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Live longer on a low-cal diet

April 27, 2005

Study of Japanese centenarians shows they consume lots of food but fewer calories

Want to live to be 100? A study of centenarians on the Japanese island of Okinawa suggests one of the best ways may be to eat a lot of bulky, low-calorie foods.

"Okinawa is home to the highest ratio of centenarians among the 47 prefectures of Japan at close to 50 per 100,000 in 2004, many of them still vibrant and healthy," says Dr. Craig Willcox, a researcher at the Okinawa Prefectural University College of Nursing. "This is the highest prevalence of centenarians ever recorded among countries possessing a reliable age registration system."

Dr. Willcox and his twin brother Dr. Bradley Willcox recently reported on findings from the Okinawa Centenarian Study, which for the past 30 years has focused on 800 people living beyond the age of 100.

Dr. Bradley Willcox says the Okinawa centenarians manage to stay lean by eating bulky foods that fill them up but are low in calories. "These people eat a lot of food, so they are not restricting themselves, only the number of calories."

"They consume about 1,800 calories a day, compared with about 2,500 calories in most western civilizations," he says. "This lower-calorie-density dietary pattern may have contributed to their smaller body size, lower body fat levels, lower risk for chronic disease, higher physical and cognitive function, and longer lifespans."

The main carbohydrate in the centenarians' diet is a type of sweet potato that may contribute to their health. Another possible advantage is the fact they drink a lot of water.

But he warns the islanders' health advantage might not continue, as there are now more hamburger joints per capita in Okinawa than in the rest of Japan, largely because of a U.S. military base on the island. "So the leanest people in Japan are turning into the heaviest and we are starting to see a decline in health."

Original article:
http://www.macleans.ca/topstories/health/article.jsp?content= 20050427_100806_6100