Okinawa is the largest of the Ryukyu Islands located off the coast of Japan between the East China and Philippine Seas.
Okinawa belongs to one of five regions of the world known as blue zones. People who reside in blue zones live exceptionally long, healthy lives compared to the rest of the world’s population.
The lifespans enjoyed by Okinawans may be explained by several genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. That said, experts believe that one of the strongest influences is diet.
This article explores the Okinawa diet, including its primary foods, health benefits, and possible drawbacks.
What is the Okinawa diet?.
In the purest sense, the Okinawa diet refers to the traditional eating patterns of the people living on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Their unique diet and lifestyle are credited with giving them some of the longest lifespans on the planet.
The traditional Okinawa diet is low in calories and fat while high in carbs. It emphasizes vegetables and soy products alongside occasional — and small — amounts of noodles, rice, pork, and fish.
In recent years, the modernization of food production and dietary habits has led to a shift in the macronutrient content of the Okinawa diet. Although still low-calorie and primarily carb-based, it now contains more protein and fat.
The macronutrient breakdown of the Okinawa diet is outlined in this table :
Additionally, Okinawan culture treats food as medicine and utilizes many practices from traditional Chinese medicine. As such, the diet includes herbs and spices known for having health benefits, such as turmeric and mugwort.
Okinawan lifestyle also emphasizes daily physical activity and mindful eating practices.
The health benefits associated with the traditional Okinawan diet have given rise to a mainstream version intended to promote weight loss. While it encourages intake of nutrient-dense foods, this offshoot is heavily influenced by the Western diet.
Foods to eat.
Many of the Okinawa diet’s benefits may be attributed to its rich supply of whole, nutrient-dense, high-antioxidant foods.
Essential nutrients are important for the proper function of your body, while antioxidants protect your body against cellular damage.
Unlike other Japanese, Okinawans consume very little rice. Instead, their main source of calories is the sweet potato, followed by whole grains, legumes, and fiber-rich vegetables.
The staple foods in a traditional Okinawan diet are:
Vegetables (58–60%): sweet potato (orange and purple), seaweed, kelp, bamboo shoots, daikon radish, bitter melon, cabbage, carrots, Chinese okra, pumpkin, and green papaya.
Grains (33%): millet, wheat, rice, and noodles.
Soy foods (5%): tofu, miso, natto, and edamame.
Meat and seafood (1–2%): mostly white fish, seafood, and occasional pork all cuts, including organs.
Other (1%): alcohol, tea, spices, and dashi (broth).
What’s more, jasmine tea is consumed liberally on this diet, and antioxidant-rich spices like turmeric are common.
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