The Okinawa diet. A land of Japan, partly still unspoiled, where one of the longest-lived populations in the world lives. Lifestyle, philosophy, and nutrition. Here’s something interesting to know about the inhabitants of these islands.
We have never been to Okinawa, but, on my map of Japan, it is one of the areas of the country I wrote a post it with written on ”行こう!” which means “let’s go!”.
As lovers of nature and isolated places, I think this can be the right place where we can enjoy our time. Okinawa is in fact the southernmost prefecture of the country, and includes a group of islands (160 of which only 49 are inhabited) belonging to the Ryūkyū archipelago.
Who’s been there before, has defined this area as “the Caribbean of Japan” thanks to the kilometric white beaches that characterize it. Others have praised the nature that, on some islands, is still wild and uncontaminated.
If this were not enough, Okinawa is known worldwide for another reason. This group of islands is in fact part of the “Blue Zone”, the list of the 5 places in the world where the life expectancy is higher.
According to data reported by the “Okinawa Research Center For Longevity Sciences“, while in the Western country the average of hundred-year-old inhabitants varies between 10-20% per a population of 100,000, in Okinawa they reached the 40-50% per 100,000 (and I remind you that the population of Okinawa is 1.4 million).
Because of this result, scientists from all over the world started different research project (and are still ongoing) intending to find a scientific explanation for all this. They began to analyze the climate of the islands, the physical state of the inhabitants, their DNA, their lifestyle and, following the aphorism “We are what we eat”, they began to focus also on their diet.
The first time I learned about Okinawa, was through the book “Ikigai” by Hector Garcia. The author speaks of a healthy philosophy of life “Ikigai”) which focus on the research of our “personal reason”, a power that makes us wake up every morning motivated, with goals to be achieved, helping us find our way into the storm of modern life. Garcia refers to the people of Okinawa as those who have been able to capitalize on this philosophy, creating such a balance in their lives, able to fight age and live longer.
Being active every day, following a stress-free lifestyle, appreciating life, being connected with nature and respecting the “Moai”, that connection between people that makes them a group, a community able to help each other.
Unless you also live on some desolated island, far from the chaos of the media and social pressures, replicating the lifestyle of Okinawan’s inhabitants is almost impossible. But despite this, there are ways to approach this healthy and happy philosophy of life. A starting point can be our nutrition.
There is a book called “The Okinawa Program” which lists the 4 reasons why life expectancy in Okinawa is so high, and the first concerns their gastronomy.
It is said that to live a healthy life, we must start by focusing on what we eat. Finding a balance, trying to eliminate foods with high amounts of saturated fats, too many carbohydrates and to accompany each of our meals with various vegetables.
The reason behind Okinawa’s healthy life is not a mysterious secret, but simple respect and continuity, in following these simple rules. The gastronomic culture of these islands is mainly based on the consumption of fruit and vegetables, legumes, cereals, fish and meat, all according to this order and quantities:
We are talking about a diet that is 96% based on plant-based foods and only just over 4% on an animal basis (fish and meat) + sugar and Alcohol.
Nature in these areas plays a strong point, offering varieties of fruit and vegetables that are unique and so nutritious. (For someone this is the mains reasons behind the longevity of this population.)
An example? Have you ever heard of Goya?
Appearing like a thick cucumber with hard bubbles that spread over its surface, Goya is one of Okinawa’s representative vegetables.
Known in the West as “Bitter Melon”, if you are wondering what flavor it has, I assure you that the name does not lie. This vegetable with a crunchy texture has a marked bitter taste that makes it unique. “Sweet but not healthy, bitter but rich in benefits”, it would seem a rule of life, and in this case it has some truth.
Despite its strong flavor, we should all try to include it in our diet because Goya is seriously rich in good nutrients.
Anti-aging, perfect for skincare, facilitates lowering blood sugar levels, stimulates digestion … an elixir of natural benefits that have made Goya an ingredient widely used in Chinese medicine as Detox.
If after having eaten a bite, its taste is too bitter, do not worry, some recipe can mask (slightly) the bitterness.
First of all, when you buy it, prefer dark green Goya, as they are said to be the least bitter.
Before cooking it, prepare it in the same way as you do with aubergines before putting them in a good Parmigiana: cut it into wedges, sprinkle it with salt and let it rest for 30 minutes. Rinse under plenty of water and dry.
It allows eliminating part of the humidity from the Goya slices, thus reducing those phenolic components characterized by a bitter taste. That being said, know that the taste will fade slightly but will not be completely eliminated!
How to cook it?
Goya is a vegetable that can be adapted to different preparations. It can be found in stews, miso soup, tempura … but its most popular version is undoubtedly the Chanpuru. The term Chanpuru comes from the Okinawan dialect, and can be translated as “something that is mixed”.
It is a “stir fry” dish which involves the use of various ingredients including Goya, Tofu, animal proteins, eggs and other vegetables.
(Shortly the recipe)
With the arrival of some Fast Food chains, currently some areas of the Okinawa prefecture have undergone a drastic change in the food lifestyle, particularly among the new generations, which has led to a change in the data regarding the longevity levels of the region.
Some believe that this population can no longer be considered the longest due to the presence of cases of obesity which are gradually increasing. It is not something new that Fast Foods bring with them levels of discomfort, especially if they are exploited in excess, but this should make us reflect on how, in reality, behind a long-lived life, there is no miraculous DNA or some secrets, but choices.
The choice to eat healthy, preferring foods from the nature over industrial ones; to respect one’s body, to participate and feel part of a community, and to wake up each morning appreciating what one has.
Ele & Yo