October 03, 2016 66
These health trends have been touted to rejuvenate you and give you longer life! But do they actually work? Science isn’t able to give us a definite answer just yet. Singaporeans and Malaysians are living longer now than ever before. With a life expectancy of 83.1 and 75 years respectively, we are above the global average of 71.4 years. But we still fall pretty far off the three-digit mark.
There are certain populations in the world that boost a higher number of centenarians (those who live past 100) than others, and are referred to as the Blue Zones. People in the blue zone live long lives, generally free of chronic diseases. There may be many factors that contribute to their longevity, and the secret may be in their diet.
The Blue Zones:
According to CNN, these hot spots of health and vitality are located in Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece; Ogliastra, Sardinia; Loma Linda, California; and the Nicoya peninsula, Costa Rica. The bulk of their diets consist of their own version of wholegrains, fiber, protein – mainly fish, and vegetables. Hardly any processed foods can be found. The western diet on the contrary, includes many processed foods made up of fat and carbohydrate.
What do Okinawans eat?
Okinawans have a low risk of stomach cancer and atherosclerosis. Their typical diet consists of mainly fish, vegetables, whole grain and soy products. Their plant-heavy meals are mainly stir-fried to produce lower calorie, protein rich dishes. Higher intake of Taurine through foods like squid and octopus could explain their low blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Common vegetables include Purple Sweet Potatoes which are high in antioxidants compared to regular potatoes. They are high in complex carbohydrates, vitamin E, carotenoids, flavonoids and lycopene.
Goya, or more commonly known as bitter melon is usually prepared in a dish called Goya Chanpuru, which is a stir fry of goya, pork, tofu and eggs. Bitter melon has been shown to have anti diabetic benefits through active compounds like lectin, polypeptide-p and charantin.
Okinawans have been known to value quality instead of quantity. Most of their vegetables come from local farms which locals tend to themselves, helping them stay active at the same time.They also practice good portion sizes. The Okinawan dinner time mantra, "hara hachi bu", means "eat until you are 8/10ths full.
So should we eat like them?
There has been a lack of research on people who adopt a Japanese diet in a non-japanese setting. There is however, vast amounts of scientific research boosting the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is similar to the Okinawan diet, rich in plant based foods like legumes and nuts, vegetables and wholegrain products, but with moderate alcohol consumption.
It also emphasizes on consuming healthy fats like olive oil and low to moderate meat consumption (eg. a few times a month). Other cities in the blue zones like Ikaria have been mainly on a Mediterranean diet, which has even proven to lower chances of heart disease and reduce hypertension.
With so many different diets out there it’s hard to determine which works best. Here’s some of the main pointers to take away.
- Consume lots of fresh fruits and vegetables everyday!
- Cut down on processed foods. Processed foods tend to contain more salt and less nutrients compared to fresh foods.
- Portion control is important! Not only emphasized in the Okinawan diet, it is attributed to aid in cutting calories and reduce the chance of overeating.
- Being active is also important. Although most of us do not have our own vegetable farms to tend to, there are other ways we can stay active. Going for a bike ride or run 2-3x a week for a total of 150 minutes would help keep you fit and healthy
WHO Life Expectancy Data
Certified nutritionist with sports and fitness in my blood. Basketball is my passion and I live by Ali’s saying “don’t count the days, make the days count” View all articles by Sara.