Exploring the Okinawa diet

Some 340 miles south of Japan is the island of Okinawa. Ancient Chinese sailors called it the “Land of the Immortals,” and rightfully so: According to the Okinawa Centenarian Study, there’s nearly 50 individuals over the age of 100 for every 100,000 people. As the developed world hopes to extend life spans, the nutritional habits and overall attitudes of these centenarians has inspired the Okinawa diet. Though research on its effects is still ongoing, a study released in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, the diet’s heralded as the reason for such pronounced vitality in Okinawa’s residents.

A most naturalistic diet
As the U.K. source The Guardian points out, the regimen is in many ways a re-creation of the everyday meals of Okinawa’s residents, emphasizing a low calorie diet (often 10 to 40 percent lower than the U.S. average) and high in fiber. Perhaps the biggest staple of the Okinawa diet is fish, with many residents and practitioners eating up to three servings per week. From there, followers will include plenty of grains and vegetables, soy, tofu, sweet potatoes, bamboo shoots, kombu seaweed, octopus and the goya cucumber. The Okinawa diet calls for very little in the way of meat, save for pork, and includes 25 percent less sugar than many Western diets.

A traditional approach in the kitchen
This regimen does offer some interesting meal concepts for seasoned chefs and those enrolled in culinary academy. One of more popular dishes from the island is goya chanpuru, which translates to “something mixed.” The dish is effectively stir fry, and includes eggs, tofu, onion, a few goya and sliced pork. When cooking, be sure to remove the seeds from the goya and to massage salt into the actual fruit as to help activate flavor profiles. It’s also a good idea to heat the tofu in a microwave before putting in the grill; that way, the tofu is more absorbent.

Another popular dish is miso soup. In many ways, the dish’s appeal is all about the stock, notes Popsugar. To that end, try using something like kombu, which is made from the dried flakes of the bonito fish. From there, add the sea vegetable wakame and the pièce de résistance, the miso itself (rice and soybeans). Miso soup can stand on its own as a meal, but is often served as an appetizer before sushi and other fish-centric dishes. Another wonderful appetizer is a tasty seaweed salad. For most of these salads, try to cook the kurome (dried seaweed) and konnyaku (a fibrous plant) with two kinds of sweet wine, mirin and sake. Also, be sure to prepare the tofu separately; in these salads, the tofu is really meant to offset the remaining flavors.

The sky’s the limit
Despite its origins, the Okinawa diet can apply to many delicacies. The diet served as the inspiration for taco rice, notes Tasty Kitchen, an adaptation of tacos brought over by American servicemen in the 1960s. The key is to use sushi rice and wash it beforehand as to remove any starchy buildup. From there, it’s all about finding the crispest lettuce, which has loads of iron and vitamin K, and properly sautéing the beef; vegetable oil should help reduce some of the fat content.

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