Post on: February 8, 2016.
Posted in: Read.
There are more centenarians today than any other time in recorded history. Plus, Generation C, the ‘connected’ generation (currently in their 20s), is expected to live past 100 years.
How well will you age?
Scientists have found eating certain foods may help you live well, longer. The secret to living healthier later into your old age may lie within a small sub-population in Japan. Okinawa is located in the southern tip of Japan. The people who live there are known for their long life expectancy, high numbers of centenarians, and low risk of age-associated diseases. The Okinawa Centenarian Study has been investigating the lifestyle of this population rich in centenarians. Records of the Okinawa people are available as far back as the 1870s.
The Okinawa Diet
Eating the ‘Okinawa-way’ includes miso soup (seaweed, tofu, miso paste and green leafy vegetables), sweet potato, shitake mushrooms, seaweed, tofu and stir-fried vegetables. The diet also includes fish, pork, a little cooking oil, jasmine tea, herbs and spices.
Whoa! Watch Which Potatoes…
Before you run out and stock up on sweet potatoes, it is important to point out that what we call sweet potatoes at your local North American supermarket are different than those consumed in Japan. The sweet potato sold commercially in Japan, called Satsuma Imo, has a glycemic index of 55. Compared to the Japanese sweet potato, our North American version has a higher glycemic index of 70. The higher the glycemic index value a food has, the greater the resulting rise in blood sugar levels after it is eaten. Experiencing high blood sugar levels is hard on the body and can trigger inflammation. Of note, the yam, which is commonly mistakenly called a sweet potato, has a glycemic index of 75. Irish potatoes, or white potatoes, have one of the highest glycemic index values at 90, making them the least helpful potato to eat if you are seeking to live to one hundred.
Foods Worth Eating
The Okinawa diet is packed with many foods that offer outstanding nutritional benefits including soy, bitter melon, shitake mushrooms and seaweed.
Fermented soy has long been noted for its ability to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. It lowers LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. Soy has also been shown to reduce postmenopausal bone loss in women. Observational studies have noted that women in Japan, where soy consumption is high, experience fewer menopausal problems, and have lower death rates from breast and other hormone-dependent cancers compared to Western populations.
Bitter melon, known as goya, may offer some help in keeping blood sugar levels low. Laboratory, animal and human studies have found bitter melon extracts can beneficially affect blood sugar levels; however, the mechanism of action is still unknown.
Shiitake mushrooms are large, dark brown and umbrella shaped. They are a great source of protein in the Japanese diet – they contain 8 essential amino acids. These mushrooms are also a source of vitamin D.
Seaweed is a dietary staple in many Asian diets. There are many different types of seaweed. Each is low in calories, yet very high in nutrients including protein, iodine, folate, iron, calcium and antioxidants. Researchers are discovering that there is a handful of nutrients in seaweed that offer some exciting health benefits, including the potential to lower blood glucose and insulin levels, as well as increase levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, in the body.
What Not To Eat
The Okinawa diet does not include a lot of animal meat, refined grains, saturated fat, sugar, salt or full-fat dairy products. This may all sound familiar. These foods are also lacking in other healthy dietary plans including the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet and the traditional Mediterranean diet.
The Okinawa diet is linked with a lower risk of chronic disease, suggesting that eating a diet that is rich in vegetables (including leafy greens and seaweed) and low-fat sources of protein (fish, tofu, mushrooms) may be a healthy choice. We can learn from this antioxidant-rich diet and, just maybe…enjoy a future that includes birthday cakes with an ever-increasing number of candles on them.
The Okinawa Centenarian The Okinawa Centenarian Study.
Wilcox, DC. et al. The Okinawan Diet: Health implications of a low-calorie, nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich dietary pattern low in glycemic load. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2009; 28(4) 500-514S.