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The Okinawa diet

Sarah Horrocks
by Sarah Horrocks Published on 9 November 2007

This is a health and weight loss diet invented in the 1950s by Dr Pritikin. He devised a diet to follow because his arteries were clogged with cholesterol. The Pritikin Diet and Exercise Plan advocates a low-fat diet and exercise régime. It was published in 1976 and has sold millions of copies.

How it works
The 100+ club on Okinawa have been making headlines recently. What's their secret? Good genes help, but a low-fat, low-calorie diet is the key to their longevity. The Okinawa diet is semi-vegetarian and contains very little fat (less than 25% of calories from fat).
The diet aims to reduce calorie intake without counting, to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and grow old in good health. The centenarians on Okinawa consume around 1100 calories a day, which is less than the recommended amount for their age group. They can eat less because of the calorie density of what they eat, which is the calorific value per 100g divided by 100. The Okinawa diet recommends:
- as much as you want of foods with a calorific density lower than 0.7 (water, tea, cucumber, endives, courgettes, oranges, apricots, algae, apples, fat-free natural yoghurt, etc).
- foods with a calorie density of 0.8 - 1.5 (bananas, potaoes, white fish, rice, pasta, pulses, poultry)
- limited amounts of food with a calorie density of 1.6 - 3 (oily fish, bread, lean meat, dried fruit, pizza, ice cream)
- very little food with a calorie density higher than 3 (biscuits, nuts, chocolate, butter, oil).
Consuming foods with a low/very low calorie value means you can eat fewer calories but still feel full quickly. Long term, the body produces less waste because it doesn't take in as many calories; this aids longevity. The diet also advises you stop eating before you’re completely full, and only eat small portions.

Results
The Okinawa diet can lead to weight loss even if losing weight isn’t necessarily your main goal. It can help prevent chronic illness and keep you in good health in old age. When you eat food with a low calorie density, you still feel full, which obviously is great for weight loss. It has been proven in animals that calorie reduction improves longevity. In humans, calorie reduction also has some short-term benefits, such as improving fat content (cholesterol and triglyceride).

A typical day(Western version)
Breakfast: rye bread, fromage frais, apple, tea
Lunch: tofu, pasta and broad beans, mushroom salad, tea
Dinner: fish, brown rice, cucumber, orange, tea

Plus points
The diet fills you up, because it contains fibre and lots of protein.
There are no studies to show the Okinawa diet’s effect on weight loss, but satisfactory portions of low calorie density food fill you up and as such can help you lose weight.
You can stick to the Okinawa diet when eating out.

Disadvantages
Long term, it’s difficult to not eat until you’ve fully satisfied your hunger at mealtimes.
You have to like plant-based foods (cereals, tofu, fruit and vegetables).
Eating algae can have harmful effects on the health of people suffering from an underactive or overactive thyroid.
There are no scientific results on the long-term effects of calorie reduction in humans. Some researchers are concerned about the potential risk of nutritional deficiencies.

Warning
It is advisable to seek the advice of a doctor and nutritionist. Reducing your calorie intake without medical surveillance can cause deficiencies.

by Sarah Horrocks

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