A study by the British Medical Journal found that those who stuck to closer to the Japanese dietary guidelines – a diet high in grains and vegetables, with moderate amounts of animal products and soy but minimal dairy and fruit – had a reduced risk of dying early from heart disease or stroke. As their diet is traditionally high in soy and fish this may also play a significant role in reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. The Japanese also have the lowest rates of obesity amongst men and women as well as long life expectancy.
Okinawa, in southernmost Japan, has the highest number of centenarians in the world as well as the lowest risk of age-related diseases (for example diabetes, cancer, arthritis and Alzheimer’s). This has partly been attributed to their traditional Japanese diet, which is low in calories and saturated fat yet high in nutrients, especially phytonutrients such as antioxidants and flavonoids, found in different coloured vegetables. This also includes phytoestrogens, or plant-based oestrogens, that may help protect against hormone-dependent cancers, such as breast cancer. The diet of the Okinawan people has been little influenced by the dietary changes influenced by western culture, which have been seen in more urban Japan.
What is the Traditional Japanese Diet?
The traditional Japanese diet isn’t that dissimilar to a traditional Chinese diet, with rice, cooked and pickled vegetables, fish and meat being staple choices. However, because Japan is actually a group of islands (all 6,582 of them), its residents consume a lot more fish compared to other Asian countries. They also eat raw fish in sushi and sashimi, plus a lot of pickled, fermented and smoked foods. Soya beans, usually in the form of tofu or fresh edamame, are another key part of the Japanese diet, along with other beans such as aduki. Increasingly, fermented foods are being shown to support a healthy digestive system. Fermented soy bean products such as miso and natto are staples of the Japanese diet. Natto is traditionally consumed at breakfast and has a probiotic action that has been shown to help treat IBD and may help blood clotting. The Japanese also consume a wide variety of land and sea vegetables such as seaweed, which is packed full of health-boosting minerals, and may help to reduce blood pressure. Fruit is often consumed with breakfast or as a dessert, especially Fuji apples, tangerines and persimmons. Alongside their diet, the Japanese are big fans of green tea – in particular matcha tea, which is fast gaining popularity in the UK. Matcha, a stone-ground powdered green tea, is most valued for its high antioxidant compounds known as catechins, which have been linked to fighting cancer, viruses and heart disease.
This Japanese 80% Diet Rule Can Help you Live a Longer Life:
If you want to live to a healthy 100, eat like healthy people who’ve lived to 100. One place to look is Okinawa, Japan, one of the world’s Blue Zones — or exceptional hot spots where people live extraordinarily long, healthy and happy lives. For every 100,000 inhabitants, Okinawa has 68 centenarians — more than three times the numbers found in U.S. populations of the same size. Eating with mindfulness, intention and awareness is one significant characteristic that has been proven to aid in longevity rates among Okinawans.
‘Hara hachi bu’: Everything in Moderation:
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to eat with an Okinawan elder, you’ve invariably heard them intone a Confucian-inspired phrase before beginning the meal: “Hara hachi bu” — a reminder to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full.
Research shows it takes roughly 15 to 20 minutes for your brain to register that your stomach has reached capacity. And eating slowly, by practicing hara hachi bu, helps short-circuit this. In other words, if you stop eating when you think you’re 80% full, you’re likely actually 100% full (you just don’t know it yet).
What You Eat Matters, Too:
Older Okinawans adopt a plant-based diet, with their meals mostly consisting of stir-fried beans, spinach, mustard greens, sweet potatoes and tofu — all of which are high in nutrients. Goya is another popular staple. Also known as “bitter melon,” goya is rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that can lower blood sugar levels and improve immune system health to help fight against viruses. Although Okinawans do eat pork, fish and other meats, these are typically a small component of their overall consumption.
Here Are Four Easy Steps to Get You Started
- Don’t obsess over calorie intake or weight loss. The Okinawan way is to do all things in moderation. As you eat, practice mindfulness by listening to your body.
- Eat slowly. Eating faster results in eating more. Slow down to allow your body to respond to cues, which tell us we are no longer hungry.
- Focus on food. Turn off the TV and keep all other forms of digital devices away from your eating environment. You’ll be less distracted, consume less and savor the food more.
- Use small vessels. Choose to eat on smaller plates and use tall, narrow glasses. You’re likely to eat significantly less without even thinking about it.