Hangry October 18, 2020 Okinawa Diet in the neighbourhood

“The focus should instead be on the way in which people engage with food, society and culture to maintain a healthy body and mind.”

[“Blue Zones” are locations where it is not uncommon to live a long, healthy life to 100 years of age or beyond.]

The Okinawa diet is getting attention in both the popular press and scientific journals. Some writers look at the high plant content, some stress the wonders of the local purple sweet potato, others point out that it’s the social environment that helps create longevity.

First, the food: Dan Buettner (2019) tells us,  “Okinawan tofu is firmer and more packed with protein and phytonutrients; turmeric, used in teas and soups, is a powerful antioxidant and anticancer agent; and goya, the main ingredient in champuru stir-fries, has powerful compounds that control blood sugar. Plus, the ubiquitous purple sweet potato is high in B vitamins and potassium, and it has a higher concentration of the antioxidant anthocyanin (from purple pigment) than blueberries.”

Alpinia zerumbet, commonly known as shell ginger, is a perennial species of ginger native to East Asia and their leaves are used in cuisine and traditional medicine, Wikipedia says. The leaves contain a “variety of beneficial activities including antioxidative, antiobesity, antilipocytes, antipancreatic lipase, antidyslipidemia, antiatherosclerosis, antidiabetes, antihypertension, antitumor, and life-span extension properties,” according to “Herbs including shell ginger, antioxidant profiles, aging, and longevity in Okinawa, Japan: A critical analysis of current concepts.”

Luca Pangrazzi (2019) looks at marine-derived foods. “The Okinawa diet is mainly based on fruit and vegetables, but also on marine-derived foods, such as algae, fish and crustaceans. An important role is played by astaxanthin, which has been shown to display the highest antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity among all the compounds included in the diet, with an antioxidant power 550 times stronger than vitamin E and 6000 higher than vitamin C. Most importantly, astaxanthin can also reduce serum levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a typical marker of inflammation and commonly used to identify the presence of diseases and cancer. In addition to this, astaxanthin is known as a strong booster of the immune system and a higher frequency and improved activity of immune cells was observed in people taking this molecule.”

Social determinants: Robert Davies (2019) says, “Cognitive decline has been associated with and accepted as a consequence of ageing. Diets such as the Mediterranean diet have been investigated for their effect on abating cognitive decline. However, diet is not the only aspect of the Mediterranean life that may play a role — social interaction and cultural engagement may also be influential in preserving cognitive function through the ageing process. This article discusses the perspective on cognitive decline and the influence the Mediterranean diet may have. It highlights that no sole dietary regimen will prevent cognitive decline and the UK healthy eating guidelines reflect those foods included in the Mediterranean diet. The focus should instead be on the way in which people engage with food, society and culture to maintain a healthy body and mind.”

What I recall about Okinawa from Happy The Movie (2012) was the elders working outside, gardening, meeting for tea every day, cheering on the preschoolers’ races, and dancing, drumming and singing with all ages when the travelling youth groups performed in their village.

Kokoro Shirai (2020) looks at the island’s practice of mutual aid. “The traditional word yui-maru remains part of daily life in Okinawa, and even the younger generations have opportunities to use it in everyday conversation. Yui-maro is a phrase that symbolizes the local society’s spirit of mutual aid and sense of trust and reciprocity. The combination of yui (connection, mutual help, exchange of labour and mawaru (goes around) expresses a cycle of mutual aid and reciprocal labour exchanges.”

Back to Dan Buettner: “Like all other blue zones regions, several nondietary factors explain longevity on Okinawa. First, the word ‘retirement’ doesn’t exist in the native dialect. Instead ikigai, or ‘a reason for being,’ imbues every adult life. Having a strong sense of purpose is associated with about eight extra years.

“Other longevity advantages include the Okinawan propensity to support each other by forming moais (pronounced moe-eye), or committed social circles, and by practicing yuimaru, the spirit of mutual aid. Traditionally, Okinawan peasants didn’t have access to bank loans, so they’d form groups of five to eight people and agree to meet regularly. At each meeting, moai members would chip in a sum of money to be given to the member with the greatest need. Through the middle of the 20th century, moais helped the community, providing aid to farmers needing to buy seed or covering the medical costs of a sick child.”

A few winters ago, we had a huge March snowstorm. I thought I could just stay home, but my cat insistently demanded food. I started shovelling from my front door and a young neighbour was shovelling from the road, heaving heavy, wet snow that was three feet high.  What expressions of joy we had when the elder across the street aimed his gas-powered snow blower in our direction!

You might be able to monetize Blue Zone recipes, but you cannot buy mutual aid and a sense of community.

References

Buettner, D. (2019.) “Dispatch from Okinawa: What the World’s Longest-Lived Women Eat.”From https://www.forksoverknives.com/wellness/blue-zones-diet-okinawa-home-to-longest-lived-women-on-earth/

Davies, R. (2020.) “Cognitive decline: can diet be a preventive or treatment option?” Nursing Older People. From https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31468781/

Happy The Movie. https://www.thehappymovie.com

Pangrazzi, L. (2019.) “Boosting the immune system with antioxidants: where are we now?” From https://portlandpress.com/biochemist/article/41/1/42/452/Boosting-the-immune-system-with-antioxidants-where

Shirai, K. (2020.) “Social determinants of health on the island of Okinawa.” Health in Japan: Social Epidemiology of Japan Since the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. From https://books.google.ca/books?id=pf7-DwAAQBAJ&lpg=PA297&ots=AYa-NPtshB&dq=okinawa%20diet&lr&pg=PA303#v=onepage&q=okinawa%20diet&f=false

Teschkeab, R. and DangXuan, T. (2020.) “Chapter 21 – Herbs including shell ginger, antioxidant profiles, aging, and longevity in Okinawa, Japan: A critical analysis of current concepts.” From https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128186985000213

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