japanese diet
Diets,  Fitness,  Nutrition,  Weight Loss

The Japanese Diet: A Healthy Way of Living Longer

While today’s researchers continue to study diet plans and lifestyle that can help one become healthy and live longer, they are more interested now with the diet of people who live longer: the Okinawa Diet.

Japan is recorded to have the oldest life expectancy in today’s world. This means that Japanese live longer, like men live up to about 79 years old and women a little beyond 86 years old. Historically, after World War II, Japan was one of the lowest life expectancies. This might suggest that it was not genetics that kept them alive for longer time. Japanese people do not visit their doctors so often. So what is their secret of living longer – and healthier? 

Researchers claim that it could be their diet and lifestyle. Let us learn about the Okinawa Diet.

Image: FreeImage

We all know that eating foods rich in fiber and fewer processed foods can help dieters lose weight. Most of Okinawans eat following a Confucian teaching known as hara hachi bu – “eating until you are satisfied, not full.” They do not weigh or measure their foods to avoid overeating. Their diet is not about calories or portions, but it is about health and thoughtfulness. They opt to “eat to live, not live to eat.”

Okinawan diet can help improve one’s overall health and promotes longevity. They love seaweed, shiitake mushrooms, fatty fish, and bitter melon and they are rich in anti-inflammatory phytochemicals that may help reduce risk for diabetes, dementia, some cancers, and heart disease.

Two Okinawan Diet Rules

Rule No. 1. Hara Hachi Bu or “eat to 80% full. While our brains are 10 minutes behind the stomach, it usually turns out that when you think you are 80% full, you are actually “very” full. And when we eat 100% full, we are already overstuffing ourselves. This rule makes them eat fewer calories compared to most people. They are likely not to gain more pounds and with their lifestyle (they generally stay active like they love farming and gardening), it keeps them healthy. And if we follow this and the next rule, we can lose those unwanted pounds, especially during holidays and special events.

Rule No. 2. Eat healthy foods and mostly should be plants. They love vegetables, mostly yellow and greens, couples with whole grains, fish, tofu, and other legumes. They consume less sugar and very little of eggs, dairy, and meat. Notice that this rule contradicts the popular low-carb diets like Atkins, Zone, Paleo, and others. Well, we do not conclude that these popular diets do not work for you, but our point is that a plant-based diet is proven to work very well for Okinawans.

Can we follow these rules, especially during the holidays and the remaining days of our lives? Well, the Okinawans did it, although their younger generation are presently following the Western lifestyle and are suffering from it. With Okinawa Diet, treats are allowed but in moderation.

How To Get Started On Okinawan Diet

Luiza Petre, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Cardiology at Mount Sinai School-New York, suggests the following:

  • Try sweet potatoes as your daily source of carbs (white rice, white pasta) for more complex buckwheat soba noodles or brown rice.
  • Vegetables as your main course. Choose green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, mushrooms in most of our meals. Also experiment with seaweed like try topping your grain bowl with hijiki or putting some kombu to your soup.
  • Reevaluate your proteins and opt for plant-based proteins such as beans, tofu, and legumes. Try having at least a few servings of fatty fish every week and eat red meat only once in a while.
  • Avoid sugary snacks, although you may save your cookies and other sweet treats for very special occasions and holidays. If you are really hungry in between meals, grab a piece or slice of fresh fruit, or a handful of nuts, or a cup of miso soup.
  • Drink tea. Try the simple, unsweetened brew of green, black, or jasmine tea, and get an extra dose of antioxidants they offer.

