The Okinawan diet refers to the traditional eating habits of the people of the Japanese island of Okinawa (population 1.3 million).
It is based on whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, fish, tofu, seaweed, nuts, seeds, and herbs.
The islanders eat very little meat and avoid processed foods. They drink green tea instead of coffee. They do not smoke and rarely use alcohol. They exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight.
Okinawa Island hosts more than 40 centenarians per 100,000 inhabitants, 3 times more than in all of Japan.
This longevity is not only the consequence of a favorable genetic background but would above all be the conjunction of a protected environment, good eating habits, regular physical activity and a strong social fabric.
Life expectancy on this island is 82 years with only 2.6 years of disability after 100 years. The difference between men and women is clear, with a woman/man ratio of 5 female centenarians for 1 male centenarian.
Diabetes is rare on the island of Okinawa, while cancers (colon, breast, prostate, etc.) are nearly 80% less numerous than in Western countries.
The diet of centenarians on the island of Okinawa
The inhabitants of the island of Okinawa consume a wide variety of foods, and their calorie consumption is about 300 calories less when in industrialized countries.
The use of soybeans and rice is very high, as is that of fish, unlike that of meat and dairy products.
The intakes of vitamins A, B, C and proteins are also very high, unlike those of carbohydrates and salt.
The following nutrients, known to fight against inflammation and aging, thanks in particular to their antioxidant properties, are also widely consumed:
- Polyphenols from green tea, certain vegetables, fruits (berries)
- Omega 3 fatty acids
- Magnesium (soya, tofu, green vegetables)
Soy is an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid, protein and phytoestrogens. These compounds are known to have beneficial effects for the cardiovascular system and have anti-cancer properties.
Caloric intake has been estimated at just over 1000 calories per day, thanks to the consumption of foods with low energy density which allow the absorption of fewer calories, due to their high content of water, fiber and proteins.
Physical activity and social life
The centenarians of the island of Okinawa practice gardening, walking, martial arts and dance, a physical activity which is accompanied by an active social life (third age clubs, parties).
Environmental factors do not explain everything, and it would seem that the frequency of certain alleles is more frequent among the inhabitants of Okinawa.