Health Canada outlines daily dietary requirements for vitamins, minerals and macronutrients necessary for Canadians to be healthy. These values are determined according to scientific data to meet adequate nutrient levels for 97-98% of healthy individuals within a particular life stage and gender;1 however, a 2012 report by Health Canada shows that a large percentage of individuals fail to meet acceptable levels through diet alone, particularly for magnesium, calcium, vitamins D and A.2 In addition, values are meant as a general guideline for the healthy population to generally prevent deficiency and fail to provide guidelines for those that require additional amounts.
Perhaps you already have the secret – maybe your grandma had an apple, ten glasses of water and a shot of tequila every day and lived until she was 105! But let’s try to look at more than just one circumstance. What about an entire island of people that consistently have one of the longest lifespans on earth? I’m talking about the island of Okinawa, Japan where they have the most centenarians (those aged 100+) per capita in the world.
How do so many of this Japanese subset population live to 100 or more? Surprise, surprise – diet has a lot to do with it. The traditional Okinawan diet has the following characteristics:
1. Low caloric intake
2. High consumption of vegetables (particularly root and green-yellow vegetables) and legumes (mostly soybean)
3. Moderate consumption of fish products
4. Moderate alcohol consumption
5. Low consumption of meat (mostly lean pork) and dairy products
6. Low saturated fat intake and a low omega 6:3 ratio
7. Low Glycemic Index carbohydrates and high fiber intake
To be more specific, a traditional Okinawan diet received 58% of its calories from vegetables and 33% from grains. Less than 1% of calories were animal products. This is a drastic change from the standard North American Diet that we have all become accustomed to: high in dairy, meat and eggs!
There are also common adages that the Okinawan people live by. For example, the Japan Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare recommends that everyone consumes 30 different foods daily in order to get a wide variety of nutrients.
This, of course, ensures or promotes balance. It is also common advice to only “eat until you are 80% full”, which promotes low caloric intake.
Tips like these may explain why such a diet high in carbohydrate but low in fat can be similarly healthy to a diet low in carbohydrate and high in fat such as the Mediterranean diet. It’s likely more to do with these simple things: less calories, more nutrients and only real food (ie not frozen dinners and chicken fingers). These three factors should be emphasized in any dietary plan, whether it’s low carb, high protein, low fat, high fat or any combination! This is your foundation.
In the end, there is obviously no guarantee that eating a certain way or living a certain lifestyle will get you north of the century mark. Exercise plays an important role, and factors like stress, smoking and hormone imbalance need to be considered. But if there is anything we can learn from the Okinawan population, it would be this: prioritizing vegetables as the focus of your diet is the best bet you can make for living to 100.
DC Willcox et al. Healthy aging diets other than the Mediterranean: a focus on the Okinawan diet. Mech Ageing Dev. 2014;136-137:148-62.
GE Fraser et al. Ten years of life: Is it a matter of choice? Arch Intern Med. 2001;161(13):1645-52.