Live for a Century on the Okinawa Diet

Due to medical and technological advances, humans now live much longer lives than their ancestors. This has created desire in many people to discover new ways to increase life longevity and health. Many of these discoveries are accompanied with false health claims and have little scientific back up. There once existed an Asian culture who’s eating habits successfully extended the life of a statistically significant number of individuals.

The Japanese Archipelago of Okinawa is famously known for having a population with above average life expectancy rates and a large number of centenarians. During the US invasion and capture of Okinawa in WW2, food records of local diets were recorded. These archives show that Okinawans practiced a primarily vegetarian diet, with fish and other animal protein consisting of only 1% of the total food consumption. What is most interesting is that 90% of the vegetables eaten came from a single source; the Okinawan sweet potato.

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This leads me to agree that malnutrition is really a diet deficit in calories and not a deficit of protein consumption. With a primarily vegetarian diet, Okinawans introduced a surge of anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory agent that are known to combat free radical damage. On average Okinawan were 8 to 12 times less likely to die from a preventable disease.

Unfortunately, all good thing must come to an end.  With the introduction of fast meals and processed foods, Okinawans have gone from being the healthiest Japanese to the least healthy. The modern Okinawa diet, compared to its traditional cuisine, is now as unhealthy as the average American diet. My interest in this topic was sparked by the 3 speakers who were supporters of a vegan diet. Although it might not be the most sustainable way to eat, I am convinced that a vegetarian and/or vegan diet is the healthiest way to eat.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Live for a Century on the Okinawa Diet

  1. fipe0191

    It is hard to believe that the Okinawan diet was so successful, because I generally hear that one must have a well-balanced diet to gain all the necessary nutrients. With 90% of vegetable intake coming from a sweet potato, it makes me wonder is this could be the key to a healthy vegetarian diet.

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    • This is true that is it important to have a well-balanced diet but the definition of well-balanced is whats at question here. This one population is a great example of demonstrating how extraordinary the human body is. We are constantly told that we need to eat all kinds of different foods to acquire our necessary nutrients but the traditional Okinawan diet shows that our body can extract these essential nutrients from pretty much anything we eat as long as were meeting our caloric goals.

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  2. cooperluvisa

    I think it is really interesting that a non-green vegetable could be the sole provider of food for a population. I would be curious to learn more about the area at the time to see if there were any other contributing factors because this seems too good to be true! I would also be curious to see the other 10% of their diet in order to see how they are getting the proper vitamins and other important nutritional aspects. I think eating a diet like this could be a very sustainable way to go about food. Minimizing the meat intake, while being able grow and live off of one vegetable. This could cause some soil quality reduction though due to it being a monoculture of crops.

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    • From the research i did, I found that the remaining 10% of their consists of mostly other vegetables, legumes, grains, rice, and only 1% from fish and other animal protiens. I did not find any evidence that the sweet potato was the only thing being grown (monoculture) but that it is very abundant in Okinawa.

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  3. amyquandt

    What was the average life expectancy when the food was recorded compared to today? Has it decreased?

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    • The average life span of an Okinawan practicing a traditional Okinawan diet is roughly 110 years old. I could not find data on current average life expectancies but recent studies do show that modern changes in their diet have increased the mortality rate of Okinawans due to preventable diseases.

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  4. alecjordan7721

    I was curious about the Okinawan sweet potato because I wonder if this potato has a specific nutrient that assists in extended life or if the extended life was due mainly to a plant based diet in general. It would be interesting to learn more about their full diet. However, I think what is sad about this story is that these people use to have a sustainable diet but now have turned to a lifestyle of over consumption and unhealthy diets. I think this story is a good example of one of the downsides of globalization.

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    • I agree with you Alec that this is a great example of the downsides of globalization. As for your question on the sweet potato; all sweet potatoes are known to be high in vitamin A, vitamin C, and manganese, but what makes the Okinawan sweet potato special is its high level of antioxidants.

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  5. jeongyeonlee

    Is Okinawa sweet potato different from other sweet potato? Is there any special effect of Okinawa sweet potato?

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    • Like other sweet potatoes, the Okinawan sweet potato has high levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, and manganese. What makes this vegetable such a powerful superfood is its high levels of antioxidant which research shows is good at combating free-radical damage in the human body.

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  6. matthew elliott

    Are these potatos still grown? It could easily become a successful export.

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    • Yes! These potatoes are still grown and have become a staple food in Hawaii. Potatoes are fairly easy vegetables to grow and I think we can grow them here state side. Im not so sure about exporting this product overseas being how unsustainable that is.

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