Can food determine longevity?
What makes Okinawa, Japan the population with the longest lifespan?
If we scan the globe for populations that live the longest, we come up with five regions, popularly known as the Blue Zones.
But what is the secret to a long and healthy life?
Dr Craig Willcox, the professor of health and gerontology at Okinawa International University is accountable for the centenarian study.
Dr Willcox affirmed that blue zones are pockets of healthy ageing and longevity. He was interested in healthy ageing. Okinawians live longer than the rest of Japan.
He credits this to cultural differences, different dietary habits, remarkably social and physically active lifestyles. And most importantly, the staple food- sweet potato. Their diet comprises of mostly more seaweed and vegetables, very little fish, and a lot of soy.
One can also say that the traditional Okinawa diet is nutritionally dense and calorically poor. Average calorie intake in Okinawa is 1700- 1900 calories per day. This is roughly 40% lesser than most other parts of the world.
Also, it is to note that “Miso” is used in almost every dish! “Miso” is the top superfood. Miso is basically a fermented soy bean paste. This superfood helps to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and since it is made by fermentation, it has more probiotics than other foods.
What does science say?
Gene’s are not static mechanisms. Nevertheless, it works cooperatively with lifestyle.
Research on the human genome states that if you have a healthy lifestyle, it can upgrade the longevity genes. On the other hand, a poor lifestyle can destroy the function of longevity genes.
Epidemiological studies have shown that certain exposures have also shaped the health of a specific population over time and suggested that what you eat affects you and sometimes even your children and grandchildren.
It was demonstrated in multiple studies ascertaining that lifestyles associates with lower chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, affecting life longevity.
In Okinawa, there is a saying, “Hara Hachi bu” which means you should walk away from the table once you are 80% full and leave a room in your stomach. This kicks in the calories restriction mechanism – which triggers the longevity genes. As several research studies find that when humans have been calorically restricted as a species, it is either feast or famine that resulted in the gene evolution.
There are certain foods that are called caloric restriction mimetics, so they mimic calorie restriction. And these foods are the ones containing flavonoids or polyphenols.
Sweet potatoes are one of the examples of caloric restriction memetic. Fiber rich foods such as lentils/ pulses and fruits have a similar effect.
As it could be seen above in Okinawa region, people’s health are determined by the lifestyle they followed. Also, a slightly calorically restricted diet high in fibre is essential.
Furthermore, when an individual’s physical and mental health is provided with the right environment to thrive, it positively impacts the gene. Therefore, the nutrition consumed, physical activity and other environmental factors are a part of an evolving gene.
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