Could the Okinawa diet really promote longevity?

July 03 2013

There are plenty of health claims that have been made about certain types of food - and they range from those that are widely regarded as common knowledge, to those that are probably best taken with a pinch of salt. 

One of the wilder claims to emerge recently is that the Okinawa diet could help you live to be 100 years old - which has been suggested by Dr Craig Willcox.

The American gerontologist co-wrote a book called The Okinawa Program and has spent a very long time researching the longevity of people who live in the area - which consists of hundreds of small islands off the south coast of Japan. 

Speaking to UK national newspaper the Guardian, he summarized his findings as outlining the benefits of eating as low down on the food chains as possible. 

He explained that Okinawa residents enjoy a relatively low risk of arteriosclerosis and stomach cancer - as well as a considerable degree of resistance to hormone-dependent cancers such as those affecting the breast and prostate. 

The expert noted that the diet of people in this area is characterised by an average of three weekly servings of fish, in addition to lots of whole grains, vegetables and soy products. 

Foods that are high in taurine like squid and octopus are also a staple of the Okinawa diet - and taurine has been linked to studies that demonstrate lower blood pressure in humans who consume enough of it.

However, Professor John Mather, a director of the Institute for Ageing and Health at Newcastle University in the UK, expressed scepticism. 

"All of these diets work on similar mechanisms," he remarked, adding: "One hypothesis is that the secret about ageing is to avoid accumulating molecular damage and eating fish, beans, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains and not so much red meat, dairy or sugar may help us to reduce that kind of cellular damage." 

"There is not enough research on people who adopt the Japanese diet in non-Japanese settings," Professor Mather continued, adding: "It is true Japan holds the [longevity] record at the moment, but if you go back a little it was Sweden or New Zealand."