And here it is: The Okinawa Diet

  • Fish against Red Meats. Japanese do not eat as much as red meat as we do. Red meat provides plenty of cholesterol compared with fish, causing higher risk for heart disease, stroke, heart attack, and other illnesses. “Meat” from fish is a staple in Japan. This consequently means that they keep their cholesterol level low. They are also getting healthy fish oils. Well, there are some concerns about fish being contaminated with mercury, but these days and with all the pollution thing, does it matter anymore.
  • Reduce intake of milk, dairy, and butter. Many of Japanese are lactose intolerant. Even though non-fat milk may be healthy, but many people drink 1% and 2% milk. The amount of cholesterol and fat in these products are high that they may kill you gradually. Japanese do not do dairy that much, whether they are lactose intolerant or not. This means that they avoid the extra cholesterol.
  • Rice is eaten and paired with almost everything. There are special rice strains in Japan that are rich in nutrients than normal rice. Their rice are low in fat and helps fill you up. You may also try combining white and brown rice. Many people may not like this but it will help getting more whole grains.
  • Use plenty of soy, like bean sprouts and tofu can provide you with proteins that help reduce heart disease and high blood pressure. Soy products are healthy and better alternative to milk, meat, and other unhealthy food stuff.
  • Seaweed is rich in iodine and other essential nutrients that you cannot find in any other stuff. It is so awesomely healthy. It helps combat many cancers.
  • Plenty of veggies. In Japan, vegetables are a big part of each meal, not just a second thought kind of thing. And we all know the benefits vegetables offer us.
  • Sip a tea. Japanese drink plenty of tea, while Americans drink a lot of coffee. Oolong or green tea is rich in antioxidants (those that fight several types of cancer) and helps break up oils in the digestive system for improved bowel discharges.
  • Small plates, small portions. Eliminate your big plates and get smaller plates to encourage you to eat in smaller portions. This means that you will eat less. There are so many studies about plate size, the amount of food we eat, and there is a strong connection between these two. Japanese tend to serve food on small plates. This means that they do not overeat and get fat which lowers chances of heart attack, stroke, stroke, and other illnesses.
  • Calories do count. Greg O’Neill, director of U.S. National Academy says that Japanese eat a third of the calories Americans consume. And so, when you eat outside or in a fast food, watch out for the calories, since calories do count.

Japanese Lifestyle

Japanese does not only eat well and healthy but they stand and walk better than the rest of us. In America, many people tend to drive anywhere and everywhere. And after driving, they sit for several hours.

  • How do they commute? Most Japanese walk, bike, or take the train to work or wherever they go. For them, cars are luxury and it is easier to take the train (since their train system is amazing!). And as a result, they stand for a longer period of the day, whether they are walking or biking to the train station, or just standing in the train. This is because there is no room to sir. And there are several studies that are conducted showing the link between how long you sit every day and how likely you are to die (early). It claims that if you are standing more each day, you will tend to live longer. Hence, if you want to live longer, simply try standing up for a few hours each day.
  • Squatting while they poop. Although modern times have introduced some modern toilet style, and squatting on toilets is becoming less the case. But most Japanese toilets are built that need you to squat, which is believed to have health benefits, well even if it takes a long time to practice. How? Squatting helps improve digestive system and avoid hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids are common in Western nations but they are uncommon for Asian, squatting places. In 1978, even Jimmy Carter was made to squat toilet because his hemorrhoids were already severe. 

It may be very difficult to squat on the Western toilet while pooping, but you can stand and walk around more often. Try standing while working instead of sitting. Following the Japanese belief, just standing helps you stay healthy and live longer, even if you are not moving around. Take note that we are not created to sit down all day long. 

On Cleanliness

Japan is considered one of the cleanest countries in the world. Living in a clean, organized house and washing your hands, then you will be fine. In Western culture, it is not always seem to be a norm to wash hands and shower everyday, depending on where you are. Keeping clean and living with clean people may keep you healthy and live longer. It will also help avoid illnesses, especially when you’re old, and keep sickness at bay. 

What we can do? Just wash our hands. That’s it.

On Family and Social Life

Japan has this traditional practice where the oldest child is supposed to take care of their parents when they get old. The parents live with their children and help out in the house, until they get too old to do so. This practice may be changing these modern times, but it is still common. Being with the family, especially when one gets old, has this good psychological effect, encouraging the old ones to live longer and enjoy moments with their family. And since they are moving around and helping, doing things keep them staying them physically active. There maybe no clinical data to support this, but it has great impact to older ones in Japan. Just imagine being old and living in a retirement home can be very depressing, and maybe lose one’s motivation to live longer.

On Socializing. In Japan, most employees are required to socialize, drink, and enjoy after work. By doing this, one can make new friends and nurture friendships which means you will be able to enjoy life more when you get old. The lesson here? When we enjoy life with others, we want to live longer. 

In short, We may not be able to force ourselves or our children into taking us into their homes when we get older, but we can still enjoy the company of our dear friends and make new friends. The more we socialize, the better we will feel about life and the more social support we will have.


Eating healthy can be difficult at times. We are used to eating what we regularly eat and changing the way we eat and what we eat is really, really hard. What we can do is to reduce the amount of red meat in our diet. These meats can cause many health problems later on. We do not have to stop eating red meat overnight, but if we can reduce the amount, I am sure our body will thank us for that effort. 

And as for Okinawan diet, it is worth a try, right? 

And there is much more things to be healthy. Read our next article.

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