The Okinawan Diet.

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It’s no secret that the typical ”Western Diet,” is not exactly making Americans any healthier. What IS surprising; that there are people living longer, healthier lives in other countries and yet very few Americans are looking to those countries for guidance about what we could potentially be doing wrong.

Those who live on the island of Okinawa are one of the best examples of a group of people Americans should be looking to imitate. With the highest life expectancy and the lowest death rates from cancer, heart disease, and stroke (the top 3 killers in the U.S.) in the world, I think we could stand to learn a thing or two.

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 What is the secret on “the land of immortals,” as ancient Japanese legend refers? Decades of research link the Okinawan longevity directly to diet, lifestyle, and attitude, each of which can be easily adapted in other countries.

The Okinawans live by a few simple rules:

  1. “Hara Hachi Bu:” Eat until you are 80% full. The Okinawans believe that eating until you are only 80% full is eating until you are satisfied and eating until you are 100% full is eating until you are stuffed.
  2. Eat healthy foods, mostly plants. Long before Michael Pollen, the Okinawans subsisted on a diet based around plants, consuming very little sugars, meat, dairy, and eggs. The average Okinawan consumes 7 servings of vegetables, 7 servings of whole grains, and 2-4 servings of fruits daily. Soy, green tea, and seaweed make up about 14% of their diet, fish is eaten at least 3 times weekly, and meat, poultry, and eggs make up less than 3% of their diet. Okinawans rarely consume dairy, eating lots of dark, leafy greens to get their calcium. They also have one of lowest rates of osteoporosis. Hmm: Should We Be Eating Dairy?
  3. Keep a positive outlook. The personalities of the Okinawa people have been tested and it was found that most maintain a positive outlook on life and are generally unstressed. Their deep sense of spirituality, strong coping skills, and feeling of meaning and purpose might explain their low depression rates, despite any poverty or hardships.
  4. MOVE! The Okinawans remain active at any age; biking, walking, working in their gardens, dancing, practicing karate/tae chi, and kendo, are all ways in which these people keep their heart healthy.
  5. Socialize. The Okinawans have lots of hobbies that keep them busy and surrounded by a large social circle. They are deeply rooted in their spirituality; stay connected to the environment, and surround themselves with family and friends.  They care mutually for one another and form more supportive links to others than people in the Western world.

Seems pretty simple no? Don’t over stuff yourself, eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, stay active, surround yourself with friends and family, have a deep faith, and be happy!

The Okinawan Food Guide Pyramid.

 The Western diet is killing us. The emphasis on convenience, animal products, and lack of produce is NOT giving our bodies the nutrients it needs to survive without illness and disease. The stress we suffer daily come from being too involved with our jobs and not involved enough with God, family, and friends. I encourage you to take a closer look at your own diet and lifestyle.

  •  How many of my meals revolve around meat or highlight meat?
  • How many foods do I eat daily that come from a package or out of the freezer?
  • Do I leave work AT work or do I bring stressors home?
  • Do I stay connected to God, family, and friends?
  • Am I active throughout the day? How can I be MORE active?
  • How many days a week do I take time just for me?
  • How many meat-free meals do I eat daily?
  • Do I eat at LEAST 7 servings of vegetables a day? What about 2-4 servings of fruit?
  • How often do I eat fish?
  • Am I happy? What can I do to be happier?
  •  How often do I laugh?

Yes, YOU can!

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Ask yourself these questions and then look to ways you can improve upon them. Whether you need less stress in your life or more fruits and vegetables, make a change. Just one change and perhaps that will build toward another. Start today and live the Okinawan way!

Question: Any similarities in your diet to the Okinawans? Any changes you COULD make?

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33 comments to The Okinawan Diet.

  • I think eating until I’m 80% full is one of the most challenging things for me. Sometimes I forget to eat snacks between my meals so I am super hungry at mealtime and overindulge. Plus it’s easy to feel like you need to clear your plate. I have been making more of an effort though. I try to not eat everything off my plate. I feel a bit bad cause it is somewhat wasteful but some of the portions we are given are way too much! I think restaurants should have half portion options for customers and they can pay less. Anyone else with me on this?

  • This is great! Kind of like the Macrobiotic Diet, right? It’s sounds very simular anyway!

    Whitney

  • Loooove the 80% rule! I’ve been trying to implement it!!! This is one of the options of places for us to live with the Marine Corps! Random right!? I dont want to go juuuust b/c they dont want us there — but visiting would be so much fun!

  • 7 veggies a day is a great goal. I’m going to start paying attention and see where I am on that. I purchased the book, The Okinawan Diet a looooong time ago. I think it got lost in a move but I’m now motivated to search the house for it cause I remember there were some great recipes in it.

  • Great post, have you read The Jungle Effect? Great book about cultures around globe that are “cold spots” for disease. I think portions is a big one the eating until not hungry vrs full. The green tea/sea vegetables also can’t be minimized. Interesting.

  • Roz

    LOVE this post. Wow…we have so much to learn!!! And time to up the vegetable intake!!! Have a great day.

  • I love this idea of eating!!! (And actually living for that matter!)

  • So interesting! I like the Okinawana way of living, it seems very nourishing.

  • i LOVE this post! i wholeheartedly agree with you!

