If you want to live to a healthy hundred, eat like healthy people who’ve lived to 100. One place to look is Okinawa, Japan, one of the world’s Blue Zones — or exceptional hot spots where people live extraordinarily long, healthy and happy lives.
For every 100,000 inhabitants, Okinawa has 68 centenarians — more than three times the numbers found in U.S. populations of the same size. Eating with mindfulness, intention and awareness is one significant characteristic that has been proven to aid in longevity rates among Okinawans.
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to eat with an Okinawan elder, you’ve invariably heard them intone a Confucian-inspired phrase before beginning the meal: “Hara hachi bu” — a reminder to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full.
Research shows it takes roughly 15 to 20 minutes for your brain to register that your stomach has reached capacity. And eating slowly, by practicing hara hachi bu, helps short-circuit this. In other words, if you stop eating when you think you’re 80% full, you’re likely actually 100% full. Again and again, scientists and researchers have found that one of the biggest problems with the typical American diet is that we eat too much.
According to a study from the Pew Research Center, Americans are consuming far more calories each day than is recommended (estimates from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services range from 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day for adult women, and 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day for adult men).
In 2017, the average American consumed more than 3,600 calories daily, a 24% increase from 1961, when the average was just 2,880 calories, the study found.
Dr. Brian Wansink, author of “Mindless Eating,” spends much of time researching food habits around the world. “There’s a significant calorie gap between when an American says, ‘I’m full,’ and when an Okinawan says, ‘I’m no longer hungry,’” he tells me. “We gain weight insidiously, either by stuffing ourselves or by eating a little bit too much each day — mindlessly.”
Older Okinawans adopt a plant-based diet, with their meals mostly consisting of stir-fried beans, spinach, mustard greens, sweet potatoes and tofu — all of which are high in nutrients.
Goya is another popular staple. Also known as “bitter melon,” goya is rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that can lower blood sugar levels and improve immune system health to help fight against viruses.
Although Okinawans do eat pork, fish and other meats, these are typically a small component of their overall consumption.