Shared from Prevention
The Okinawa diet emphasizes eating plenty of veggies and fatty fish.
ELENA DANILEIKO | GETTY IMAGES
There are more centenarians—those aged 99 or older—living on Japan’s Okinawa islands than anywhere else in the world. Okinawa is one of the most well-known Blue Zones—places with the world’s longest-lived and healthiest people. People living in Okinawa have especially low rates of obesity and chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The secret to their good health? Experts suspect it has to do with their local diet—the Okinawa diet.
“Many variables account for these long lifespans, but the key is their particularly healthy diet,” says Luiza Petre, MD, a weight management specialist and assistant clinical professor of cardiology at The Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
Here’s how the Okinawa diet may improve your health and how you can incorporate this way of eating into your lifestyle.
What is the Okinawa diet plan, and what makes it so healthy?
The Okinawa diet is a traditional eating pattern of people living on Japan’s Okinawa islands. This way of eating emphasizes eating plenty of vegetables and seafood and limiting processed foods. Many Okinawans also eat moderate portions at mealtime and treat food as a source of medicine, Dr. Petre says. Some of the most popular foods on the Okinawa diet include:
- High-fiber carbohydrates, like sweet potatoes, root vegetables, and buckwheat soba noodles make up more than half of Okinawans’ plates
- Green vegetables such as leafy greens and cabbage
- Soyfoods like tofu and miso paste
- Seafood and seaweed such as kombu and hijiki
- Small amounts of red meat, especially pork
- Shiitake mushrooms and bitter melon, a bitter gourd-like fruit
- Jasmine tea
As for sweets or added oils? Okinawans don’t factor those foods into their diet as much. Okinawans tend to enjoy sugary treats only on special occasions. Plus, many of their dishes are steamed or quickly stir-fried, so there’s not much added fat. Most of the fat they do consume comes from omega-3-rich fish.
A typical Okinawan meal consists of stir-fried or boiled vegetables, miso soup, and a small serving of tofu or fish. But these foods aren’t just eaten for lunch and dinner. Instead of munching on a bowl of cereal or a pastry, Okinawans tend to have these savory staples for breakfast, too. “They don’t overload on sugar, so their breakfast is automatically healthier,” says registered dietitian Shari Portnoy, MPH, RD.