Nutrition Around the World- Part 5- The Okinawa Diet

Nutrition Around the World – Part 5

We are all taught from a very early age that different countries with diverse cultures exist around the world. Whether the country has only existed for a few decades or thousands of years, each one has differing views and traditions that they cherish in their own ways.

This implies that each culture views nutrition differently, which is reflected in their eating and drinking habits.

We are going to look at local eating habits from around the world, in the attempt to find a greater understanding of nutrition around the world.

Okinawa Beach

The Okinawan Diet

Okinawa, Japan is home to the world’s longest living population. Inhabitants of the island of Okinawa have five times the number of residents that live to be 100 years old, with the average Japanese lifespan being 84 years old. That is certainly longer than most of us would imagine for in America with an average of 78.8.  After much research that was conducted, top scientists who studied the people of Okinawa concluded that there were two reasons behind their longevity. The first being the type of food they ate, and the second was their philosophy behind the practice of eating.


The Caloric Density Pyramid

The people of Okinawa tend to eat a fewer number of calories compared with the rest of the country, but that doesn’t mean that they are necessarily nutritionally deprived. They eat their food, not based on a specific number of calories, but rather on a scale of caloric density. The scale runs from Featherweights (0.0) to Heavyweights (3.1) as a guide for how much you should eat every day. They eat fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, seaweed, and soybeans freely. In moderation, they ate sweet potatoes, white fish, yogurt, whole grains and cooked beans. They watch their portions with soy cheese, hummus, lean meats, and bread. On rare occasions, they eat dark chocolate, oil, cheese, nuts, and cookies.

Caloric density pyramid, okinawa diet

I will provide an example of the scale with the difference between white fish vs red fish.

It is well-known by most dietitians, that fish have important omega-3’s that is good for the human body. The white fish is flaky and has a low-fat content, making it a 1.0 on the caloric density scale, putting it in the lightweight category (0.8-1.5). The redfish is fattier and has a density of 1.8, putting it just barely in the middleweight section (1.6-3.0). Given a choice between the two, the healthier option is easily the white fish.


Eating Mindfully

confuciaThe Okinawan’s actively practice in a form of eating known in their native language as “Hara Hachi Bu”. The exercise is based on a teaching by Confucius, that urges “eating mindfully until you are eight out of ten parts full.” In Japanese culture 8 is considered a lucky number, which is probably why that number was chosen for the practice. Eating slowly, and deliberately helps the diner focus on whether they have achieved satiety or not.

This gives their bellies time to signal to the brain that it is full. This exercise leads to the result of the average consumption rate of the population to be 1200 calories in lieu of the standard 2,000. But that does not mean that they starve themselves. The foods that they eat are often times nutrient-rich, preventing the body from feeling starvation. It is only simply caloric restriction.


The Basic Rules of Thumb for the Okinawan Diet


  • Focus on Colorful foods: Okinawans eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and roots that grow seasonally. They most often eat yellow and orange plants, that are filled with carotenoids. Carotenoids help the immune system, boost brain development, and lower inflammation.
  • Stick to Tubers more than Grains and Dairy: Sweet potatoes are filled with nutrients and antioxidants that help with the prevention of aging. They also do not spike the blood sugar as much as white potatoes. Brown rice, tends to be enjoyed over white, and there are only trace amounts of dairy involved because most of the Asian population are lactose intolerant.
  • Mushrooms and Seaweed: These add the most nutrients to the diet, either adding trace elements like calcium, iodine, and iron or boosting the immune system.
  • Eat Seafood and Lean Meats: If you indulge in meats, make sure that they are the lean kind that contains healthy fats. These types of meat can reduce your cholesterol and reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases.


 Okinawan Recipes:

 Watercress with Spicy Chile and Sesame Vinaigrette

If you want your greens with a little bit of spice, then try some Watercress with Chile and Vinaigrette. It is a lovely combination of spicy and sour,  that is added with the warmth of the soup. Click on the corresponding photo to get the recipe.

watercress soup

Chanpuru Style Tofu Stir-Fry

Maybe stir-fry is more your jam? This combination of daikon radish, miso, sake, with a touch of spice from ginger, make this healthy dish packed with explosive flavor. If you want to try the recipe, click on the related photo.

 stirfry, okinawan diet

Okinawa Shoyu Pork

There is always slow cooked pork over noodles. Marinated with soy sauce and a touch of sweetness makes this soup perfect for a hearty meal. Click on the photo for the recipe!

pork bowl, okinawan diet



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