Have you ever heard of the Okinawa diet? Don’t worry if you haven’t, because I hadn’t at first. This is one of those diets that isn’t as mainstream as the likes of Atkins, Paleo, South Beach, and Weight Watchers.
There definitely isn’t a shortage in diets. People have their own ideas on what is good for us and what we should be doing. Experts have different views over carbohydrates and protein. While some will say that all fats are great for a low-carb lifestyle, others tell you that you need to keep it all balanced out.
So, when you find out about a new diet, you need to start looking into the full details. It isn’t a case of one diet fits all. The Okinawa diet is one of those cases: some people love it, and others hate it. There’s also a middle ground, with some people combining it with some other healthy eating plans.
Now it’s time to dive into the world of the Okinawa diet. Just what is it and what do you need to know to make sure you follow it properly?
Named After the People of Okinawa
Unlike some of the other diets out there, the name of this diet is pretty simple. It comes from the name of the largest Ryukyu Island in Japan, Okinawa. The people of Okinawa are well known for their infamous World War II battle, but the people have also gained popularity and recognition because of how long they live.
We always look for reasons for groups of people to live long. And the people of Okinawa live on average to 84 years old (it’s only 78.8 years in the United States!). There are some who live to 100 or more, and research has shown that the diet is likely the main reason for this. Scientists have worked hard to figure out just what makes the Japanese island so healthy, and this is the only reason they have come up with!
The Okinawa diet takes note of all the foods and ingredients that the people of the island use. But it’s not just about the types of food. There is an element of attitude to food and eating, which the Okinawa people have.
It’s All About Getting Back to Basics
This isn’t a diet for the faint hearted. There are going to be some major changes to your diet because the Okinawa diet is all about getting yourself back to the basics regarding food. This is about pulling back from all the Westernised foods and focusing on natural and local produce.
The people of Okinawa mostly focus on vegetables, but not just any vegetables! They eat green, orange, and yellow vegetables as much as possible. This can include the likes of kale, bell peppers, spinach, cucumber, and so much more. While it can initially feel like you have limited options, there are so delicious and healthy ingredients out there. And yes, green smoothies are allowed on the list, as long as you follow the guidelines!
You may think that the people of Japan eat a lot of rice, but that isn’t the case when it comes to the people of Okinawa. While there is some rice, the people don’t want to eat too many grains. The purple sweet potato is the preferred carb—so, you see, you’re not cutting out all food groups!
There are many diets that will support the idea of removing grain from the food. It’s not normal, and history has shown that food allergies and intolerances only appeared during the agricultural period. While there are downsides to the research, since we really don’t have much to base on when it comes to the Paleolithic period, there is evidence to support that our bodies can’t quite handle the grain that we give it.
But we can’t just completely cut out all carbs. It’s important to focus on starchy carbs, which research has also shown is beneficial for our bodies. The great news is that sweet potatoes are starchy and healthy. They give you the taste of something naughty, but they don’t raise the blood sugar levels in ways that are damaging to the health.
Moving on from the carbs, we need to look at protein. The Okinawa diet does allow some meat, including pork. Seafood and dairy products are also consumed, but there is more of a focus on legumes and soy. So, if you want to get meat, fish, and other protein-friendly products, you’ll need to opt for them in small amounts.
While there is a focus away from grains, they’re not completely banned. This isn’t one of those highly restrictive diets that leave people craving certain foods. However, you want to keep your gain intake extremely low. Some sugar is allowed, but again it needs to be kept to a minimum.
The people of Japan as a nation already has a low grain and sugar intake, but the people of Okinawa lower it even more. It’s doing something right, after all!
Portion Sizes Aren’t Controlled: It’s About Mindful Eating
With most diets, there is a focus on controlling the portion sizes. Calorie controlled diets will get you to cut down to 1,200 to 1,500 per day (or even less), while the likes of Weight Watchers give you a points allowance that keeps the number of calories you eat down to create a deficit. There is a major focus on how the body burns calories and how you need to keep the amount under the total burned for the day to encourage the burning of excess calories in the body.
The problem with many of these diets is that people are left hungry. They crave the food that they shouldn’t have, and then feel bad because they’ve given in or feel like they can’t stick to the diet.
This isn’t the case with the Okinawa diet. The focus isn’t on portion control but on mindful eating. The people believe that you shouldn’t go hungry and that you should consume food until you are 80% full.
The focus on mindful eating is becoming more mainstream. The UK diet Slimming World allows people to eat as much as they want of certain foods, advising to listen to their body needs. Weight Watchers has a separate plan that cuts out the points and offers a free for all on certain types of foods; those that are designed to fill you up quickly and keep you feeling full throughout the day.
If we don’t go hungry, we’re more than likely to stick to the diet. It becomes a sustainable lifestyle choice.
With the Okinawa diet, you’re encouraged to eat your meals until you are satisfied. If you’re still hungry, reach for more food. The benefit is that most of your diet is made up of fiber and protein sources. You’ll feel fuller quicker, and you’re not as likely to eat as much throughout the day. Your portion sizes naturally drop, as you lose more weight.
In fact, the natural control over portion sizes has led to a reduced amount of calories being consumed. People won’t even realize that it is happening! Research has shown that the people of Okinawa eat 20 percent fewer calories than others in Japan. The average BMI is 20, which is towards the lower end of the healthy section on the chart; in fact, it’s the lowest that Weight Watchers recommends.
