Dr. Craig Willcox on CNN, American Morning
The following is an edited* transcript from the December 14th broadcast of CNN's American Morning, with comments and corrections added by Dr. Craig Willcox, co-creator of the Okinawa Diet and co-authtor of The Okinawa Program and The Okinawa Diet Plan:
HEMMER: Time to page the good doctor. Sanjay Gupta all the way from Tokyo
now. On the Japanese island of Okinawa, living longer has become a fact of
I will talk to Sanjay in a moment about that. First, though, some background
from here in Japan and CNN's Atika Shubert.
ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Guess how old Makato Nakamatsu (ph) is?
Seventy? Eighty? Ninety, maybe? Try 100 years old.
This sprightly great grandmother of 13 is just one of more than 800
centenarians living in Okinawa, the largest verifiable and healthiest
concentration of 100 year olds in the world.
On the islands of Okinawa, diseases like cancer, diabetes, and hypertension
are rare. Healthy seniors are seen actively at work fishing and farming,
seemingly immune to old age.
Okinawa is home to the world's oldest and healthiest people and part of the
secret seems to be right on this fishing boat. Elderly fishermen who work late
into their lives and of course eat the daily catch. And that turns out to be
part of the secret of the Okinawa fountain of youth: staying active and eating
That, according to Dr. Craig Willcox, who has studied Okinawa's centenarians
for more than a decade.
DR. CRAIG WILLCOX, GERONTOLOGIST: I think they just came up with the right
formula, Okinawa. They're doing a lot to either avoid or delay these diseases
associated with aging.
SHUBERT: We asked Dr. Willcox to show us how the Okinawans do it. He took us
to the market.
WILLCOX: Let's have a look at this. Wow. See that purple color?
(I was pointing out the lycopene content of dragon
fruit as well as other Okinawan fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon and
sweet potatoes, that are extremely high in carotenoids, anti-oxidants and
essential vitamins and minerals - DCW.)
SHUBERT: First, eat lots of colorful fruits and veggies. That means carbs
too, but unrefined. Brown rice or whole wheat.
(It is important to eat whole carbohydrates that
are high in fiber and that have been refined as little as possible in order to maximize
nutritional content as well as minimize the negative effects of unrefined carbs
on blood sugar levels. Eating carbs low on the Glycemic Index as well as
minimizing quick-release carbs in the diet will keep you healthy and slim
throughout life (See pages 33-37 and 89-95 of The Okinawa Diet Plan as well as
pages 92-101 of The Okinawa Program for a more in depth explanation of the importance
of eating the right carbohydrates) - DCW).
WILLCOX: The traditional diet is very vegetable heavy. Over 70 percent of
the daily color intake came from vegetables.
(The staple of the traditional Okinawa Diet was the
sweet potato, a nutritional powerhouse and great source of unrefined carbohydrates.
Also loaded with beta-carotene, B vitamins, C, E, calcium, potassium, iron and
fiber. Over 200 case-control studies have shown that people who consume a diet
higher in vegetables suffer from lowers rates of chronic diseases, including
cancer, and live longer. - DCW).
SHUBERT: Second, eat moderate portions of protein, especially heart healthy
fish and tofu. But also a surprising Okinawan favorite: pork. But just a
(The traditional meat in Okinawa was pork but its consumption was limited to ceremonial occasions.
Thus, the Okinawan elders have consumed very little meat over the course of their lives. Even now their meat
consumption remains less than a quarter of what most people eat in North America. - DCW).
WILLCOX: The way that this is prepared in a traditional Okinawan style would
be to boil this down and keep pouring it off until you pour off all the fat.
SHUBERT: Third, follow Okinawan table etiquette. Eat until you are 80
percent full and no more. That keeps calories in check.
Is that the secret to Nakamatsu's exuberant good health? She's certainly
happy to share her healthy lunch, but also recommends daily exercises.
Apparently when you live past 100 you know some pretty good dance moves. And if
you do all that, she says, she'll come visit you when you turn 100.
Atika Shubert, CNN, Okinawa, Japan.
HEMMER: What a life for her. We're paging the good doctor now. Sanjay Gupta,
at the CNN Center.
How are you, Sanjay? Good morning. Tell us about this fountain of youth. How
you doing? GUPTA: Good morning. Yes, really interesting, obviously. Okinawa (is) a great place
to look at as far as centenarians go. A couple of facts to point out.
