The Okinawan diet

Okinawa is the name of a Japanese prefecture, a particular island, and sometimes also referred to as a group of subtropical islands in the Japanese south. (However, some of these islands should correctly and more specifically be labelled the Ryukyu Islands.)

Besides from being beautiful, the Okinawa region is known for its density of centenarians, i.e. those who have lived 100 years or more, and this palpable phenomenon’s interrelationship to a healthy diet and lifestyle. Hence, the Okinawan diet, a term that has become quite well-known in the Western world as well.

In this post, I will briefly examine this particular diet, and describe the extent to which it might be followed strictly or at least significantly influence one’s own particular dietary habits. Moreover, I will explain how it can be modified in order to correspond more optimally to a fitness and bodybuilding lifestyle and diet. I will have the research article “The Okinawan Diet: Health Implications of a Low-Calorie, Nutrient-Dense, Antioxidant-Rich Dietary Pattern Low in Glycemic Load” as a point of departure and reference.

The article’s abstract tells us:

Residents of Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture of Japan, are known for their long average life expectancy, high numbers of centenarians, and accompanying low risk of age-associated diseases. Much of the longevity advantage in Okinawa is thought to be related to a healthy lifestyle, particularly the traditional diet, which is low in calories yet nutritionally dense, especially with regard to phytonutrients in the form of antioxidants and flavonoids. Research suggests that diets associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases are similar to the traditional Okinawan diet, that is, vegetable and fruit heavy (therefore phytonutrient and antioxidant rich) but reduced in meat, refined grains, saturated fat, sugar, salt, and full-fat dairy products. Many of the characteristics of the diet in Okinawa are shared with other healthy dietary patterns, such as the traditional Mediterranean diet or the modern DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Features such as the low levels of saturated fat, high antioxidant intake, and low glycemic load in these diets are likely contributing to a decreased risk for cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and other chronic diseases through multiple mechanisms, including reduced oxidative stress.

It is notable that contemporary Okinawans in general – much like many other populations in the industrialized world – have started to eat more Western-style and thus consume more salt, sugar, meat and processed fats. Thus it is the traditional Okinawan diet that has health benefits, since it consists of nutrients – (particularly potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, and carotenoids) and fiber – that seem to be what the sweet potato in particular contains in abundance. Other important nutrients from the sweet potato are vitamin A, B, B6 and E.

Westerners in general and Americans in particular ought to be influenced by the Okinawan diet at the expense of typical American/Western foodstuffs such as red meat, sugar, high-GI carbohydrates and processed and saturated fats. The dietary habits of humans are more or less linked to cardiovascular diseases and certain forms of cancer, and to eat more properly is one important dimension in that respect:

Based on dietary intake data or evidence of public health problems the USDA indicates that many adults lack sufficient amounts of dietary fiber, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and the antioxidant vitamins A (as carotenoids), C, and E [2]. At the same time, the USDA reports that in general, Americans consume too many calories and too much saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sugar, and salt [2]. Moreover, overconsumption of foods that are calorie-dense, nutritionally poor, highly processed, and rapidly absorbable can lead to systemic inflammation, reduced insulin sensitivity, and a cluster of metabolic abnormalities, including obesity, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and glucose intolerance (commonly known as metabolic syndrome), affecting about one third of Americans and an increasingly serious problem in virtually all developed nations.

Besides from low calories and sweet potato consumption, other ingredients and foodstuffs, such as mugwort, seaweed and fennel, have health benefits, and thus blurr the distinction between food and medicine:

The distinction between food and medicine blurs in Okinawa, with commonly consumed ‘‘herbs’’ such as fuchiba (mugwort), kandaba (sweet potato leaves), ichoba (fennel), aasa (green seaweed), ngana (bitter leaf), and others utilized as both foods and medicine. All contain powerful antioxidants, with high amounts of carotene and other antioxidant properties (aasa seaweed has close to 9000 mg of carotene per 100 g)

Overall, the Okinawan diet is more related to wellness than fitness. However, with a combination of typical traditional Okinawan foodstuffs, and more calories from eggs, fish, chicken and low fat dairy products (quark and cottage cheese), it is possible to synthesize a fitness diet that has both physiological and aesthetic benefits.

