Happy New Year from the Okinawa Diet Team
It's been a while since our last newsletter, but we're now back on track with our first newsletter of 2008 and just in time to bring in the New Year. It may seem long past New Year but in the East (including Okinawa) we have been celebrating from Feb. 7th, which is the start of the New Year according to the Chinese (or Lunar) calendar, still in common use throughout East Asia, with each month starting on the darkest day. New Year festivities traditionally begin on the first day of the month (Feb. 7th this year) and end with the lantern festival (and dragon dance) on the fifteenth day (Feb. 22nd this year) of the month, when the moon is brightest.
The color red is important at this time of year as it symbolizes good fortune and people celebrate with fireworks, by wearing red clothes, writing poetry (on red paper) and by giving children gifts of money in red envelopes. Each year is associated with an animal sign, as according to ancient legend, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year, twelve came, and Buddha named a year after each one. Accordingly, people born in each animal's year receive some of that animal's personality. Those born in rat years tend to be pioneering, both practical and innovative, and make good leaders. They are said to be passionate, charismatic and hard workers.
With this in mind, in this issue, Dr. Bradley Willcox examines how much of Okinawan longevity is attributable to our own hard work on good lifestyle habits versus what we receive in the form of our genetic heritage. In addition, Dr. Willcox provides a handy shortlist of Okinawan dietary secrets, as well as "Some New Year's tips for busy people."
Dr. Craig Willcox sends his New Year's greeting from Okinawa and provides us with the latest information on healthy cholesterol from the ongoing Okinawan nutritional study known as the "Chample Study"
Finally, our resident Okinawan food expert, Sayaka Mitsuhashi, offers her latest recipe: Oven-Grilled Scallop and Napa Cabbage Casserole. We hope you enjoy it!
Happy New Year!
The Okinawa Diet Team
How much of Okinawan Longevity is Lifestyle vs. Genetics?
by Dr. Bradley Willcox
No one knows how much of human longevity is genetic and how much is due to environment, such as diet, exercise or health care. The most common figure quoted is 1/3 genetic and 2/3 lifestyle. However, this depends on choice of study populations. If you choose an "average population" this might hold true. If you choose a sample of centenarians the chances are they have an enriched gene pool for longevity-associated gene variants since people with less advantageous genetic profiles have died out from the study population. Our family studies of Okinawans show that centenarian siblings have 4-6 times the chance of living to age 90 years compared to their birth cohorts. That suggests some genetic advantage for longevity. Studies of gene variants in animal studies show that beneficial copies of a single gene can increase lifespan 600% in worms and up to 50% in rodents. Similar gene variants are being discovered in long-lived humans.
On the other hand, studies of caloric restriction (eating fewer calories than is usually recommended for your age, weight, gender and physical activity levels), is the only consistent means of increasing maximum lifespan in multiple species, consistently show that eating about 30% fewer calories than would be recommended leads to about 30% longer lifespan. These studies suggest that human lifespan gains from dietary changes (i.e. low cal diets such as we advocate) could be similar. But this is hotly contested. Since research studies don't typically last one hundred-plus years it is hard to find out the definitive answer! However, we do know that the Okinawans ate about 10-15% fewer calories (for most of their lives) than would be recommended for their body size... and they live about 10-15% longer than the average in Western countries, so this generally fits with the low cal hypothesis.
There are also recent studies that suggest that eating certain high flavonoid foods might stimulate the same biological pathways that low cal diets stimulate for their longevity effects. Resveratrol (of red wine fame) is one such potent flavonoid and catechins in tea are another class, isoflavones in legumes such as soy are still another. Flavonoids are ubiquitous in plant foods but only a few food, such as soy, contain pharmacological levels of flavonoids. The Okinawans, as we know, are among the biggest soy eaters in the world.
We can do a lot with healthy lifestyles. Basically, we boil it all down to four factors including: diet, exercise, psycho-spiritual (psychological and spiritual) and social factors. That being said, changes to just one area, such as improving one's eating habits will also help to improve other areas. All are important and interconnected. For example, switching to a better diet will lead to higher energy levels, improved mood, and better cognition and give you more energy to exercise. Exercising leads to higher energy levels, fat loss and makes you feel better about yourself and may motivate you to eat better (few of us feel like going to McDonald's after a good workout!). No environment is ever perfect and we should all aim for small changes in the right direction to help maximize our healthy years. We try to advocate this through our books and our on-line programs at www.okinawadiet.net
WHAT ARE THE OKINAWA DIETARY SECRETS?
