Okinawa diet

(Redirected from Longevity in Okinawa)

The Okinawa diet describes the eating habits of the indigenous people of the Ryukyu Islands (belonging to Japan), which is believed to contribute to their relative longevity. It is also the name of a weight-loss diet.[1]

Okinawa is seen on the bottom left-hand side of the map of Japan.

Relative longevityEdit

People from the Ryukyu Islands (of which Okinawa is the largest) have a life expectancy among the highest in the world,[2] although the male life expectancy rank among Japanese prefectures has plummeted in the 21st century.[3]

Okinawa had the longest life expectancy in all prefectures of Japan for almost 30 years prior to 2000.[4] The relative life expectancy of Okinawans has since declined, due to many factors including westernization.[3][5] In fact, in 2000 Okinawa dropped in its ranking for longevity advantage for men to 26th out of 47 within the prefectures of Japan.

Japan has the highest life expectancy of any country: 90 for women and for men, 84.[6]

There are more than 400 centenarians in Okinawa.[7] Although there are myriad factors that could account for differences in life expectancy, cuisine could be the largest factor. People from all around the world have tried to emulate the "Okinawa diet", believed to be nutritionally dense, yet low in calories.[8]

Indigenous islanders' dietEdit

The plate to the right is the national dish, gōyā chanpurū, made with bitter melon known as goyain.

The traditional diet of the islanders contains 30% green and yellow vegetables. Although the traditional Japanese diet usually includes large quantities of rice, the traditional Okinawa diet consists of smaller quantities of rice; instead the staple is the purple-fleshed Okinawan sweet potato. The Okinawan diet has only 30% of the sugar and 15% of the grains of the average Japanese dietary intake.[9]

Okinawan cuisine consists of smaller meal portions of green and yellow vegetables, fish, relatively smaller amounts of rice compared to mainland Japan, as well as pork, soy and other legumes. Pork and fish are often served in broth with a variety of ingredients and herbs.[10] The center of the Okinawa diet is the Satsuma sweet potato. The sweet potato also contributes to the self-sufficiency of the island. Contrary to the regular potato, the Okinawa sweet potato does not have a large effect on blood sugar. Not only is the potato used but so are the leaves from the plant. The leaves are used often in miso soup. In Okinawa the bitter melon is called goyain and is served in the national dish, goya champuru.[6]

The traditional diet also includes a tiny amount of fish (less than half a serving per day) and more in the way of soy and other legumes (6% of total caloric intake). Pork is highly valued, yet eaten very rarely.[citation needed] Every part of the pig is eaten, including internal organs.

Between a sample from Okinawa where life expectancies at birth and 65 were the longest in Japan, and a sample from Akita Prefecture where the life expectancies were much shorter, intakes of calcium, and vitamins A, B1, B2, and C, and the proportion of energy from proteins and fats were significantly higher in Okinawa than in Akita. Conversely, intake of salt was lower in Okinawa than in Akita.[11]

The small quantity of pork consumption per person (only 3g per day) in Okinawa is still larger than that of the Japanese national average. For example, the quantity of pork consumption per person a year in Okinawa in 1979 was 7.9 kg (17 lb) which exceeded by about 50% that of the Japanese national average.[12] The pig's feet, ears, and stomach are considered healthy everyday foodstuffs.[13]

The dietary intake of Okinawans compared to other Japanese circa 1950 shows that Okinawans consumed: fewer total calories (1785 vs. 2068), less polyunsaturated fat (4.8% of calories vs. 8%), less rice (154g vs. 328g), significantly less wheat, barley and other grains (38g vs. 153g), less sugars (3g vs. 8g), more legumes (71g vs. 55g), significantly less fish (15g vs. 62g), significantly less meat and poultry (3g vs. 11g), less eggs (1g vs. 7g), less dairy (<1g vs. 8g), much more sweet potatoes (849g vs. 66g), less other potatoes (2g vs. 47g), less fruit (<1g vs. 44g), and no pickled vegetables (0g vs. 42g).[9] In short, the Okinawans circa 1950 ate sweet potatoes for 849 grams of the 1262 grams of food that they consumed, which constituted 69% of their total calories.[9]

The traditional Okinawan diet as described above was widely practiced on the islands until about the 1960s. Since then, dietary practices have been shifting towards Western and Japanese patterns, with fat intake rising from about 6% to 27% of total caloric intake and the sweet potato being supplanted with rice and bread.[14] This shifting trend has also coincided with a decrease in longevity, where Okinawans now have a lower life expectancy than the Japanese average.[5]

Another low-calorie staple in Okinawa is seaweed, particularly, konbu or kombu.[6] This plant, like much of the greenery from the island, is rich in protein, amino acids and minerals such as iodine. Another seaweed commonly eaten is wakame. Like konbu, wakame is rich in minerals like iodine, magnesium and calcium. Seaweed and tofu in one form or other are eaten on a daily basis.[10]

Potential effectsEdit

In addition to their high life expectancy, islanders are noted for their low mortality from cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancers. One study compared age-adjusted mortality of Okinawans versus Americans and found that, during 1995, an average Okinawan was 8 times less likely to die from coronary heart disease, 7 times less likely to die from prostate cancer, 6.5 times less likely to die from breast cancer, and 2.5 times less likely to die from colon cancer than an average American of the same age.[9]

Overall, the diet leads to little weight gain with age, low BMI throughout life, and low risk from age related disease.[9] No ingredients or foods of any kind have ever been scientifically shown to possess antiaging properties.[15]

Diet planEdit

The diet consists of a relatively high energy intake, and contains similar foods to the traditional Okinawan diet. The principal focus of the diet consists of knowing the food energy density of each food item.

