Foods Consumed by the healthiest People
Part 2 - Okinawa
As I alluded to in part one of this series (See Foods Consumed by the
Healthiest People Part 1, Dynamic Chiropractic 2011;V__N__) it was very
difficult to determine what foods are consumed in the longevity hotspots
(aka blue zones) around the world for a number of reasons:
1. There are no controlled studies focusing exclusively on diet and
most of those are observational.
2. Much of the dietary information on these groups comes from websites
and blogs associated with the health and nutrition industry. It became
apparent their tendency was to select data that supported the philosophy,
books, diets or supplements they were selling.
3. Omissions of politically incorrect information make it harder to
4. Interviews of 90 & 100 year olds from the same areas reveal individual
5. Different articles from different authors who travel to the same
location find different conclusions. And their findings are often extrapolated
by others to represent an entire longevity zone.
6. Those who write about longevity zones don't limit their focus to
What Do They Actually Eat?
My focus is on food because this is a nutrition column and I wanted
to see what these people actually eat. And, as a practicing DC, I am
deluged with patients who are overwhelmed with questions on what they
should and should not eat. Not a month goes by without a new diet with
new claims made by either pushy people in the latest multi-level marketing
scheme or know-it-all salesmen--who, by the way, do not know it all.
And the confusion is amplified by what people who work in gyms &
health food stores say whenever a new study hits the news. When this
series is complete, you will know that there is no single healthiest
diet--something many of you probably suspected anyway---but may have
lacked tip-of-the-tongue info to debate with the someone who just memorized
As for readers who have embraced a single approach of macronutrient
my message to you is the following: Food is like footwear, and one size
does not fit all.
A Word About Longevity and Lifestyle
Lifestyle is every bit as important as diet—and probably more
important for some. In fact, the lifestyles of people who live long
and healthy lives have more in common than the foods they eat, even
though most of what is written implies their diets are similar. However,
the diets of people from the five documented longevity hot spots ––
Ikaria Greece, the Barbagia region of Sardinia, the Nicoyan peninsula
of Costa Rica, the Seventh Day Adventists of Loma Linda California and
today's subject ––The Okinawans of Japan ––
Today we will see what the world champs of documented longevity eat.
It is very healthy but, like every group we will study, contains some
politically incorrect components. Okinawa is the biggest island in a
chain of islands also known as Okinawa. It is home to 1.3 million people
and is located 500 miles south of the southernmost main Japanese island,
Kyushu. It has a semitropical climate with an average temperature of
72 degrees with 75 inches of evenly distributed rainfall throughout
the year. It is the longevity capital of the world. Thirty-four people
out of every one hundred thousand live to be 100 years of age or older.
Okinawans have a diet that is very high in carbs, soy and white rice
and low in protein and fat. But as I mentioned above, it is not that
easy. What follows are passages that represent what I found after hours
of research. They also represent what I did not find, which was that
politically incorrect foods & data were ignored. In the case of
Okinawans, this includes the fact that they eat less seafood than most
Japanese and have 2-3 servings of white rice almost every day.
I suspect this happened because of the fear of hearing something like
"Since Okinawans eat a lot of white rice, and they live long healthy
lives, white rice is healthy." Of course, the truth is three servings
of white rice is not unhealthy when accompanied by 8 servings of fresh
vegetables, a couple pieces of fruit, a little soy and some buckwheat
What Okinawans Eat
"Most traditional Okinawans, eat mainly vegetarian diets. Their
meals may include stir-fried vegetables, tofu, sweet potatoes, and Goya.
Goya, often translated as "bitter melon", is a vegetable extremely
popular as a symbol of Okinawan health food....While centenarian Okinawans
occasionally eat some pork, it is traditionally reserved only for ceremonial
celebrations and consumed in very small amounts. The Okinawan diet is
rich with soy based foods such as tofu and miso soup."
"The average citizen consumes at least seven servings of vegetables
daily, and an equal number of grains (in the form of noodles, bread,
and rice - many of them whole grains). Add to this two to four servings
of fruit, plus tofu and other forms of soy, green tea, seaweed, and
fish rich in omega-3s (three times weekly). Sweet potatoes, bean sprouts,
onions, and green peppers are prominent in the diet. Vegetables, grains,
and fruits make up 72% of the diet by weight. Soy and seaweed provide
another 14%. Meat, poultry, and eggs account for just 3% of the diet,
fish about 11%. The emphasis is on dark green vegetables rich in calcium
(Okinawans, like other Japanese, don't eat much dairy). Okinawans do
drink alcohol, but women usually stick to one drink a day, while men
average twice that. Moderation is the key."
"Over a third of each meal consists of vegetables. The Okinawans
eat 6 servings of vegetables and 1 serving of fruit a day. Sweet potato
is a staple, and vegetables are often eaten with the peel. Other common
vegetables eaten are radish, marrow, onions, carrots, cabbage and leafy
greens.....The Okinawans use seaweed as a flavoring and in stocks. Fish
is eaten 2 or 3 times a week... Soya is a popular ingredient used by
the Okinawans....Their diet includes 6 to 7 servings of whole grains
every day, mainly in the form of rice and wheat udon noodles, or buckwheat
noodles. Lean meat is kept to a minimum, and only eaten sparingly. Green
Tea is the main beverage, with at least 3 cups being drunk daily."
"Okinawans eat fruit every day picked from their own trees including
citrus fruits, pineapples, bananas, papayas, guavas, mangoes and passion
fruit. (They) eat meat from locally-reared livestock mainly on special
occasions. For example they will cook an entire pig and eat every part
of it, including its face, boiled or stewed.... but they get their protein
mainly from fresh fish and around 3 oz daily of melt-in-the-mouth tofu
and traditionally-fermented soy products. (They) use salt sparingly,
and when they do use salt it is mineral-rich local sea salt. (They)
regularly use the powerful anti-inflammatory spice turmeric to flavor
dishes. (They) replenish their cups from a large pot of green tea all
day long and use mugwort and hibiscus to make herb tea".
A traditional Okinawan breakfast may consist of miso soup with spinach
or eggs with rice; while a typical lunch would be papaya, tofu, and
dark green leafy vegetables, and sweet green tea, with a bitter citrus
fruit for a snack in the afternoons......The fruit staples are pineapples,
papayas, mangoes, passion fruit, guavas, and citrus fruit. Vegetables
normally eaten are Goya (bitter melon), hechima (squash), shikuwasa*,
sweet potato, seaweed, garlic, onions, tomatoes, and plenty of green
leafy salad leaves. Tofu, white and brown rice are also eaten. There
is very little meat eaten with meals, however the meat staples are pork
or soki (usually boneless stewed pork spare ribs), beef, and fish.
* a Clementine-sized citrus fruit with a lemon-lime-orange taste
In part three we will see what the Mediterranean groups eat and in
part 4 we'll shift to the Americas.
Note: All websites accessed on 10-12-11.