If you’ve ever met someone over the age of 100, he or she was probably in a nursing home or hospital with deteriorating health, unable to enjoy a self-sustaining life. But that’s not the fate of every centenarian, and it’s certainly not an accurate description of the elderly who reside on the island of Okinawa, Japan. These men and women are some of the healthiest people on earth, dutifully gardening and exercising every day even as they surpass 100 years of age. Incredibly, they also have 80% fewer heart attacks and instances of breast cancer than Americans, as well as a distinct absence of problems related to being overweight. The 25-year Okinawan Centenarian Study has revealed these facts to the world, and with them, the diet of these amazingly healthy people.
The Okinawan Diet
Perhaps the most accurate description of the Okinawan diet would be to state that it’s not a diet. It’s a way of life, and in fact, it’s the reason Okinawans don’t need to know anything about dieting. Eating well comes naturally to these people, and it’s a learned behavior that encompasses both the type of food being consumed and the way it’s eaten.
Choosing Healthy Foods
When it comes to deciding what to eat, the USDA has made it easy to access information about choosing healthy foods. Compared to what most of America eats on a daily basis, the MyPyramid diagram looks like the epitome of health food, but it’s not necessarily the healthiest diet plan out there. It’s a good starting point, but there are some important details that are missing, such as which types of each food are healthiest. Fortunately, Okinawans have their own recommendations, and the proof is in the pudding. To supplement your understanding of a healthy diet, try considering these details:
- Not all protein is created equal. Beans and fish are the protein staples of the Okinawan diet, pushing out any other meats.
- Whole grains are important – Okinawans typically consume seven to thirteen servings per day, all in unrefined carbohydrates. That means no bleached flour products.
- Vegetables and fruits aren’t the same thing. Try consuming just two to four servings of fruit and leave room for seven to thirteen servings of vegetables.
- Eat your bioflavonoids – plant extracts with natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Okinawans get most of theirs from soy, tea, flaxseed, and legumes.
The Act of Healthy Eating
Beyond eating the right foods, it’s also important to encourage healthy portion control and digestion. These two concepts go hand in hand: when you eat at a more leisurely pace, you eat less and you give yourself more time and energy to digest. When you hurry through a meal, you immediately refocus your energy and deprive yourself of healthy digestion. So the next time you’re heading out for fast food, rethink your choice and find a way to enjoy a healthy, relaxing meal instead. You might just live to be a centenarian.