  • oh wow, here i thought i was doing well by eating 5 servings of veg! :) it’s funny: it *seems* like common sense would be to eat REAL food, not artificial crap we’re used to. but i guess in the Western world time and convinence is valued more than our health. positivity is probably even more important! we’re so stressed out in Western culture, our bodies can only listen to our brains.:-S

  • I meet a few of the eating guidlines (eating lots of veggies and fruits, and limiting meat intake), however I eat a lot of eggs. I definitely need to work on cutting out the stress in my life. I know that is a big factor in all of my headaches and why I feel fatigues all the time. This was an extremely interesting post!

  • Carol

    I eat a lot of fresh produce…probably more fruit than veggies. I also move a lot. During the week I think I sit down just long enough to eat my meals and check emails. On the weekends I usually work out twice…once in the AM and once in the afternoon. When it gets warmer my hubby and I will hardly ever be home. We love to kayak, hike, and bike:)

  • I think this is so great, because it’s such a simple way of living! People think that to be healthy takes a lot of work or special foods / exercises, but we really have all we need. I guess it can be hard, because growing up in America has probably skewed our perceptions of what is healthy and not, but it comes so natural to other countries.

  • I definitely live close to the Okinawan diet except I do eat processed foods (as in a lot of cereals..not packaged meats or anything like that). But even those cereals are whole grain and high fiber so they’re not that bad.

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  • I really want to live more like the Okinawans!!! I love how they eat 7 servings of veggies and 4 servings of fruit! Sounds like my kind of lifestyle! :D

    xoxo
    Kathleen

  • I love this post!! I really want to live more like the Okinawans!!

  • Love this post, Erin!!!! Great info…everyone should read it and follow the example of the Okinawans. I am excited that i already have a lot of their concepts, but of course it’s not perfect. the reason we don’t look to these places is money. The government makes too much money off us eating commercial processed foods, through the food industries and the pharmaceutical industries. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but what else would explain it?

  • I love the simplistic approach. I really do think that is one of the biggest problems is we try to complicate eating too much. We complicate the ingredients in our food. The way we view eating is so overly analyzed with this and that diet. And then we complicate our lives on top of it all. Great post!

  • Meg

    Very interesting post! When I was at my healthiest this was pretty much my diet.

  • I love this post for so many reasons! First, I have some definite lifestyle similarities with the Okinawans–which makes me feel great! Second, you are spot on when you say that we need to look to these other countries for knowledge on how to live, long healthy lives! The US seems to be going in the opposite direction–getting less healthy rather than more healthy. With technological advancements in research and medicine, there is no way we should have half the problems we do today. Many of these problems stem from unhealthy eating habits and sedentary lifestyles–it makes me sad.

  • Their rules don’t seem very strict, just like good for health guidelines. I get probably 8 to 10 servings of fruits and veggies a day, but usually half are from fruits. U think one of my goals will be to make veggies higher than fruit and work on leaving work at work. There is no point is stressing about something when you can’t change it.

  • This is the way Americans need to eat! Love the emphasis on plant foods.
    I will say in other cultures (like when I traveled to Italy) the vibe is so much less stressful. Us Americans don’t know how to relax and wind down at times. So important to health.

  • No wonder they live long with that diet! The Western diet is killing people, but it’s so frustrating to see processed food cheap and fresh food expensive, especially if people cannot afford good, healthy food.

  • This is an excellent post! I am going to be sharing it on my FB page – everyone needs to read this! I’ve got the eating part (with the exception of eating fish) of this lifestyle down pretty good, its the being active regularly (I tend to fall off this wagon quite easily), leaving work at work and making enough time for God, family & friends I need to work on!

  • I’m totally down with this kind of diet. Veggies and carbs make up a solid majority of my meals. And meat (protein) gets snuck in at about the same proportion. Hopefully this is a good sign for me! :)

  • Two similarities are that I eat a TON of greens – probably way more than 7 servings (although I don’t cut out dairy.. so maybe not so similar) and I get a lot of exercise. The mindful eating behind the Hara Hachi Bu concept is something that I’m constantly working towards but it is one thing I struggle with.

  • I stayed with a family in Japan when I was 17 (for a few weeks). I loved the way they ate, and I think it really started me on my path towards becoming a dietitian. My Japanese family taught me how to eat slowly and savor the food. I still have my bento box from going to school there. It’s amazing how much nutrition was packed into a tiny little box…and it kept me full and satisfied! Snacks were rice wrapped in dried seaweed. Portable and tasty. I definitely think they have gotten it right!

  • Very interesting! I’ve been fascinated by this island for ages and commend their healthy lifestyle. I actually adhere to much of it, but honestly I think my biggest inhibitor is stress (self-inflicted and work-inflicted) that deters some of my healthy choices.

  • That was so interesting! I think the only thing I do is eat lots of fruits and veggies (but not nearly as many as I should be) and moving.

  • Gen

    Wow!!! So interesting to learn about the okinawans! =D Definitely will be using some of their customs in my eating and lifestyle!

  • I think that what you said about the Western diet killing us is so true!!

  • im def similar in that i eat a plant based diet as they do! but 7 veggies? no way!!! i defs get 5 fruits a day though… more veggies are needed! i probably get 2 servings of veg a day- oops! they live such fulfilling and happy lives!

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