Okinawan elders live longer, more physically active lives well into old age. And later they spend less years in nursing homes at the end of life. One of the things that helps them keep robust physical health is their diet. And the most obvious difference in nutrition? Okinawans traditionally eat a lot more veggies than Americans. (And contrastingly, less meat. Meat is used more to add flavor; not so much for a main ingredient.) We can learn from these elders and incorporate many methods to improve health and longevity.
MORE VEGGIES IN THE SUB-TROPICS
Processed foods did not have a place in the traditional Okinawan diet. Instead, fresh, natural, whole vegetables took center stage. You might say the tropical climate allowed them to grow their own gardens. You would be right. But with modern shipping to grocery stores, you can buy many of the same foods and other fresh, healthy, even organic produce in your own town. We are fortunate to be able to conveniently obtain more veggies.
MORE VEGGIES FINESSE
We can learn from the elders’ other technique of calorie restriction. They traditionally eat a lot of soup which is low in calories (such as miso with veggies and maybe a little fish). We can aim to eat soup or salad with most meals. That means low calorie salads too – without cream sauces, cheese or other calorie-dense ingredients. You can use those things, but do so sparingly in order to emulate the Okinawans’ healthy traditional diet. One American nutritionist said she just recommends adding more veggies, not so much taking other things out, but vegetables are important and we definitely need to eat more.
EMBRACE MORE VEGGIES
Does your family have a favorite vegetable? Don’t be shy – eat it a few times a week, or more. If someone starts to get burned out on it, then cut back on it for a while. Try to keep each individual’s favorites on hand too – especially when they are in season. Look for recipes that use a lot of vegetables. They don’t have to be Okinawan. Zoodles, (noodles made from zucchini) or spaghetti squash can be substituted for pasta and give you more veggies.
Don’t underestimate the good old technique of cutting up fresh carrots, cucumbers, mushrooms or whatever your family likes for raw snacking. Then put them in a see-through container (or containers), easy to see, in the fridge. If you don’t eat them all within a week, you can add them to a cooked dish or a salad.
SNEAK IN MORE VEGGIES
Another way to improve your nutrition is to “hide” vegetables in sauces, casseroles and desserts. Many parents praise this way of getting their kids to eat more veggies. You can cut up or puree a variety of vegetables in spaghetti sauce. Similarly, you can do this with lasagna, enchiladas and many casseroles. Shredded or pureed vegetables often go well in cakes, breads and muffins. Here’s a video for muffins with a whole food, nutritious, sweet, veggie-friendly, kid-friendly recipe that incorporates zucchini and carrots, thanks to Danielle Walker.
The bottom line is, you can get too many vegetables in one day. Meaning if you normally eat three servings a day and you up it to 10 tomorrow, your digestion may go into shock. So increase your intake gradually and consistently over time. In my experience, even if you try hard, you can’t get too many vegetables. Ready for other techniques from the Okinawan elders for improving your health? Here is my list of nine tips learned from centenarians.