First of all, with regards to Okinawa. So they live longer, lower rates of
Alzheimer's. If they leave the island, those things go away. Why, is the
question? Atika sort of mentioned a couple of these things.
(Okinawans consuming a meat-heavy diet in Brazil live 17 years
shorter on average than those who consume the traditional diet in Okinawa. Okinawans who
migrate to Hawaii and consume an East-West blend of foods, or East-West fusion diet tend
to live almost as long as Okinawans in Okinawa - DCW).
Vigorous physical and mental exercise throughout their lives. A diet low in
fat and salt. High in fruits and vegetables.
Also a couple of other interesting things that we found in our research on
this -- soy, a significant part of the diet, 60 to 120 grams of soy daily and
eat only until you're 80 percent full.
(Soy founds are high in flavonoids and people who
consume high amounts of soy products have generally been found to suffer from
lower rates of hormone-dependent cancers such as breast and/or prostate. Women
who consume more soy have usually been found to have a decreased incidence of
menopausal related symptoms such as hot flashes, as well as lower rates of
osteoporosis - DCW ).
Atika mentioned this, it's called hara-hachi-bu, Bill, that's
the name of it -- it's called eat only until you're 80 percent full. That's
going to make you eat fewer calories. Really important.
(As we point out in The Okinawa Diet Plan, eating
foods that are low in caloric density has been shown to increase life
expectancy - DCW)
Also an important sense of social belonging. Everyone from the youngest in
this community to the oldest in this community has a sense of place and is
respected as such, Bill. All these things seem to have a factor as well.
(As we pointed out in our first book, The Okinawa
Program, strong social support networks are associated with longevity--DCW)
HEMMER: Yes, is this exclusive only to Okinawa, Sanjay, or do you find if
you put out the map of the world do you find other areas of the world where you
see similar aging rates?
GUPTA: Well, Okinawa is one of the best, certainly, around the world, but
there are other places around the world that have high concentrations of
centenarians. Take a look: Okinawa topping the list but also Nova Scotia, Canada,
for example. Sardinia, Italy as well.
(Okinawa has the highest age-validated centenarian population in the
world at 47 per 100,000 population vs about 10 per 100,000 in the US. - DCW)
If you want to look around the world as far as life expectancy Singapore,
Hong Kong, Japan all around 81. Japan as a country 81.
Canada 80, France 79. USA 77. China 72 and Botswana only 30. The reason it's
so low in Botswana really has to do with high infant mortality rates there,
(These rates differ according to whose data you use
but Japan comes out on top in very case. Of the Japanese, the Okinawans are the longest-lived at
78 years for men and 86 years for women on average. Botswana also is suffering
from the AIDS epidemic and has lost approximately 10 years of life expectancy
in the past couple of decades - DCW)
HEMMER: What about personality traits, Sanjay? Do you see any common link
that would conclude any research as to why some people are living longer than
GUPTA: Yes, I mean, there are some significant personality links and this is
probably one of the most interesting things about it. If you look at the
personalities of people. Strong but flexible characters. They tend to be more
dominant in terms of their personality.
Also a bit suspicious. Suspicious of those around them, sometimes. But
they're very practical minded. And tend to be more relaxed in general. Another
important thing that we found as well, Bill, is that the people who lived
longer oftentimes had helpers or people that they associated with who were much
younger than them. That was both their -- they got some help from those young
people as well as sort of a passageway into being young themselves, perhaps
making them live longer, Bill.
(As we pointed out in our first book, personality
and longevity experts seem to agree that a positive outlook, as seen in
optimistic, emotionally stable, and flexible personalities is a definite
advantage for coping with stressful life circumstances. They tend to be
emotionally resilient and strong-willed types. Through personality testing we
found that Okinawan centenarians tended to score high in “self-determination”
and “self-confidence” and low in “tension” and “time-urgency.” See pages
245-251 of The Okinawa Program for further information on personality and
longevity. - DCW)
HEMMER: How about that woman in the story that Atika showed -- she was just
vibrant -- absolutely.
Hey, thanks, Sanjay. Very interesting stuff. Eighty percent filled and then
stop. Talk to you later. Oh, I like that too. We'll talk to you later.
- In the original transpcript, hara-hachi-bu (aka "hara hachi bu") was spelled phonetically as "hallahachibo"