What's The Okinawa Diet And Should You Try It? | CoolJapan

We often talk about beauty and skincare when it comes to anti-ageing. But did you know that apart from working on the surface (a.k.a. your skin), an anti-ageing method that promotes life longevity is also something that you should be paying attention to? And no, we're not talking about the location of the mythical Fountain of Youth — we really have something up our sleeves on this one. 

According to recent statistics, Japan has one of the highest average life expectancies all over the world, ranking just second after Monaco. This comes as no surprise because the country has held onto its ranking for many years; they've actually become an ageing population. But what is the secret to the Japanese's long and healthy disposition in life?

Introducing the Okinawa Diet

Named after the Japanese prefecture considered globally as one of the blue zones (communities with the highest life expectancies and healthiest lifestyles), the Okinawa diet is an adapted dietary practice referring to the traditional eating methods of the Okinawans. These methods are major contributors to their continuous high ranking in the health and life expectancy index. Their diet is composed of low calories and fat but high in carbohydrates; it can be compared to a mix of plant-based and pescetarian diets. Through the years, it has evolved into focusing on protein inclusion as well. 

Looking at the basics, it's safe to say that the Okinawa diet is not that restrictive at all. In fact, aside from the range of food items you can indulge in, it also packs on the flavour with its use of herbs and spices mostly used in Chinese traditional medicine. Cool, right?

Okinawa Diet: Food staples

Stock up on these staples

Hold your horses and don't head to the grocery just yet. Nailing the Okinawa diet isn't as easy as just picking up every veggie you find in the produce aisle but rather understanding the principles behind each ingredient. 

The Okinawa diet consists mainly of vegetables, covering up to 60 per cent of the meal. Sweet potato is an Okinawan product so it definitely makes the cut, but other common ingredients in Japanese cuisine such as seaweed, bamboo shoots, pumpkin and okra are great alternatives. Carbs get a cut at around 33 per cent, which isn't too bad if you're a noodle or rice lover (and because these are Asian staples).

Okinawa Diet: Soy staples

Meanwhile, soy products like tofu and miso make up at least five per cent of the diet, complementing the one to two per cent inclusions of protein and omega-3-rich food in the form of fish, seafood or pork — horumon (innards) included. Lastly, alcohol, tea, and seasonings from spices and herbs like jasmine tea, turmeric, ginger, and the like make up another one per cent of the equation. 

If you noticed, dairy and poultry are not really included in the list and that's because they are deemed 'optional' in the diet. Think of it at the same level as sweets or junk foods. This is because, in contrast to omega-3 rich food and vegetables that also provide protein and calcium, dairy and poultry tend to deliver more fat even in a smaller serving. So following the principles of the diet, it's really more of optimising your diet to both be filling and healthy. 

Okinawa Diet: Sushi

Effortless yet strategic eating

The best thing about the Okinawa diet is probably the ease of trying it out. It doesn't really promote salads, but rather root crops, kelp, cabbages, and more incorporated in a hearty dish. These ingredients are more satisfactory than greens enhanced with a fat-filled mayo dressing for flavour. Its main principle is really simple: you're consuming all the goodies even when you eat more because you focus on the fruits and veggies rather than the high-calorie eats. 

Select legumes like soy, miso, and natto are also great alternatives to fish and pork as sources of protein, making them higher in the meal structure. But still, it doesn't ask you to completely give up on tuna rolls or yakiniku (Japanese grilled barbeque) forever. Again, it's all about focusing on eating more of what brings the nutrients in and less of what delivers the fat and the calories. 

Okinawa Diet: Pros and cons

The health pros and cons

Now we're down to the scales. As always, every method has its own highs and lows. But with such promising information about the Okinawa diet, what are the pros and cons we have to consider before diving into it? 

Let's start with the goodies first. Aside from longevity, the diet also reduces the risk of getting chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart failure. And if you have been paying attention, you might already have guessed that it is due to the amount of omega-3-rich and low-calorie selection promoted by the diet. Sweet potatoes, as well as the variety of veggies making up most of the diet, are also packed with fibre and anti-inflammatory properties. You can also imagine Vitamins A, B, C and more with all the greens involved. 

Okinawa Diet: Should you try it?

But sadly, it's not a completely happy ending. For one, natural or organically grown ingredients contribute to the effectivity of the vegetables championed in the Okinawa diet so depending on where you are, accessibility may be an issue. Soy, miso, and seaweed — which are some of the main ingredients often mentioned in an Okinawa diet meal plan — are also high in sodium, which may be bad for some, especially those with high blood pressure. Balancing it out with potassium-rich foods may be a good solution, but the risks of too much sodium intake (like acquiring a kidney disease) should also be considered.

The verdict

After all considerations and discussions, we finally answer the question we've been asking all this time: is the Okinawa diet for you? 

If we're being honest, it proves to be a stellar guide for future meal-planning. But we must also remember that Okinawans, and Japanese people in general, also have a different environment and lifestyle from us — not to mention tastebuds. 

And at the end of the day, we can take these principles and shape them into a personalised diet. Consulting a dietician or a nutritionist is, of course, a great way to know if the Okinawa diet, or any other diet for that matter, is fit for you.