1 May 2008

Food for Thought

Hara hachi bu – eat only until you are 80% full
‘Far off in the East China Sea, between the main islands of Japan and Taiwan, is an archipelago of 161 beautiful, lush green islands known as Okinawa. The beaches are a dazzling powdery white; the waters are crystal turquoise, and the pristine subtropical rainforests house a huge variety of exotic flora and fauna. But while Okinawa has all the makings of a tropical paradise, it is in fact something more special – Okinawa is more like a “real-life Shangri-la” why? Because the islands are home to the longest lived population in the world.’ – The Okinawa Diet Plan

Dr Bradley Willcox

The traditional Okinawa diet, with its emphasis on vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes (soy foods) and fish with limited amounts of lean meats serves as a model for healthy eating and healthy aging that not only reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease but also helps to minimise free radical production. Free radicals are cell-damaging molecules that are generated mainly by our bodies' metabolism when we create energy from food.

Dr Bradley Willcox talked to GI News about the secrets of healthy aging in Okinawa. 'The Okinawan cultural habit of calorie control called hara hachi bu, which means eat only until you are 80% full, plays a role in as well as their habit of eating an antioxidant-rich, plant-based diet,' he said.

'Stopping at 80% capacity is actually a very good strategy to avoid obesity without going hungry because the stomach's stretch receptors take about 20 minutes to tell the body how full it really is and 20 minutes after stopping you will really feel full.

In Okinawa, heart disease rates are 80% lower, and stroke rates lower than in the US and other Western countries. Cholesterol levels are typically under 180 mg/dL (4.6 mmol/L), homocysteine levels are low and blood pressure at goal levels. Rates of many cancers are 50–80% lower – especially breast, colon, ovarian and prostate cancer. Hip fractures are 20% lower than mainland Japanese and 40% lower than in the US. Dementia is much rarer.

Ushi Okushima – 100 years old

However, Okinawans who adopt Western eating styles have similar rates of heart disease as in the US. Young Okinawans, eating more processed foods, have a higher risk of heart disease than their elderly relatives. A study of 100,000 Okinawans who moved to Brazil and adopted local eating habits, showed a life expectancy 17 years lower than in Okinawa.'

So what's the Okinawan secret?

  • Consciously controlled portion sizes through the practice of hara hachi bu: eat until you are 80% full.
  • A low-calorie, mostly plant-based diet with plenty of fish and soy foods, a great variety of vegetables as well as moderate amounts of the monounsaturated fats and omega-3’s. Include high fibre whole grains and starches.
  • Regular, life-long physical activity. Dancing, martial arts, walking and gardening are common forms of exercise.
  • Staying lean and fit. The combination of diet and activity keeps body fat low (ie, BMI 18-22).

For more on the Okinawa diet, check out www.okinawadiet.com.


Anonymous said...

And what do Okinawans eat?

The main meat of the diet is pork, and not the lean cuts only. Okinawan cuisine, according to gerontologist Kazuhiko Taira, "is very healthy—and very, very greasy," in a 1996 article that appeared in Health Magazine.19 And the whole pig is eaten—everything from "tails to nails." Local menus offer boiled pigs feet, entrail soup and shredded ears. Pork is cooked in a mixture of soy sauce, ginger, kelp and small amounts of sugar, then sliced and chopped up for stir fry dishes. Okinawans eat about 100 grams of meat per day—compared to 70 in Japan and just over 20 in China—and at least an equal amount of fish, for a total of about 200 grams per day, compared to 280 grams per person per day of meat and fish in America. Lard—not vegetable oil—is used in cooking.

Okinawans also eat plenty of fibrous root crops such as taro and sweet potatoes. They consume rice and noodles, but not as the main component of the diet. They eat a variety of vegetables such as carrots, white radish, cabbage and greens, both fresh and pickled. Bland tofu is part of the diet, consumed in traditional ways, but on the whole Okinawan cuisine is spicy. Pork dishes are flavored with a mixture of ginger and brown sugar, with chili oil and with "the wicked bite of bitter melon."

Weston Price did not study the peoples of Okinawa, but had he done so, he would have found one more example to support his conclusions—that whole foods, including sufficient animal foods with their fat—are needed for good health and long life, even in the Orient. In fact, the Okinawan example demonstrates the fallacy of today's politically correct message—that we should emulate the peoples of China by reducing animal products and eating more grains; rather, the Chinese would benefit by adding more strengthening animal foods to their daily fare.

GI Group said...

Here's what Dr Bradley Wilcox says:

'This is a good point. We have no preconceived notion about whether animal products are “good” or “bad” or whether you need to be vegetarian to live a long time. The fact is, if you eat lots of vegetables, fruits and legumes, some fish, and eat fewer meat and dairy products you tend to get fewer calories and more nutrients---and that is what is linked to long life. That is one of many reasons why Okinawans and Seventh-Day Adventists and other veggie lovers live long lives.

The facts about meat consumption in Okinawa, however, speak for themselves. The quote from Dr. Taira (whom we know personally) is quite correct. Okinawans are fond of pork just as Americans are fond of turkey. But until the 1960s they could not eat much since it was a ceremonial food and too expensive. This is no great mystery.

Meat consumption has risen from about 10 grams per day in the 1950s, when Okinawans were very poor, to over 100 grams per day now (versus about 300-plus grams in the U.S.). Meat consumption also varies tremendously by age group. Young people eat more, older people eat less. If you really want to know, visit Okinawa or check the Japan National Nutrition Survey or read the publication by Willcox B et al in Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2007 Oct;1114:434-55. We have studied (and published in the medical literature) what the traditional diet was (up to early 1960s) and is. At present they are very different animals, so to speak. But even the present diet is much healthier than what we eat in North America! Bon appétit.'

Bradley Willcox MD

Okinawa Centenarian Study


Anonymous said...

You mentioned the Okinawan secret of Hara hachi bu, or eating until you are 80% full. If it takes 20 minutes for your stomach stretchers to tell the brain you are full, how really full is it?

Give me some secret (other than portion contol) to determine how I detect that I am 80% full? (or is portion control the only way to determine this?)

GI Group said...

In The Okinawa Diet Plan, the authors say that the older Okinawans "simply stop eating before they have to loosen their belt." (page 28) The idea is to leave a little room in your stomach at the end of each meal. Putting 20% less on your plate for starters may give you an idea what 80% full feels like.

Anonymous said...

Regarding how to gauge when you are "80% full", one method is to eat more slowly (15 - 20 minutes) so that you consume fewer calories before 'the 'full gland' kicks in'.

Some ways of doing this could include talking to your family while eating (instead of watching tv), chewing more slowly, or perhaps having two small courses ('entrees') with a gap in between rather than one main meal. And, wait at least 10 minutes before you think about a second helping or desert.