The Health Guru

Facts, Hints, Tips, Advice and Inspiration on everything to do about health & weight loss.

Eat like an Okinawan (hara hachi bu)

Posted on | October 27, 2009 | No Comments

I have a goal in life:  I want to live until I’m 100 years old.  Whoops no….. correction ….. I want to live happily, healthily, disease and pain free until I’m 100 years old.  Not asking too much am I?

Well the good news is I stumbled across a place where this goal is total reality.  Okinawa is a two hour flight out of Tokyo, Japan and the people that inhabit this large cluster of islands are affectionately referred to as “Okinawans”.

So why am I so intrigued with the Okinawans? They have the longest life expectancy and the highest percentage of centenarians than anywhere else in the world.  An almost disease and disability free life, with a staggering 80% fewer heart attacks than Americans, Breast and prostate cancer are unheard of, Obesity is very rare and they age slowly.  (I have a feeling Japan tourism might boom after reading the rest of this blog)

Some more jaw dropping facts is that for the entire country the average BMI is 20.4 (normal BMI is 18.5 – 22.9), they avoid smoking and drink very little alcohol.

So what are doing?

They eat a traditional diet that is 20% lower in calories than the Japanese average and practice hara hachi bu which translates to ‘eating till you’re 80 percent full’.  This makes total sense but is often harder to actually do considering that our brains are 10-20 minutes behind our stomachs!  Therefore, it usually turns out that when you think you’re 80% full, you’re actually full.  So eating to 100% full at each meal means we are usually overstuffing ourselves and taking in extra calories.

The traditional diet consists of at least seven servings of green / yellow vegetables every day, whole grains such as noodles, bread, rice and particularly heavy on sweet potatoes, 2-4 serves of fruit, small amounts of protein such meat and fish; Soy and legume products are eaten 1-3 times per week and very little meat, eggs or dairy.

The Okinawans also remain active by practicising martial arts, traditional dance, walking and gardening.

As you can imagine, Scientists are studying this amazing population like crazy and continue to form theories for their successful elixir of life.

Free Radicals  - Okinawans have low blood levels of free radicals.  Apparently, the free radical theory is no longer the hocus pocus people once thought it was.  Free Radicals are unstable molecules in the body that are generated mainly from metabolizing food into energy that damage the important molecules of the body such as tissue and DNA.   This damage silently accumulates with time until, like an old car, we fall apart.

Calorie Restriction  -  Having a diet predominantly made up of vegetables, and eating hara hachi bu, the Okinawans have a low daily calorie intake which is another theory behind their long life expectancy

Cardiovascular Health  -  Low cholesterol levels attributed towards impressively clean arteries which helps reduce heart disease and stroke risks by 80%.

Cancer  -  Studies have shown Okinawans have 80% less breast cancer and prostate cancer, and less than half the normal incidence of ovarian and colon cancers. The theory is shaped around a combination of a low daily calorie intake, high consumption of vegetables/fruits, fats (omega-3, mono-unsaturated fat), fibre, low body fat level and high levels of physical activity.

Osteoporosis  -  Okinawans have about 20% fewer hip fractures than mainland Japanese do, and Japanese have about 40% fewer hip fractures than Americans and studies found bone mass reduction occurred at a slower rate as they aged.

Dementia  -  Even into their late 90s Okinawans suffered lower dementia rates than reported for comparable populations in the United States and elsewhere.

Lifestyle Intervention  -  In a nutshell, their amazing health achievements appear to be largely due to their lifestyle: diet, regular exercise, moderate alcohol intake, avoidance of smoking, blood pressure control, relaxation and keeping stress to a minimum.

Ok, no doubt if you’ve read down this far you’re as amazed as I was to find out all those facts & completely re-assessing your life wherever you are in the world.  And in case you’re wondering, the average temperature all year round in Okinawa is 210C (900F).  Seriously?  Do they have calorie free red wine here as well? This place sounds too good to be true.

Ok, reality check – I don’t speak Japanese & relocating to this apparent fountain of health and youth is completely out of the question right now so instead I’m bringing a little bit of Okinawa to my life here and to everyone reading this.

My recommendations – consume more green leafy vegetables daily, get into the habit of practicing hara hachi bu and stop eating at 80% full, choose whole grain / low GI carbohydrate, increase Omega-3 intake, limit alcohol consumption, reduce stress and of course do daily regular exercise.

Living to a 100 year old centenarian sounds like a piece of cake! (No pun intended)


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    • Health Guru : Thanks for the Thunder Tea Rice tip... I haven't eaten for ages - will go try it.
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    • Guest_3832 : do u advocate low carb/keto dieting?
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