Healthy Japanese foods make it easy to create a vibrant plate that resembles a nutritional masterpiece. The residents of Okinawa, a Japanese prefecture comprising more than 150 islands in the East China Sea, enjoy the longest life expectancy in the world, according to Blue Zones. On the islands, with a population said to include the largest proportion of people over 100, women and men can expect to live 84 and 90 years, respectively.
It’s no secret that diet plays a major role in longevity. The healthy Japanese foods centenarians in Okinawa reach for each day include a variety of riches from the ocean and the earth.
7 healthy Japanese foods the people of Okinawa eat daily
1. Bitter melons
In Okinawa, bitter melons are called “goya” and they’re often found in vegetable dishes. “Bitter melons have an ‘anti-diabetic’ property where they actually assist in lowering blood glucose levels,” says registered dietitian Melissa Rifkin, RD.
“Tofu is to Okinawans what bread is to the French and potatoes are to Eastern Europeans: a daily habit,” says the Blue Zones blog. There’s a good reason why. According to Rifkin, tofu can help reduce cholesterol. It’s also an excellent source of plant-based protein.
3. Sweet potatoes
“Sweet potato boasts many health benefits,” says Rifkin. “It is called the ‘imo’ and is a powerhouse of nutrition. This particular potato does not increase blood glucose levels, like a regular potato would, and the leaves are consumed—which contain fiber. They also contain an antioxidant called sporamin, which has been shown to have anti-aging properties,” says Rifkin.
Another day, another accolade for turmeric: the anti-inflammatory spice that just won’t stop. “Turmeric is used in both teas and as a spice. Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to decrease inflammation and delay dementia,” says Rifkin.
What a dietitian thinks about turmeric:
5. Brown rice
“Brown rice is enjoyed by many Okinawans as it contains fiber. When soaked in water, it germinates with sprout and unlocks powerful enzymes that break down sugar and protein, providing a more palatable flavor,” says Rifkin. You can use it as a base to pile on the other seven ingredients.
6. Shiitake mushrooms
Varieties of mushrooms abound, but shiitake is one of the most flavorful varieties out there. “Shiitake mushrooms grow on dead bark in the forests of Japan,” says Rifkin. “These mushrooms contain over 100 compounds that have been shown to have immune protecting properties. These mushrooms are enjoyed in soups and stir-fries.”
So much nutrition is hiding in a single strip of seaweed. “Seaweed is rich in carotenoids, folate, magnesium, iron, calcium, and iodine,” says Rifkin. You can bring up your newfound seaweed logic at your next sushi outing.
Italian centenarians have some tips for eating well, too. And here’s what a healthy plate looks like in six different countries.