The proponents of this diet divide food into four categories based on caloric density. The "featherweight" foods, less than or equal to 0.8 calories per gram (3.3 kJ/g) which one can eat freely without major concern, the "lightweight" foods with a caloric density from 0.8 to 1.5 calories per gram which one should eat in moderation, the "middleweight" foods with a caloric density from 1.5 to 3.0 calories per gram which one should eat only while carefully monitoring portion size, and the "heavyweight" foods from 3 to 9 calories per gram, which one should eat only sparingly.[7]


In the 1972 Japan National Nutrition Survey, it was determined that Okinawan adults consumed 83% of what Japanese adults did and that Okinawan children consumed 62% of what Japanese children consumed.[9] Since the early 2000s, the difference in life expectancy between Okinawan and mainland Japanese decreased, possibly due to westernization and erosion of the traditional diet.[3] The spread of primarily American fast-food chains was linked with an increase in cardiovascular diseases, much like the ones noted in Japanese migrants to the United States.[5]

Culture and customsEdit

Okinawa and Japan have food-centered cultures. Festivities often include food or are food-based. Moreover, the food in Japan tends to be seasonal, fresh and raw. Portion sizes are small and meals are brought out in stages that starts with appetizers, many main courses including sashimi (raw fish) and suimono (soup), sweets and tea.[16] Since food culture is linked to ancestral traditions, the food culture and presentation is preserved, passing low-calorie food from generation to generation.[10]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Hiroko Sho (2001). "History and characteristics of Okinawan longevity food" (PDF). Asia Pacific J Clin Nutr. 10 (2): 159–164. doi:10.1046/j.1440-6047.2001.00235.x. PMID 11710358. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 13, 2012.
  2. ^ Boyle, Marie A.; Long, Sara (2008), Personal Nutrition (7 ed.), Cengage Learning, pp. 11–12, ISBN 978-0-495-56008-1
  3. ^ a b c Onishi, Norimitsu (April 4, 2004). "Love of U.S. food shortening Okinawans' lives / Life expectancy among islands' young men takes a big dive". Hearst Communications, Inc. The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-12-02.
  4. ^ Hokama, Tomiko; Binns, Colin (2008-10-01). "Declining longevity advantage and low birthweight in Okinawa". Asia-Pacific Journal of Public Health. 20 Suppl: 95–101. ISSN 1010-5395. PMID 19533867.
  5. ^ a b c Gavrilova, Natalia S.; Gavrilov, Leonid A. (2012). "Comments on Dietary Restriction, Okinawa Diet and Longevity". Gerontology. 58 (3): 221–223. doi:10.1159/000329894. PMC 3362219. PMID 21893946.
  6. ^ a b c Buettner, Dan (2015). The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World's Healthiest People. National Geographic. ISBN 978-1426211928 – via The Huffington Post.
  7. ^ a b The Okinawa Diet Plan, Bradley Willcox, MD, D. Craig Willcox, PhD and Makoto Suzuki, MD, copyright 2004.
  8. ^ "Japan Has The Highest Life Expectancy Of Any Major Country. Why? - NBC News". NBC News. 2014-06-13. Retrieved 2016-10-30.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Willcox BJ, Willcox DC, Todoriki H, Fujiyoshi A, Yano K, He Q, Curb JD, Suzuki M (October 2007). "Caloric restriction, the traditional Okinawan diet, and healthy aging: the diet of the world's longest-lived people and its potential impact on morbidity and life span". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1114: 434–55. doi:10.1196/annals.1396.037. PMID 17986602.
  10. ^ a b c Sho, H. (2001-01-01). "History and characteristics of Okinawan longevity food". Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 10 (2): 159–164. doi:10.1046/j.1440-6047.2001.00235.x. ISSN 0964-7058. PMID 11710358.
  11. ^ Shibata, H.; Nagai, H.; Haga, H.; Yasumura, S.; Suzuki, T.; Suyama, Y. (1992). "Nutrition for the Japanese elderly". Nutr Health. 8 (2–3): 165–75. doi:10.1177/026010609200800312. PMID 1407826. S2CID 22303096.
  12. ^ Economic Structure of Local, Regional and National Hog Markets in the Self-Sufficient Region-Okinawa's Case
  13. ^ Hiroko Sho (2001). "History and characteristics of Okinawan longevity food" (PDF). Asia Pacific J Clin Nutr. 10 (2): 159–164. doi:10.1046/j.1440-6047.2001.00235.x. PMID 11710358. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 13, 2012.
  14. ^ D. Craig Willcox; et al. (2009). "The Okinawan Diet: Health Implications of a Low-Calorie, Nutrient-Dense, Antioxidant-Rich Dietary Pattern Low in Glycemic Load". Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 28: 500S–516S. doi:10.1080/07315724.2009.10718117. PMID 20234038. S2CID 2520190. Archived from the original on 2012-01-11. Retrieved 2011-11-14.
  15. ^ Niwano, Yoshimi; Beppu, Fumiaki; Shimada, Taichi; et al. (2008-12-07). "Extensive Screening for Plant Foodstuffs in Okinawa, Japan with Anti-Obese Activity on Adipocytes In Vitro". Plant Foods for Human Nutrition. 64 (1): 6–10. doi:10.1007/s11130-008-0102-z. ISSN 0921-9668. PMID 19067171. S2CID 1937911.
  16. ^ "Japanese Food Culture" (PDF). Web Japan. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Retrieved 2016-10-30.


  • Albala, Ken, ed. (2011). Food cultures of the world encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Greenwood. ISBN 9780313376276.