Okinawan people are famous for their longevity. Their nutrition and lifestyle have been thought to contribute to a healthy, long life. The diet of Okinawan people consists of primarily plant-based foods, mostly sweet potatoes, equivalent to 50% of daily calories. Read more to learn about purple sweet potatoes, which can contribute to the healthy longevity of Okinawan people.
The diet of Okinawan people consists of mostly plant-based foods, including sweet potatoes, low glycemic index grains, legumes, and, in smaller amounts, fish, meat, poultry, and other foods.
Sweet potatoes are a primary food in the Okinawan diet. They are rich in antioxidants, which are compounds that prevent cells from damage, contributing to healthy cell function.
Incorporating antioxidant-rich foods in your diet can help support healthy longevity.
Healthy longevity is achievable by providing conditions that support physical and mental health, such as having accessibility to healthcare, following a healthy and balanced diet, being physically active, and having a supportive social community.
What is the Okinawan diet?
Traditional Okinawan cuisine is based mainly on root vegetables, legumes, low glycemic index grains, fish, and some herbs and spices with potentially medicinal components. The characteristics of the Okinawan diet include:
- High consumption of root vegetables and soybean
- High fiber intake
- Low calorie and fat intake
- Low consumption of dairy products and meat (mostly pork)
- Lower consumption of sodium than other Japanese prefectures
- Consumption of low glycemic index grains as a part of carbohydrate intake
- Moderate alcohol consumption
Nutrient content of purple sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes in Okinawa are found in different colors, such as yellow, orange, violet, and purple. It was reported that Okinawan people get almost half of their calorie intake from sweet potatoes, which are high in fiber, antioxidant vitamins such as vitamins A and C, and potassium, and low in sodium, fat, and cholesterol.
One medium purple sweet potato (130 g) contains:
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How can sweet potatoes contribute to longevity?
Purple sweet potato, also known as Okinawan potato, is a root vegetable rich in anthocyanin, a potent antioxidant.
Antioxidants are compounds found in foods as vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. They capture and eliminate highly reactive molecules or atoms called free radicals, which otherwise damage cells.
Free radicals occur as a result of metabolism and exposure to environmental factors (such as radiation, pollutants, and certain chemicals). High antioxidant diets help eliminate excess free radical accumulation, protecting cells from damage.
The Okinawan diet primarily consists of sweet potatoes and other highly antioxidant vegetables and fruits. Their diet may contribute to healthy longevity by protecting cells from damage, which otherwise leads to cellular aging, inflammation, and diseases.
What is longevity, and why does it matter?
Life expectancy has increased, meaning people live longer now. Healthy life expectancy has also increased, but not as much as life expectancy which makes healthy aging a priority.
Longevity is living a long life, which is desirable if a person ages healthy. The World Health Organization's (WHO) definition of healthy aging is "the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age."
Therefore, healthy aging involves older people maintaining mental and physical capabilities, such as being active, having the ability to meet basic needs, learning, building and maintaining relationships, and contributing to society in some ways.
Many things, including individualistic, lifestyle, and environmental factors, contribute to healthy aging:
Having a community
Mental health is a huge part of healthy aging. Social isolation has been associated with higher disease risk, disability, and death. Having a social environment that allows building and maintaining relationships is crucial.
Eating a healthy and balanced diet
Healthy aging does not mean having no diseases. In fact, many older adults may have one or more chronic conditions. However, disease management with proper treatment allows healthy aging.
A healthy and balanced diet can help prevent and manage diseases such as hypertension and metabolic diseases, which are commonly seen in the elderly population.
Healthy and balanced nutrition is also crucial for getting the required nutrients for the body's healthy functioning.
Maintaining healthy body weight
Healthy body weight changes based on the individual. Although the scale can give an idea, your body composition is more important. Having less visceral fat (fat accumulated around your organs) helps prevent metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. Having a good percentage of muscle can help older adults maintain daily activities to meet their basic needs and be more active in the community.
Being physically active
The WHO recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and at least two days of muscle-strengthening activities weekly for adults. Older adults are advised to follow the same physical activity guidelines as adults but focus more on functional balance and strength training.
Smoking increases the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, lung diseases, and cancer, all of which are barriers to healthy longevity.
Having access to healthcare
Access to healthcare allows people to get diagnosed earlier if they have diseases. Treatment of diseases improves life quality and contributes to healthy aging.
Engaging in brain stimulation
Older adults should keep stimulating the brain by learning new skills. Brain stimulation activities can help prevent dementia and other age-related neurological diseases.
The Okinawan diet, primarily a plant-based diet rich in purple sweet potatoes and antioxidants, can help healthy aging and longevity alongside other interventions, including maintaining healthy body composition, being physically active, not smoking, and having a supportive social community.
- Mechanisms of Ageing and Development. Healthy aging diets other than the Mediterranean: A Focus on the Okinawan Diet.
- United States Department of Agriculture. PURPLE SWEET POTATOES.
- Harvard School of Public Health. Healthy Longevity.
- World Health Organization. Physical activity.
- World Health Organization. Global Health Estimates: Life expectancy and healthy life expectancy.