10 great workout songs

During strict diets in particular, but also in relationship to training and a fitness lifestyle in general, good workout songs are somewhat essential – although not necessary – for one’s inner motivation.

Below are ten great songs for workout sessions, both regular strength training and cardio. Very subjective of course. Lately, my playlist has beeen quite diverse – spanning from male K-pop groups and dubstep, to industrial rock and alternative metal. Many of the rock/metal songs are my personal favorites from the 1990s and 00s.

Two recently read books – Hemingway and Adelstein

As far as literature is concerned – both fiction and non-fiction – there are an almost innumerable amount of white spots. That is, books that one as an academic or laymen ‘should have read’ but have not. For obvious reasons a realistic and not too extensive list of particular books and authors may function as a fruitful method of selection and structure for individuals.

Perhaps such a list should be comrised of both so called classics and various interesting contemporary works that have caught one’s individual attention. Two books that I have read recently belong to each of these categories: Ernest Hemingway’s modern classic The Sun Also Rises (1926) and Jake Adelstein’s crime report Tokyo Vice (2009). I will briefly summarize my opinion on these two.

I agree that Hemingway is a great writer and his widely praised first novel is no exception. His prose is often simple and laconic but at the same time both articulated and multilayered, since it contains messages and attitudes of the characters that are not explicitly but rather implicitly uttered.

As far as the story of the novel goes, it takes place mainly in Paris and Pamplona after the First World War. It examines some aspects of the lost generation of Americans (expats) and their sympthoms of decadence, such as a penchant for bull fight and general shallowness, hedonism and egoism. However, it does also contain a romantic/relationship-related conflict, between the main character Jake and Brett, and which is the focal point of the story, although not in the center of the plot throughout the entire text.

Overall, The Sun also rises, which ought to be read while wholly concentrated on the plot and its partly untold, less explicit messages, is a great novel. I will probably read it one more time – or at least particular sections of it – before I put the pocket away (probably for good). It is not the best work of Hemingway that I have dealt with but definitely worthwhile.

Since I have visited Japan – and during that time experienced quite vast areas and domains of Tokyo – and have been interested in contemporary Japanese culture and pop culture for several years, I definitely welcome Adelstein’s book on the country’s mafia, the Yakuza.

Obviously, the Jewish-American author knows a lot about Japan after been residing there since 1993 and worked as a sneaky journalist with a special interest in one of the world’s most influential mob groups, the Yamaguchi-gumi. As such, the book provides insightful descriptions, explanations and reflections on modern Japan and its particular policies and customs, such as the fact that a significant share of people in general lionize the mafia, and that the government cannot or will not go against it. The Yakuza is in some significant regards intimately linked to the Japanese government – the ties are obvious.

The problem with this book is that it is largely very self-centered. Adelstein appears more interested in to convey his own experiences rather than the broader and deeper patterns of how the Yakuza groups affect the Japanese society. At least in the first part, which comprises more than one hundred pages.

Moreover, it is not very well-written – perhaps because Adelstein is more trained in writing in Japanese than English at this point. However, this does not undermine many of its strengths, and the whole story that unfolds is indeed very enthralling. And it made me to some extent quite disgusted about Japan, especially Tokyo, even though I still love this city and the experiences that I have had while dwelling in the world’s largest metropolis. Everything that Tokyo offers does not indeed hinge on sex trafficking and prostitution.

If one is interested in contemporary Japan in general and the Yakuza in particular, Adelstein’s book may be worth reading. As an alternative, one can watch the movie adaptation which will have its premiere later this year, or perhaps Gaspar Noe’s unique film Enter the Void (2009).