The Okinawan Japanese have one of the highest life expectancies on earth. Following their unique diet could improve your heart health and potentially help you live longer.
The food we eat can have a massive impact on our health. The Japanese diet is one the healthiest of any country on earth and the southern Okinawan cuisine of Japan is even healthier. The diet has been linked to healthy ageing and longevity – Japanese people the highest life expectancy in the world, living to 84 years old on average1. Their unique, heart-healthy diet is thought to play a big role in their amazing health2.
Hara hachi bu is an important concept in the Okinawan Japanese diet. It can be translated as "eating till 80% full". This means eating smaller portions of food than you might normally, without feeling hungry throughout the day. Eating less is known as calorie restriction and there's scientific reasoning behind why this could benefit the heart. One study found that healthy adults who lowered their food intake for two years had significantly lower risk factors for diabetes and heart disease3.
Only 3.2% of the Japanese population are classed as obese (with a BMI over 25). That's staggeringly low when compared with British citizens; 35.6% of adults in the UK are overweight and 28.7% are obese. This has been used to explain why the Japanese population has lower levels of heart disease, stroke and diabetes than most other developed countries4.
The typical Japanese diet includes less meat than most other diets. Offal and organ meats like liver, heart and lungs are more frequently eaten than in the west. They're typically cheap to buy here in the UK as there's more supply than demand for the animal 'off-cuts'. Most people are too squeamish to try it but eating this type of meat could help your heart health. Organ meats are an excellent source of protein and they contain a wide variety of heart-healthy vitamins and minerals.
Japanese cuisine emphasises the taste, texture and presentation of food. Meals typically consist of a few, small dishes served alongside boiled white rice. Fresh, nutritious plants like lotus root, edamame beans and garlic are often included as well, some of which are believed to boost heart-health. Garlic, for example, contains a wide range of antioxidants, many of which have been shown to support heart health.
If you're interested in trying the Japanese diet, there are hundreds of blogs, books and recipes available online. This heart-healthy cuisine is equally delicious and nutritious and according to research, following it could slash your chances of developing coronary heart disease5.
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