The field of weight loss is enriched every year with new diets that promise to amplify the weight loss process. Among these is the Okinawa diet, a slimming solution that comes to us from the depths of Japan.
Healthy, varied, balanced and above all ecological, this diet is inspired by the traditional diet of the inhabitants of the Okinawa archipelago, where we find the largest number of centenarians in the world. And for good reason, it is quite possible that the secret of this longevity defying the laws of nature would come from diet, a semi-vegetarian diet low in fat.
What if adopting this diet close to the recommendations of the PNNS (National Health Nutrition Program) was the healthiest solution to lose weight and age in good health? Explanations and opinions on the Okinawa diet.
Okinawa diet: what about it?
Okinawa is a region in the southernmost part of Japan where people traditionally have the longest lifespan on earth. It is one of the places in the world where people live longer and suffer from fewer age-related diseases.
Admittedly, there are probably many reasons behind the longevity of Okinawans, but there is a good chance that their healthy diet has something to do with it. The Okinawa diet consists mainly of vegetables and legumes, especially soybeans. This is a diet low in calories and fat, but rather high in complex carbohydrates.
All about the Okinawa diet
From 1975 to the present day, scientists have conducted research on Okinawa centenarians to try to understand the reasons for their longevity. Many actually believe that the Okinawa diet plays an important role in the health and long life of this people.
Low saturated fat content, high antioxidant content, low glycemic index… All these factors probably contribute to a decrease in the risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and other chronic diseases.
In addition, most of the carbohydrates in the Okinawa diet come from vegetables, with only a small amount of cereals, and without any added sugar foods. In addition, there is only a little red meat and a minimal amount of dairy products in this famous diet. And despite the abundance of fish on the archipelago, Okinawans consume them in moderation, while alcohol consumption is simply occasional.
Foods recommended, discouraged or to be moderated
Typical foods on the Okinawa diet include sweet potatoes, soybeans, bitter melon, mushrooms, burdock, jasmine tea, seaweed, and an array of herbs and spices:
- vegetables, especially sweet potatoes,
- legumes, especially soybeans,
- herbs and spices,
- fish (in small quantities),
- and mushrooms.
For foods that are not part of the Okinawa diet, these include:
- meat (except very rarely),
- dairy products (except very occasionally),
- refined sugars,
- refined cereals,
- and vegetables.
You should know that in the past, the diet of middle-class Okinawans consisted mainly of sweet potatoes. Rice, especially white rice, was more expensive and represented only a mark of wealth, with most Okinawans not eating it. Sweet potatoes are rich in nutrients and vitamins A and C, calcium and potassium. They are also attributed antioxidant properties thanks to their high fiber and vitamin E content.
The traditional Okinawan way of eating also includes soybeans in the form of miso paste and tofu. As a reminder, soy is an excellent source of vegetable protein, which provides most of the protein in the diet. It also contains phytochemicals called flavonoids and phytoestrogens, whose chemical structures are beneficial to health.
Kombu, hijiki and mozuku are varieties of algae commonly used in Okinawa. They are usually served with noodles, in salads, in stir-fries and with vegetables. Algae are rich in iodine, folic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium and astaxanthin.
Herbs and spices
Some seasonings used in this diet have therapeutic virtues while adding flavor without increasing the caloric bill. In this category of food, we can mention turmeric, mugwort, Okinawa peppers and fennel seeds.
Since Okinawa is an archipelago off the coast of Japan, it wouldn't be surprising if fish is among the favorite foods of Okinawans. But this is not the case: fish is only a very small part of their diet, with some authors claiming that this aquatic vertebrate constitutes only one percent of the Okinawan diet, compared to 90% plant-based.
Large shiitake mushrooms are found in many culinary fashions in Asia. And for good reason, they are very nutritious foods that offer many health benefits, including boosting the immune system and regulating cholesterol levels.
Meat and dairy products
Of course, these two food groups rarely feature on the traditional Okinawan menu, perhaps because of their cost or simply their culinary preference.
The Okinawa diet contains almost no grains, unlike other Asian cuisines that rely heavily on rice. Similarly, there is also little or no added sugar in this diet.
Can you lose weight by following the Okinawa diet?
The Okinawa diet offers a lower calorie diet and much less refined than a typical Western diet. As a result, the adoption of this Asian diet could lead to weight loss, at least in the short term. Regarding long-term weight loss, nothing allows us to confirm because the body may eventually get used to the new daily caloric intake.
Is the Okinawa diet easy to follow?
The Okinawa diet is not difficult to adopt if one only considers the food choice, but it is the foods themselves that can create a problem. As you will have understood, a large part of the foods recommended by this program assumes a culinary specialty that can only be found in specialized shops. Thus, you will have to put more time, effort and patience into finding the recommended foods on the market. In addition, once you start the diet, your body will necessarily take some time to adapt to the new flavors of food.
What results can we expect with the Okinawa diet?
We will have understood it: the Okinawa diet is a semi-vegetarian diet (we then speak of flexitarian diet) low in fat (these represent less than 25% of total calories).
The basic principles of the Okinawa diet are therefore to:
- always consume fresh, low-calorie products rich in vitamins and minerals;
- promote dietary diversity;
- miss only small portions;
- recognize the feeling of satiety and stop eating before being full;
- eat thinking that food has healing powers;
- practice regular physical activity.
According to supporters of the Okinawa regime, it would have the virtues to meet three objectives:
- Weight loss, through light calorie restriction and physical activity.
