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Haram khanaAccording to the United Nations, the ‘greatest proportion of centenarians’ – people who are healthy, active and live to a 100 years and beyond – are found in Japan, more specifically in the southern region of the Okinawa islands.

American gerontologist, Dr Craig Willcox, who has spent many years investigating Okinawan longevity, says the secret lies in a healthy lifestyle and traditional diet. This diet, which is calorie restricted, low in sugar and fat and rich in antioxidants has been dubbed the Okinawa Diet and includes the following key elements.

  • Fresh organic fruit and vegetables.Okinawa’s indigenous sweet potato (rich in carotenoids, flavonoids, lycopene and vitamin E) and bitter cucumber known as ‘goya’ (known to lower blood sugar in diabetics) are dietary staples. The diet also includes carrots, onions and leafy vegetables, all of which are known to stave off age related ailments like diabetes and metabolic syndromes. Papaya is the fruit of choice.
  • Wholegrain noodles and brown rice. They take care of the daily caloric intake and carbohydrate requirements and also provide fibre, help maintain healthy weight and protect against colorectal cancer.
  • Seaweed.  Okinawans are known to eat more antioxidant- and mineral-rich seaweed than anyone else in the world. Seaweed is good for heart health, has detox properties and regulates hormones.
  • Octopus, squid and fish. Tuna and salmon are the main meat in the Okinawa diet (which discourages red meat); they provide protein and good fats such as Omega 3 which help maintain heart health and slow down the natural aging process. Octopus and squid are a good source of the amino acid taurine, known to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • Tofu and soy based foods. Prominently featured in the diet, tofu is an excellent source of protein. It also has dietary fibre, the antioxidant tannins, and plant-sterols – substances which help prevent heart diseases and certain types of cancers.

– Beenish Israr
The writer is a PhD scholar, studying Human Nutrition at the University of Reading, UK. She is also a lecturer of Food and Nutrition at University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan.

First published in the Health Advertiser Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on September 22, 2013.