Based on the findings from a 25-year-long study of the elderly population living in Okinawa (the largest of the Ryukyu Islands of Japan), The Okinawa Program ($16) outlines the traditional diet and lifestyle habits that may be responsible for the low risk of age-associated diseases, long life-expectancy rate, and overall high quality of health found there. While this initial text was written by researchers well over 10 years ago, interest in the Okinawa diet has been on the rise.
What Can I Eat?
Low-calorie and nutritionally dense, the traditional Okinawan diet is full of antioxidants and flavonoids that boost immunity and support a healthy lifestyle. The Okinawa Program outlines a healthy diet as high in both complex carbs and fiber and relatively low in fat, red meat, and calorie-dense food. You'll eat tons of antioxidant-rich produce like sweet potatoes and leafy greens, whole grains, tofu, seaweed, small servings of meat, and an average of three servings of fish a week. There are very low levels of saturated fat, sugar, salt, and refined grains and virtually no eggs or dairy. There are dishes you'd expect, like miso soup, seaweed salad, and tofu with brown broccoli rice, but the program outlines plenty of other recipes with American, Italian, and Mexican flair.
According to the authors of the book, the biggest benefit of following The Okinawa Program is its help in reducing the risk of cancer. Studies from the National Institute on Aging have also shown that primates on a similarly low-calorie diet look younger, have leaner bodies, and demonstrate an improvement in mental clarity. If the long-term promises aren't enough to sell you, additional studies have shown a correlation between the traditional Okinawan diet and maintaining a healthy weight throughout life.
While no one can promise that you'll live to be over 100, there's no doubt The Okinawa Program can help clean up a diet by eliminating high-fat and processed foods. The book outlines a month-long plan to revamp current habits, but a healthy, sustainable lifestyle is a marathon, not a sprint. Incorporating staple foods and healthy habits from an Okinawan diet has been shown to improve the quality of life, but if you're planning to diet for a month and revert back to unhealthy habits, then it's unlikely you'll reap its benefits.