It sounds too good to be true: eating the Okinawa Diet will promote weight loss and give you a longer life. But get out your calculator, because you are going to get very familiar with a new term: calorie density. Ready?
Decades ago, it was noticed that people in southern Japan tended to live a long time. Not only did most of them live into (and past) their 90’s, they were in good health their entire life. Curious scientists studied their culture and came away with some interesting findings. Now these findings are encapsulated in a diet, called the Okinawa Diet.
The typical Okinawan diet features a lot of yellow and green vegetables, fish every other day, and sweet potato dishes where rice would be served further north. The diet is low in fat and low in calories. In fact, the Okinawa diet has only one quarter the typical intake of sugar and 25% less rice than a typical northern Japanese diet.
The diet separates foods into four groups, based on their calorie density. In most cases you can calculate the calorie density of a packaged food from the nutritional information on the side. Take the calorie content in one serving and divide it by the gram weight in that serving. This “calories per gram” result will tell you the category for the food.
The “eat freely” category of food is called “featherweight” food. These foods have a calorie density under 0.8 calories per gram. With the Okinawa diet you can eat as much of these foods as you like. So that means you will be shopping for most veggies, berries, apples, peaches and grapes. Oh, and don’t forget the tofu.
The next level of food is called “lightweight” food. This includes foods with calorie densities between 0.8 and 1.5 calories per gram. With lightweight foods, you can eat them every day, but should restrict portion size. Here you find pasta and rice, low-fat fish (including sushi) and beans.
Next you enter the food category of “middleweight” foods. These foods fall in the 1.6 to 3.0 calorie per gram range. Now you’re restricting your intake and skipping days. Middleweight foods include whole-wheat bread, hummus, low-fat cheese and fatty fish.
Will you live to be 100 with the Okinawa diet? That requires a careful choice of ancestors in addition to good eating and exercising habits. This diet can help you extend what your genetics have started, though. How does that work for you?