Other studies have shown that Okinawa people eat 1,200 calories a day on average. This is the minimum the body needs to get all its nutrients and fuel the body, so it is a healthy diet. The recommended amount for an average woman in the Western world is 2,000 calories, although research has shown that most women don’t actually need the 2,000! 1,500-1,700 is usually the amount the body needs to burn.
So, you’re creating a calorie deficit without really thinking about it. And the more you follow the diet, the less you will consume as you lose weight. There’s no thinking about missing out on something because you constantly feel full.
There Are Plenty of Health Benefits to the Okinawa Diet
Have you thought about how a diet is affecting your health? When you start cutting out certain foods, you usually run the risk of nutrient deficiencies. Your body needs to get all four food groups and needs so many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, zinc, iron, magnesium, and calcium.
The Okinawa diet may change your lifestyle, but it is for the better. There have been so many health benefits noted, and these are likely the reason for the better health and lifespan.
Let’s focus on the antioxidants at first. You’re going to get far more into your system because you’re eating all the right foods. Orange and yellow foods have plenty of vitamin C and other antioxidants to help support the immune system. They’re often the foods that we miss out, either because we don’t feel like we need them or we forget all about them.
With better supported immune systems, ailments, diseases, and illnesses are less likely to affect us. We’ll find that we can fight off infections quickly, and we can continue our healthy eating and lifestyle programs to improve longevity.
And you’re definitely not going to lose out on nutrients. The dark green leafy vegetables are the ones that have the majority of the minerals you’ll be deficient in. They contain calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin A, and much more. And this is the diet that supports you eating these dark green vegetables on a daily basis.
Then we can’t forget about the fatty acids. Yes, our bodies need fat, but they need the right type of fat: the fat that is going to support our metabolisms rather than causing a nightmare for our arteries. Seafood is full of omega 3 fatty acids, which help to support artery health, blood flow, and brain development.
The foods in the diet also help to keep inflammation to a minimum. Inflammation is commonly blamed for health problems since the body is restricted in what it can do. While some inflammation helps with the healing process, unnecessary inflammation can restrict blood flow and cause pain. By eating more food that has anti-inflammatory properties, it will be easier to feel healthier.
Take Steps to Follow the Okinawa Way of Life
With all this in mind, it can be a big shock to make a huge change to your lifestyle. Most experts recommend taking baby steps when the dietary change is going to be major, even if it is going to be food for your health. You want to remove items slowly, so you don’t really realize as much. You’ll find it much easier to stick to the diet in the long term, rather than give up two or three weeks into it.
Start by buying colorful ingredients
The first step to take is to add in the good foods to your diet. Stock up on those colorful and nutritious vegetables, including colored bell peppers, oranges, blueberries and much more. While the Okinawa people focus on green, orange, and yellow foods, you can focus on many other colors. Reds, blues, and black fruit and vegetables are all excellent for the health.
Start by incorporating a new vegetable a week, if you’re really struggling. You’ll soon find that your plate has more fruits and vegetables than anything else, and you’ll enjoy the range of tastes.
Buy high-quality meat and seafood
You don’t need to cut out meat and seafood, but you do want to think about the type that you’re eating. Far too many of us opt for high-fatty options or fried meat, claiming that it’s good for us. That certainly isn’t the case.
You want to find meat that is mostly plant based, like grass-fed bison. And always find out how the animals are cared for. The last thing you want is the antibiotics and chemicals given to the animals to help them grow faster and produce more meat! Organic is the best way to go.
The best fishes are those that are oily but do keep the amount you eat to a minimum. Regular guidelines are no more than two portions of oily fish a week due to the levels of mercury in them.
As you add more vegetables to your plates, you can reduce the amount of meat and fish you eat. Cut down to twice a week and then to once a weak. You could even cut down to twice a month or special occasions only.
Cutting down on the meat isn’t just going to be food for your health. This is an expensive addition to any shopping cart, so you’ll see your bank balance loves you for it, too.
Now start to cut back on the dairy and grains
While some dairy is allowed, you want to keep the use to a minimum. Grains you want to cut out as much as possible. But making such changes isn’t always going to be easy.
Once you’ve added more vegetables and cut down on the meat, you’ll be ready to make the changes to your diary and grain allowances. Cut them down as much as you can right away. You’ll find that you feel healthier for it, especially when it comes to the grain loss. Grains often contain gluten, which has been blamed for numerous dietary problems including IBS and Crohn’s disease.
When it comes to dairy products, make sure you look for the natural options. You don’t need to choose low fat options. In fact, the low-fat versions often have more sugars in them, or they go through a pasteurization process that kills all the benefits. Full fat is perfectly healthy in small amounts. Raw products are even better when you can get them.
If you really can’t do without your milk, look for the plant-based alternatives instead. There are now many people buying almond and coconut milk as an alternative to cow’s milk. You could also opt for soy milk.
Will You Make a Change to the Okinawa Diet?
This isn’t going to be a miracle cure. While there are people in Okinawa living into their 100s, there are others who die young. Our lives are affected by everything around us, including pollution levels in cities, the chemicals added to foods, and our activity levels.
It’s not going to be as simple as changing your diet to live longer and lose weight. You will need to change your whole lifestyle. It’s important to get more exercise on a daily basis and start changing the amount of alcohol and caffeine you intake. While these aren’t mentioned in the Okinawa diet, the people of the island don’t drink anywhere near as much as those in the Western world.
If you do decide to make a change, be proactive and motivated to do so. This is a change to your whole way of living, and it won’t be easy for some. It is worth it though for the health benefits!