The latest research says the Japanese are more likely to reach 100 years old. A recent article in The Guardian asks why.
Just last month, the oldest man in the world, Jiroemon Kimura, passed away near Kyoto at the ripe old age of 116. Its no coincidence that the new record holder, 115 year old Misao Okawa, lives near Osaka. According to the United Nations, Japan has the largest collection of centenarians in the world, while Okinawa has the oldest demographic, and scientists believe it has a lot to do with their diet.
Dr. Craig Wilcox, an American gerontologist and co-author of the book, The Okinawa Program, explains that Okinawans eat 3 servings of fish per week, plenty of whole grains, fermented soy products, fresh spices and more seaweed than anyone else in the world. Unique to Okinawa are their indigenous vegetables: purple sweet potatoes rich in flavonoids, carotenoids and vitamin E, and local bitter cucumbers called goya.
While our individual potential to “see a century” is determined by a host of biological and environmental factors, such as genetics, temperament, physical activity, affordable healthcare and a completely subjective attitude towards “time”, being born a female helps (as 85% of all centenarians are female), and it is generally accepted that diet contributes about 30% of the total longevity factor.
According to Professor John Mather, director of the Institute for Aging and Health at Newcastle University, while it is true that Japan holds the longevity record at the moment, before that it was Sweden and New Zealand. He believes that its not only the Japanese that hold long-life secrets. The Nuoro people of Sardinia, the Ikaria islanders of Greece, and the Seventh Day Adventists in California all have diets that work on a similar holistic pattern consisting of whole, unprocessed foods and varying periods of calorie restriction.
On Okinawa, known for centuries as the “Island of the Immortals”, well documented historical food shortages forced the locals to adapt to scarcity that, even today, is remembered in their dinner time mantra – “hara hachi bu” – which means “eat until you are only 8/10ths full.”
Christopher Daniels is Executive Vice-President of Greens Plus. He studied Holistic Nutrition at the Clayton College of Natural Health and currently directs Superfood Research and Product Development.