Is Okinawa the Healthiest Place on Earth?

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Source: Ippei Suzuki/Flickr: is_kyoto_jp

Once the site of the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific in World War II, Okinawa has long since been known as the Japanese Hawaii and is heralded around the world for its beauty, culture, and tranquility. In recent years, the Okinawa prefecture has also seen international attention for another one of its accolades: the longevity of its residents.

It is widely thought that Okinawa has the largest centenarian ratio in the world, and this revelation spawned a diet craze that Google recently revealed was among the top-searched “eating plans” for 2013. Indeed, they’re doing something right. Compared to North Americans, Okinawans have 80 percent less breast cancer and prostate cancer, and less than half the ovarian and colon cancers. Here are a few reasons Okinawans may be among the healthiest in the world.

Diet and indigenous vegetables

Okinawan food, different from that of mainland Japan, possesses several key vegetables that could help to extend longevity. Chief among them are their purple sweet potatoes, which are rich in flavonoids, carotenoids, vitamin E and lycopene, and goya — a bitter “melon” that has been shown to lower blood sugar in diabetics. Okinawans also have low levels of the plasma homocysteine, which can be attributed to their ingestion of green, leafy vegetables.

Studies show that Okinawans also eat three servings of fish a week, a variety of whole grains, and more tofu and more Kombu seaweed than anyone else in the world. The majority of items in Okinawans’ diet allows them to eat more food with a lower caloric density — a key element in the “Okinawa Diet” that has been adopted by Westerners.

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