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Is The Okinawa Diet Healthy

 The Okinawa diet comes from a small, ultra-centenarian island in southern Japan. It is renowned for the longevity of its inhabitants linked in large part to their diet and their way of life. This diet promotes health and longevity through a diet rich in micronutrients and Omega-3s.

Features of the Okinawa diet:

  1. Rich in vegetables, fruits and fatty fish
  2. True way of life
  3. Great principle of stopping eating before satiety
  4. Promotes health and longevity

The main principles of the regime:

The Okinawa diet is named after an archipelago in Japan where we find the longest life expectancy (86 years for women and 78 years for men) as well as the largest number of centenarians in the world. Okinawa has 400 centenarians for a population of 1.3 million inhabitants, or 34 centenarians per 100,000 inhabitants. Not only are Okinawans most likely to pass the 100-year mark, they are aging in good health. They live longer in full possession of their means. But what are they doing to achieve such results?

How does the Okinawa diet work?

The Japanese Makoto Suzuki, cardiologist and gerontologist, is one of the first to be interested in the secret of the centenarians of Okinawa. In the 1970s, he moved there in order to create a dispensary. He was then intrigued by the presence of several centenarians despite the absence of an adequate health service. His subsequent analyzes will reveal that the secret to longevity of centenarians is attributable in part to heredity, but also to a diet low in saturated fat and calories. Recently, the diet and lifestyle of Okinawan centenarians has attracted the attention of the medical world and researchers. It was twins Bradley and Craig Willcox, members of Dr. Suzuki's research team, who brought the Okinawaiian secret to longevity to the rest of the world. They have published various books on the subject: the first in 2001, The Okinawa Way, and the most recent, The Okinawa Diet Plan. This latest book offers a Western version of the Okinawan diet for those who want to lose weight.

How does the Okinawa diet make you lose weight?

The Okinawa diet is a low fat semi-vegetarian diet (less than 25% of total calories). One of the goals of this diet is to induce calorie restriction without having to count calories, in order to reach a healthy weight and age well. To achieve this, it is recommended to eat according to the principle of the energy density of food. The  energy density  corresponds to the calorific value per 100 g of food, divided by 100.

Thus, in the Okinawa diet, it is recommended to consume:

  • at will  foods with an energy density of  less than 0.7
  • in  moderation  those with an energy density of 0.8 to 1.5
  • occasionally , in small quantities, those with an energy density of 1.6 to 3
  • rarely  those with an energy density  greater than 3

Eating foods with low and very low energy density allows you to eat fewer calories, due to their high water, fiber or protein content. These foods quickly make you feel full, so you can stop eating before you are fully satisfied. Also, the calorie restriction induced by the consumption of foods with low and very low energy density generates less metabolic waste, and therefore less  free radicals . This is what would make it possible to live longer. Indeed, during the transformation of food into energy, the organism produces a lot of free radicals which, over the years, deteriorate the mitochondria (small "factories" present inside our cells which produce energy).

Calorie restriction also reduces insulin levels in the blood and estrogen levels  circulating in the body. It also causes an increase in the immune response and protects against obesity, insulin resistance, hormone - dependent cancers and atherosclerosis.

How long does the Okinawa diet last?

The Okinawa diet is more than a diet. It is a real way of life, the benefits of which increase over time. For this reason, there is no time limit. It is, on the contrary, recommended to apply the principles of this diet throughout life to be and stay in good health.

Foods to Include in the Okinawa Diet below:

>Foods to eat at will

Energy density <0.7

  • Water, tea
  • Green
  • vegetables Watery vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers)
  • Citrus
  • fruits Red
  • fruits Low calorie fruits
  • Soy milk
  • Fresh seaweed Low- fat
  • yogurt
  • Tofu


>Foods to eat in moderation

Energy density between 0.8 and 1.5

  • Banana
  • Avocado
  • Potato
  • Lean fish
  • Shellfish
  • Poultry
  • Egg
  • Sweet potato
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Sushi
  • Legumes


>Foods to eat occasionally

Energy density between 1.6 and 3

  • Hummus
  • Fatty fish Whole
  • grains and derivatives
  • Lean meat
  • Dried fruits
  • Soy cheese
  • Ice cream
  • Sweet fruits: cherry, grape  


>Foods to limit

Energy density> 3

  • Oilseeds
  • Cheese
  • Biscuits
  • Donuts Cold
  • cuts
  • Oil and butter
  • Cream for
  • frying
  • Sweet and processed products

To adapt the Okinawa diet to the Western way of life, it is recommended to consume each day:

  • 7 to 13 servings of vegetables
  • 7 to 13 servings of whole grains or legumes
  • 2 to 4 fruits
  • 2 to 4 servings of soy or cabbage
  • 2 to 4 servings of foods rich in calcium (broccoli, fish, yogurt, cheese, etc.)
  • 1 to 3 servings of foods rich in omega-3s (fish, seafood, nuts and seeds)
  • Vegetable oil and condiments (herbs, spices, soy sauce) in moderation, 1 to 2 tbsp. maximum tablespoon
  • Tea
  • 8 glasses of water


*Optional, per week

  1. 0 to 7 servings of meat, poultry and eggs
  2. 0 to 3 servings of foods with added sugars
  3. Alcohol in moderation

Other main principles of the Okinawa diet:

