Okinawa is a Japanese archipelago composed by 161 lush islands surrounded by a crystal-clear sea. But Okinawa is also the country of centenarians with people that show one of the longest lifespan all over the world. The interesting thing is that in Okinawa the people live so long but also healthy, both in body and in mind. The scientists consider Okinawa an outdoor lab in order to understand the secret that allows people in Okinawa to live so long. The hormone-dependent cancers, such as, for example, prostate and breast, are almost unknown so much that the screening programs aren’t needed and coronary illnesses register one of the lowest incidence rate all over the world (Willcox B, Willcox D, Suzuki M, Okinawa l’isola dei centenari, Sperling and Kupfer, 2001). Somebody may answer that the genes play a pivotal role but it isn’t so, in fact, when people of Okinawa move in other countries and adopt a “Western” lifestyle they tend to become ill and die sooner like all other people. As a consequence, the reason should be the result of the lifestyle and, in particular, of the diet. We aren’t speaking about a miraculous food but about a mix of food choices that make the Okinawa’s diet so healthy and protective. Let’s see their secrets, we’ll report the first part of the guide lines of Okinawa’s diet by referring to the several scientific articles published by the researches Brad and Craig Willcox (to name but a few Willcox et al, Mech Ageing Dev, Apr 2017 - Willcox et al, Ann N Y Acad Sci, Oct 2007), firmly convinced that the guide lines of Okinawa may be an essential vademecum for people all over the world.
Leave the table not completely satiated
People in Okinawa follow a low calorie diet because of the quality of food, since they prefer unrefined carbs such as brown rice, and because of the quantity of food. Leaving the table not completely satiated is indeed a part of their culture since childhood. This habit seems to play a protective role on health since several studies have demonstrated that a diet with no excess of calories, a low weight gain with aging and a reduced BMI, or body mass index, may protect against aging degenerative illnesses (Willcox et al, Ann N Y Acad Sci, Oct 2007).
The guide lines developed by brothers Willcox, who studied a lot Okinawa’s diet, include from 7 to 13 daily portions of cereals, in the form of whole grains, rice, pasta or bread. The type of the cereal should be varied and should be, when possible, unrefined. You can choose among oat, spelt, barley, kamut, rice, rye, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, bulgur in addition to common wheat.
Herbs and spices
In Okinawa people use a lot spices, such as ginger but, above all, turmeric (Willcow et al, Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab care, Apr 2017). Curcumin is the active substance of turmeric and shows an anti inflammatory, anti cancer and antioxidant, higher than vitamin E, action (Jin et al, Acta Pharmacol Sin, Oct 2007 - Zhao et al, Cell Biophys, Apr 1989).
Moreover, it seems that curcumin has a neuroprotective effect thus reducing the risk of developing degenerative illnesses such as Alzheimer (Lim et al, J Neurosci, Nov 2001). However, in order to take benefit from the healthy properties of turmeric, curcumin should overcome the barrier of stomach and for this reason turmeric should always be taken together with black pepper and a fat, for example extra virgin olive oil. By mixing these three ingredients you can get a perfect healthy dressing to season salads! And what about mugwort? Mugwort, scientific name Artemisia vulgaris, called in Okinawa huchiba, is largely used in Okinawa to soothe problems of stomach and, as somebody claims, to protect also the liver (Willcox B, Willcox D, Suzuki M, Okinawa l’isola dei centenari, Sperling and Kupfer, 2001). Mugwort is used for cooking, added to vegetables or soups, or taken in the form of herbal teas. In order to prepare a mugwort herbal tea you just have to bring to boil 1 liter of water, remove from the heat and add 4 tablespoons of dried mugwort, you can find it easily in herbalist’s shops. Leave it to brew for 5 minutes, then filter and drink. Be careful in some cases, mugwort may interact with blood thinner drugs and is contraindicated during pregnancy.