Eat better to live longer: the miracle of Okinawa

Eat better to live longer: the miracle of Okinawa

On this Japanese island, one is three times more likely to be a centenarian – and in great shape – than in France. The secret: healthy and light food. To be imported in our plates.

Living better and longer

The Japanese hold the world record for longevity. And it is on the island of Okinawa, in the south of the country, that the proportion of centenarians is the highest: three times higher than in France! Very old people… but alert and in good shape.

Because Okinawans are much less affected by age-related diseases (heart attack, high blood pressure, prostate cancer, osteoporosis…).

They are also spared from diabetes and obesity. And this is not genetic. In fact, Okinawans who have emigrated to Brazil and abandoned their lifestyle habits do not escape obesity or cardiovascular diseases and their life expectancy is reduced by seventeen years. So, after the Cretan diet, the Okinawa diet? Researchers from all over the world are studying their lifestyle and, above all, the contents of their plates

Smaller meals

Japanese people like to leave the table light. They eat slowly, savoring each bite, and stop before they feel too heavy, with their stomachs three-quarters full. As a result, they consume an average of 1,800 calories per day, compared to 2,500 for an American and 2,300 for a French person. For scientists, this natural caloric restriction partly explains their longevity. But a light diet does not mean frugal. The Okinawans eat copiously foods with a low caloric density (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses, shellfish, white meat, soy yoghurt…). An example: a hundred grams hamburger brings two hundred and eighty calories, but it does not satiate. The traditional Okinawa meal (fried vegetables, brown rice, miso soup) brings as many calories, but for a total weight of five hundred grams. It is impossible not to feel full, because our body is more sensitive to the weight of what we eat than to its caloric value.

Vegetables galore

Okinawans start their meal with a salad, a vegetable broth or a raw vegetable, and include vegetables in all their dishes: Chinese cabbage, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, hechima (close to our zucchinis), small cucumbers, carrots, turnips… To preserve their nutrients, they cook them for only a few minutes in a hot broth, and eat them almost crisp. Their favorite dish? Champuru, a mixture of tofu, seasonal vegetables and bitter melon. Thanks to their high fiber content, vegetables are filling while providing few calories and many nutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants…).

Long live the herbs!

Herbs and seaweed

Okinawan cuisine is anything but bland, as herbs are omnipresent. Herbs (shiso, from the basil family, coriander, fennel) as well as spices (turmeric, ginger, wasabi) bring their flavor and precious antioxidants. Seaweeds are very rich in iodine (essential to the thyroid gland) and calcium: they contain up to eight thousand times more iodine than shellfish and ten times more calcium than milk.

Soy in all its forms

In Okinawa, we eat it at least twice a day: tofu (soy macerated in water), shôyu (fermented soy and wheat sauce), miso soup (soy paste also fermented, rich in probiotics, good for transit)… Not only does soy protect against heart disease and would participate in the prevention of certain cancers, but it advantageously replaces meat and dairy products, harmful in excess (on this island, we consume eighteen times less meat and three times less milk than at home).

Rice at every meal

In the form of groats for breakfast, as a side dish with a little soy sauce, but also in sushi and other makis, rice is a must. Its advantages: it is filling, provides complex carbohydrates, a source of energy, and does not contain a gram of fat. Ideally, you should choose wholemeal rice (richer in fiber and therefore better for transit). A reflex: systematically place a small bowl of rice on the table next to each plate, with a bottle of soy sauce.

Fish three times a week

Tuna, salmon, mackerel, flounder, sea bream, eel… Okinawans eat fish three times a week: raw or cooked, in sushi or sashimi (thin slices), steamed or in foil. It is their main source of animal protein. Low in calories, rich in minerals and vitamins, these fish also provide, for the fattest of them (tuna, salmon, mackerel), the precious omega-3, good for the morale and health.

Green tea all day long

No wine, no soda, no coffee in Okinawa. We drink green tea flavored with jasmine, or simply water. Rich in antioxidants and diuretic, green tea facilitates the work of eliminating toxins. Don’t let it steep too long (three to five minutes) to avoid an unpleasant bitterness.

Little salt and little sugar

As in Europe, the Japanese eat too much salt… except in Okinawa: the consumption of salt per capita does not exceed the recommended ten grams per day. The same restriction applies to sugar: they consume three times less than us. Cakes and pastries are not part of their traditions. The sugar intake is provided by fruits.

A strong social link

The content of their plate does not explain by itself the extraordinary longevity of Okinawans. The social life is also very developed. Exchanges between friends, neighbors and members of the same family are daily. The spirit of mutual help (yuimahru) is very deep-rooted. Together, they practice gardening, walking and tai-chi until old age. The elderly are never isolated. They remain professionally active (retirement is an unknown concept there), and continue to participate in community life.


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