The Okinawa diet recommends respecting other main principles characteristic of the Japanese diet and which make the success of this method:

  • The  Hara Hachi Bu  which consists in stopping eating before being completely satisfied
  • The  kuten gwa  encouraging to eat only small portions
  • The  nuchi gusui  which consists of eating while thinking that food has healing powers
  • Promote a variety of foods at once
  • Favor colors on the plate
  • Eat fresh food
  • Cook food lightly, over low heat
  • Cook and consume food separately
  • Combine raw and cooked foods
  • Avoid the microwave and barbecue

Okinawa diet: menus, diet program and recipes for vegetarians

>Traditional Okinawa diet

[MORNING MEALS]

  • Miso and tofu soup
  • Rice
  • Green tea

>Western Okinawa diet

  • Rye bread
  • Lean cheese
  • Apple
  • Tea

[LUNCH]

  • Seaweed salad
  • Grilled eggplant
  • Rice
  • Eel skewer
  • Papaya, cucumber
  • Green tea

[DINNER]

  • Rice with red beans and goya
  • Pineapple

>Western Okinawa diet

[MORNING MEALS]

  • Rye bread
  • Lean cheese
  • Apple
  • Tea

[LUNCH]

  • Brown rice
  • Spaghetti with basil and soy beans
  • Grilled chicken
  • Mushroom salad                 
  • Tea

[DINNER]

  • Italian fish
  • Spicy tofu
  • Cucumber dressing
  • Papaya
  • Tea

>Okinawa diet with recipes for vegetarians

[MORNING MEALS]

  • Soy milk and chia seed porridge
  • Red fruit soup
  • Tea

[LUNCH]

  • Cucumber salad with gomasio
  • Miso soup with flat beans, bean sprouts
  • Grilled tofu
  • Pineapple carpaccio
  • Tea

[DINNER]

  • Oriental salad with falafel, mint and grilled peppers
  • Soy yogurt and lemon sauce
  • Homemade seasonal fruit compote
  • Herbal tea


Advantages and disadvantages:

{The positives of the Okinawa diet}

  • Satiety provided by a good intake of fiber and protein
  • Western version easy to follow in the long run
  • Compatible with an active social life
  • Low priority but often diet-induced weight loss
  • Balanced, diverse and healthy diet
  • No food prohibitions or deprivation
  • The negative points of the diet
  • It can be difficult not to eat until you are full
  • Origin foods sometimes difficult to find in the West
  • Requires an effort of cultural adaptation

Recommendations and precautions to be taken:

Are there any risks?

{The Okinawa diet may carry certain risks for uninformed people:}

  1. Reducing your calorie intake over the long term without being overweight and unattended can pose certain health risks, including leading to nutritional deficiencies. The supervision of a doctor and a nutritionist is advised.
  2. Consumption of seaweed by people with hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism can be harmful to their health
  3. The Okinawa diet has certain dietary restrictions that could push the individual following it into a period of excess that is difficult to control.

Is this a diet for you?

You can benefit from the Okinawa diet if you want to develop better long-term eating habits. This diet promotes the consumption of foods close to nature, beneficial to health and with great nutritional qualities. Listening to oneself and the philosophy of life are also pillars of this method. It is important to note that losing weight is not the goal of this diet.

Is it a diet compatible with sport?

Yes, physical activity is also a pillar of the Okinawan way of life. It is essential to maintain the body in good health and prevent various pathologies. It acts in synergy with food.

How not to gain weight? 

The Okinawa diet is not particularly restrictive and not intended to lose weight, there is no reason to notice a weight gain when stopping the diet. Especially since this lifestyle is supposed to be adopted in the very long term to promote health and longevity.

Some figures to go further:

It is true that Okinawan centenarians consume few calories. In a 1996 study, the calorie intake of centennial men and women in Okinawa was about 1,100 calories per day, which is less than the recommended calorie intake in the West. Eating sufficient servings of low energy density foods provides satiety. It can indeed help to lose weight. In animals, calorie restriction has been shown to improve longevity. In humans, in the short term, calorie restriction brings certain benefits, in particular an improvement in the lipid balance (cholesterol, triglycerides). A  prospective study , published in  The Journal of Gerontology in 2004, even found that men who consume 15% to 50% fewer calories than average reduce their risk of death from all causes.

There is no scientific data regarding the long-term effect of calorie restriction on humans. Some researchers are concerned about possible negative consequences, including the risk of nutritional deficiencies.

The results of another study showed that foods traditionally eaten in the Okinawa region have higher anti-cancer properties than those eaten in the rest of Japan. Let us also remember that the secret to the longevity of the inhabitants of Okinawa lies not only in their diet and their level of physical activity, but also in socio-cultural, psychological and hereditary factors.

Here are some thoughts by Dietitian's on the Okinawa diet:

The Okinawa diet is very interesting for several reasons. First, it promotes exceptional nutritional quality through the consumption of fruits, vegetables, fatty fish and whole grains. It is one of the richest diets in micronutrients and Omega-3. Then, its beneficial effects on the prevention of diseases of civilization, on obesity and on longevity have been demonstrated on several occasions. Finally, it encourages us to question deep eating behaviors and adopt long-term healthy lifestyle habits (listen to hunger signals, celebrate the powers of food, etc.). I particularly like this diet and I encourage you to apply some of its main principles, without ever going overboard.

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