The magic Okinawan diet is based on variety and small portions.
The Japanese diet has been in the spotlight for years, ever since Japan made a name for itself as the country with the longest life expectancy. That being said, people live even longer in Okinawa province. To find out why, Makoto Suzuki, a heart specialist from Ryukyus University in Okinawa, did several studies on the Okinawan diet, beginning in the 1970s. Here's what he found out:
First, the Okinawan diet contains an incredible variety of foods. In fact, locals of this island eat up to 206 different foods on a regular basis, including a number of herbs and spices. For instance, every day, they eat five separate portions of fruits and vegetables. They like to determine that they're getting enough variety by ensuring their plates contain all the colors of the rainbow.
It could be thanks to this variety that the Okinawan diet is otherwise quite plain. The base of the diet is grains, like rice or noodles, while seasonings like salt and sugar are used sparingly. In fact, Okinawans eat 60 percent less sugar and 50 percent less salt than other Japanese natives, who already eat a diet that's relatively healthy by global standards.
So, variety is important, but so is small portion size. To abide by this second aspect, Okinawans say that you should stop eating when you're around 80 percent full; in other words, you should remain a little bit hungry.
There's even a word for this concept in Japanese. It's called hara hachi bu, and simple ways to achieve it include avoiding dessert or reducing portion size.
To practice the latter, Okinawans typically serve their food on small plates, with portions of rice, vegetables, miso soup and a small snack, such as edamame beans.
They instinctively know that eating less is good for you, and modern science has actually confirmed the benefits of calorie reduction. By eating fewer calories, you can limit the level of a protein known as insulin-like growth factor 1. When too much of this protein exists in the body, cells age faster. As a result, eating less directly correlates to a longer life.