Diet, weight loss and longevity with The Okinawa Diet

Dr. Craig Willcox on CNN, American Morning

From 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 life.

I will talk to Sanjay in a moment about that. First, though, some background from here in Japan and CNN's Atika Shubert.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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 well.

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 little.

(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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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, Bill.

(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 others?

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.

* Corrections:
  • In the original transpcript, hara-hachi-bu (aka "hara hachi bu") was spelled phonetically as "hallahachibo"
Original article:
http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0412/14/ltm.06.html