess since the growing season is all-year round there and they ate only a little, they didn’t have to work that much in their gardens at all, hence, very little stress and lots of just hanging around 🙂
Regarding eating a little: they were taking in only about 1700 calories per day. This is about 400-600 less than an average American consumes today. Very peculiar that before starting any meal, they say “Hara hachi bu“. This is something like a prayer reminding them to stop eating when 80% full. Maybe give this a try when you feel eating like an elephant? May work, who knows.
All in all, what conclusion can be made from the above?
Well, there is no magic, all other factors excluded, to live the longest time possible your diet should (be):
- consist of low-calorie but high-nutrient foods
- consist mostly of carbohydrates
- very low in fat
- low in protein, including that of plant origin
- relatively low in calories
- very low in animal products
Basically, if you scratch your head a bit, this is everything what we are trying to aim at on a happy rainbow diet. Except, we want all foodies maximally in their unaltered form which is a step beyond the Okinawan diet. Yeah, sometimes staying vegan and raw is confusing and hard. But what can you do?.. the good news is once you break through a few fortresses it becomes easier.