- Increasing life expectancy: In a 2016 article in the journal Age ageing, Couteur DG and his team at the University of Sydney point out the link between the remarkable longevity of Okinawans who follow the traditional Okinawan diet and numerous studies showing the association between exceptional longevity and a diet comparable to this traditional diet.
- Promoting good health: scientist Willcox DC clarifies in an article published in 2014 in Mechanism of Ageing and Development, the mechanisms that could explain the impact of this diet on health. Indeed, a low intake of saturated fatty acids, high antioxidants and a low glycemic index could help prevent cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and other chronic diseases, thanks to the reduction of oxidative stress.
It should also be noted that the Okinawa diet attaches particular importance to physical activity. However, regular physical activity is a great ally to lose weight and prevent or relieve chronic diseases.
How does the Okinawa diet make you lose weight?
Remember that the Okinawa diet is a semi-vegetarian diet that gives little space to fat. It aims to induce calorie restriction without having to count calories, in order to achieve a healthy weight and age properly. To achieve this, it is advisable to eat by following the principle of the energy density of food. Energy density is the caloric value per 100 g of food, divided by 100.
Thus, in the Okinawa diet, it is recommended:
- consume without moderation foods with low energy density (less than 0.7);
- limit foods with energy density ranging from 0.8 to 1.5;
- to eat in small quantities those whose energy density is 1.6 to 3;
- and avoid as much as possible foods with an energy density greater than 3.
In fact, low-energy density foods share one thing in common: they contain few calories but have a high content of water, fiber and protein. These foods allow you to eat fewer calories while promoting the feeling of satiety, which allows you to push back your plate before being completely full.
In addition, the caloric restriction caused by the consumption of these foods generates less metabolic waste, therefore less free radicals. And this is the secret of the Okinawan people, the process that would allow them to live longer. Indeed, during the conversion of food into energy, the body generates a lot of free radicals that can damage mitochondria, these small factories that produce energy inside cells.
In addition, calorie restriction is also essential as it reduces the levels of insulin and estrogen that circulate in the blood and in the body. It also stimulates the immune response while protecting against obesity, diabetes, atherosclerosis and cancers.
The benefits of the Okinawa diet
Also known as the "long-life diet," the Okinawa diet is a diet that offers many benefits for excellent health.
A diet low in fat and calories, but fiber and antioxidants can be one of the main factors contributing to the excellent health of the people of Okinawa. The latter is indeed less likely to contract age-related diseases.
To lose weight
The Okinawa diet involves a low-calorie, high-fiber diet, which can help you lose or maintain your weight. Enough to avoid chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer.
To fight inflammation
It is a diet that acts against inflammation can reduce the risk of suffering from chronic diseases for several reasons. Low in saturated fat, but still high in omega-3 fatty acids, the Okinawa diet can reduce the risk of inflammation.
In addition, this mode of eating is low in refined carbohydrates, which minimizes the impact on blood sugar. Blood sugar spikes can contribute to a pro-inflammatory state in the body that increases the risk of chronic disease and inflammation.
Finally, the Okinawa diet is rich in vitamins C, E and A and phytochemicals. These nutrients act as antioxidants to protect cells from free radical damage and also prevent inflammation.
The disadvantages of the Okinawa diet
The "long-life diet" is not perfect, and it may not be suitable for everyone. Already, banning meats and dairy products is simply unthinkable for people accustomed to these foods.
A rather restrictive diet
This diet is very low in red meat, eggs and poultry. It doesn't matter because you can still get enough protein from soy and fish. But this diet also contains very few cereals, not to mention that it is very low in dairy products. True, one can easily get enough nutrition without these food groups, but difficult to follow such a restrictive diet.
A diet high in sodium
If you're on a low-salt diet, talk to your doctor before adding high-sodium foods to that diet, such as miso, salted fish, or soy sauce (even low-sodium soy sauce is high in sodium). Moreover, it is possible that the abundance of fruits and vegetables rich in potassium and calcium can counteract sodium.
How much does the Okinawa diet cost?
Adopting the Okinawa diet means above all opting for fresh foods, seasonal and especially unprocessed foods. Although it is not always easy to find exotic foods in the Okinawa menu, recipes and examples of alternative meals can be found for free on the Internet. You can also buy an Okinawa cookbook on Amazon: count between 5 and 50 euros.
Okinawa diet: is it compatible with sport?
Of course, physical activity, even at low intensity, is also one of the pillars of the Okinawan way of life. It is also essential to keep the body healthy and avoid various diseases. That's why you have to avoid sedentary lifestyle by avoiding spending hours in front of your TV, jogging, walking, gardening, cycling, swimming…
Okinawa diet: how long does it last?
Of course, the Okinawa diet is much more than just a diet. It is a true way of life that provides benefits that evolve over time. Thus, the follow-up of this diet must be done over the long term in order to stay healthy and maintain a healthy weight.
Okinawa diet: are there any risks?
The Okinawa diet should not be adopted without a minimum of reasons. Indeed, it can carry certain risks in uninformed subjects. Indeed:
- Reducing calorie intake in the long term, without being overweight, can represent certain risks, such as nutritional deficiencies. The follow-up of this diet should always be carried out under the supervision of a doctor and a nutritionist.
- It is strongly discouraged to consume algae in case of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
- The Okinawa diet imposes some dietary restrictions and requires a minimum of self-discipline in order to control periods of excess.
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