The Okinawa Islands, which stretch across the East China Sea, had the highest concentration of people who lived to 100 and older in the world, however, recent changes to the diet of the islanders have seen these rates change. So, could the key to a long life be found within the traditional Okinawa diet?
Not only did the Okinawa Islands have an incredibly high number of centenarians (68 for every 100,000 inhabitants to be exact) but they also had a 40 per cent greater chance of living to 100 than other Japanese people.
Two thirds of the residents on the islands live independently until the age of 97, showing that Okinawans not only live longer, but they are fit and healthier until much later in life too.
However, the rate of people living to 100 on the islands has declined in recent years, something which a paper published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health puts down in part to a change in diet.
“In 1990, in Okinawa, the age-adjusted death rates of the three leading causes of death were lower than their national averages. By 2000, the standard mortality ratios of heart disease and cerebrovascular disease for both sexes in Okinawa had increased, compared to their 1990 levels,” the paper, which was published back in 2013, reads.
What is the traditional Okinawa diet?
Traditionally, the Okinawan diet featured an unusually high ratio of carbohydrates to protein, with sweet potato featuring heavily– a staple we can definitely get on board with.
Known as the ‘Okinawan Ratio’, the Japanese islanders’ diet consisted of a 10:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio.
According to recent findings by the Okinawa Centenarian Study (OCS), a low protein, high carbohydrate diet aids physiological responses that protect us from various age-related illnesses such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
This high-carb approach to a daily diet goes against the current trend for high-protein, low-carb diets. However, despite the current popularity of diets like the Keto diet, there is little evidence to prove that these regimens will produce long term results, and many nutritionists and dieticians have spoken out against them.
Fitness guru, PT, and author Jillian Michaels is one of the most recent experts to speak out against diets like Keto, describing the diet as a “bad plan for a million reasons” in an interview with Women’s Health, before concluding, “why would anyone think this is a good idea?”
Although the Okinawans did eat pork, fish and other meats, these were only a small part of the overall diet, with their main source of protein being plants.
“The Okinawa diet is not technically a low protein diet but it is a ‘lower’ protein diet that contains a higher amount of carbohydrates,” Joel Feren, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, explained.
The Okinawan diet was also full of green and yellow vegetables – such as the bitter melon – which means that it involved foods full of antioxidants that were also low in calories.
So, could the Okinawa diet really help us live longer? The jury is still out on that one, with research and result-based studies into the topic still limited. However, it is yet another indicator that carbs don’t have to be the devil when it comes to dieting.
“It’s clear that you can enjoy a healthy level of carbohydrate-rich foods and still maintain a healthy weight,” Joel Feren observed. “That’s what the evidence has always shown us.”