Special Diets

Okinawa diet: principles, foods, benefits, precautions

Rich in vegetables, fruits and fatty fish, the Okinawa diet promotes health and longevity. It is named after a small island off the coast of Japan, and world famous for the longevity of its inhabitants, Okinawa. According to the research group Okinawa Centennial Study, the exceptional average age and the low prevalence of diseases related to aging would be linked to the way of life and the genetic particularities of the inhabitants, but also to their traditional diet. So what are the keys?

The main principles of the Okinawa diet

The Okinawa diet is a flexitarian diet (half vegetarian), low in fat (they represent less than 25% of total calories). It is the Japanese Makoto Suzuki, cardiologist and gerontologist, who is one of the first to be interested in it. In the 1970s, he moved to Okinawa to open a dispensary there. He was then struck by the presence of many centenarians. His later studies were the first to show thata diet low in saturated fat and calories was the key to this phenomenon. The diet of Okinawan centenarians and their way of life have thus gained popularity over the years and books, notably published by two members of his research team, the twins Bradley and Craig Willcox.

Several guidelines guide this diet:

  • Consume fresh products, low in calories, rich in vitamins and minerals ;
  • Prefer the small portions (kuten gwa);
  • Stop eating before you are full (hara hachi bu);
  • Practice a sufficient regular physical activity ;
  • And eat while having integrated the healing power of certain foods (nuchi gusui).

What foods can we eat?

As noted above, popular foods on the “Okinawa diet” are foods low in calories, high in vitamins and minerals. So we bet:

  • on fresh vegetablesespecially vegetables rich in fiber and low in calories, such as cucumber, tomato, eggplant, etc.;
  • on fresh fruit,
  • on cereals and starches (preferably whole grains, sweet corn, sweet potato),
  • on soy products,
  • on dairy products (natural yoghurt, very fresh cheese),
  • on tea
  • and on spices (turmeric, artemisia, etc.).

What foods should you limit?

The Okinawa diet encourages moderate consumption (maximum 3 times a week):

  • rice,
  • pasta,
  • bananas,
  • lawyers,
  • potatoes,
  • and seafood.

Meat (only lean meat), eggs, the alcohol, nuts and oilseeds (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, etc.) should only be consumed in exceptional circumstances!

What foods are prohibited?

The Okinawa diet is not a restrictive diet designed to make you lose three pounds in a week. No food is “forbidden” strictly speaking, but to protect your health, it is better to avoid :

  • processed products,
  • sugar,
  • salt,
  • cream
  • and cheeses.

Breakfast :

  • Traditional version: miso soup, seaweed and tofu, rice, green tea
  • Western variant: rye bread or wholemeal bread, very fresh cheese, fruit, tea

At lunch :

  • Traditional version: seaweed salad and cucumber salad, grilled eggplant, rice, eel skewer, papaya, green tea
  • Western variant: brown rice, spaghetti with garlic and lemon basil, fish en papillote, cucumber salad

At dinner :

  • Traditional version: rice with red beans and guava, pineapple
  • Western variant: rice with cereals and mushrooms, spicy tofu, citrus vinaigrette, fruit, tea

Cost, duration… is this diet easy to follow?

Logistically, the Okinawa diet can pose some problems at first, but you adapt quickly. It asks to buy fresh, seasonal and unprocessed foods. But also to take the time to cook them. In terms of quantities, the diet invites you to listen to your feeling of hunger. A financial investment, but also a personal one, which requires time and research to develop the most suitable recipes.

The Okinawa diet can be adopted on a transitional basis, but rather aims to become a way of life, the benefits of which may be revealed over time. It is therefore recommended to apply the principles of this diet, all his life, to stay in good health.

Note: the Okinawa diet is compatible with the vegetarian diet, the gluten-free diet, the kosher diet and the halal diet. On the other hand, it is not compatible with the vegan diet.

Lhe Okinawa diet can be considered as part of weight loss, as it combines light calorie restriction and physical activity. But weight loss is not its primary objective, and intuitive eating (self-managed quantities) occupies such a place that it limits negative feelings (fear of failure, guilt, etc.) and potentially increases the chances of success.

To succeed in inducing calorie restriction, without counting calories in order to reach a healthy weight that is not harmful to aging, followers of the Okinawa diet recommend eating by following the principle of the energy density of food (which corresponds) to the caloric value per 100 g of food, divided by 100. Thus, in the Okinawa diet, it is still recommended to consume:

  • at will foods with an energy density less than 0.7
  • with moderation those whose energy density is 0.8 to 1.5
  • occasionallyin small quantities, those whose energy density is 1.6 to 3
  • rarely those whose energy density is greater than 3

Is the Okinawa diet dangerous for health?

This mode of feeding comes with a philosophy and a way of life which do not have the objective of restricting or endangering the health of its followers. Three points of vigilance must nevertheless be monitored:

  • The resumption of physical activity, a fortiori in an overweight person, must be supervised to avoid any cardiovascular risk. Training should be progressive.
  • Like any hypocaloric diet (low in calories), the Okinawa diet can expose you to hypoglycemic discomfort. Listen to your body and don’t set unrealistic goals.
  • At last, seaweed consumptionlow in calories, but very interesting, can have an impact on thyroid function, but also in cases of heart disease, kidney failure, treatment with a drug containing iodine or lithium and in pregnant or breastfeeding women without medical advice.

Moreover, self-limiting calorie intake (intuitive eating) needs to be accompanied, at least initially, by a professional.

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