Okinawans eat a self-described "chample" diet which means "mixture or blend" in the Okinawan language or what we in the West might call an "East-West fusion" diet. The modern fusion diet is similar in some ways to Pacific Rim or California fusion cuisine where foods from both East and West have found their way onto the plate. The modern version is a little heavier in fish and meat than the traditional plant-rich diet, but shares many healthy similarities. The Okinawans have always been masters at adapting aspects of the cultures they encountered as participants in the spice trade. Okinawans imported healthy and delectable dietary secrets from the Portuguese, French, Spanish and blended this harmoniously with influences from Japan, China, Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, India, and now with America.
The result is a unique healthful piquant fusion of dishes that are dominated by tasty and colorful plant foods such as sweet potato, sweet and chili peppers, pumpkin, cabbage, onions, bitter melon, soy and other beans, miso (fermented soybean paste), noodles, rice and punctuated with a variety of delightful herbs and spices. Smaller portions of tuna, salmon and other fish, pork, and occasional dairy are balanced with sanpin tea (a kind of jasmine green tea).
For healthy immune boosters the Okinawans partake in various teas and herbal tonics made from turmeric, mugwort, and other herbs that have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Their habit of hara hachi bu (eating until 80% full), regular exercise (most healthy elders were farmers), active social lives, including tradition tai-chi like dance, karate and strong social networks, combined with an integrative blend of Eastern and Western health care, gives them the right formula for the world's longest healthy lifespan. The highest prevalence of centenarians in the world is a testament to the fact that this lifestyle produces results!
Some New Year's tips for busy people:
- Go for the veggie juice. It's healthy and filling. In a study published in the journal Appetite, men who drank a fourteen-ounce, 88-calorie glass of vegetable juice before lunch took in an average of 136 fewer calories at the meal than men who didn't get the drink.
- " If you are a milk-drinker, switch to non-fat or low-fat milk---or better yet, our favorite, soymilk. Drinking milk or soymilk before or with a meal helps you feel full sooner and eat less at the meal. The lighter the milk, the greater the effect. Fat-free milk works better than 1% milk percent, and both work better than 2% milk. Going low fat also takes a load of calories out of your diet.
- Color your rice brown. Brown rice has been a staple in societies peopled by thin people for millennia. It used to be considered the food of the poor, since milling rice to make it white (which removed the B-vitamins and fiber) was an expensive process. Long-grain brown rice and wild rice score the lowest on the Caloric Density scale and still have their B-vitamins and fiber intact. The same goes for bread--- brown is better than white.
- Add extra veggies to EVERYTHING! Pizza, sandwiches, salads, soups (canned and homemade), casseroles, pasta, take-out Chinese, omelets, any dish that can handle it. This is one of the single best CD lowering strategies around. Adding a handful of veggies to a meat dish is a friendly, innocuous way of making sure your carnivore mate or children get their veggies. And for veggie fans, it's just more of your favorite thing. Adding some lovely florets of broccoli to a pepperoni pizza, for instance, will lower the CD (calorie density) and transform it from a heavyweight to a middleweight.
- Eat fruit at every meal and for snacks. Add fruit to breakfast cereals, salad desserts, snacks---any place that works.
- Drink low-CD beverages---water, low-calorie or calorie-free beverages such as green tea, sanpin (Okinawan jasmine tea), herbal tea, fruit juice diluted with seltzer, diet soft drinks (if you absolutely must have a soft drink).
- Avoid sugared beverages of any sort. Read those labels! Even some seemingly healthy bottled green and herbal teas contain so many calories they can tip your delicate energy balance into dangerous territory before the first swallow. Supersized herbal teas or juices can contain 300 or more calories in a single bottle. While calories per serving may be listed at 100 cal per serving, there could be two or more servings in that bottle----the old multiple servings in the innocuous container trick. Make sure you don't fall for it and wind up getting double or triple the calories you bargained for.
- " Choose healthy liquid snacks. For snacks, "liquid foods" such as vegetable cocktails and soy protein drinks are good choices and leave you feeling full longer. But watch out for too many calories from healthy juice drinks-some can contain over 1000 calories in one drink! Ask first, drink later.
Dr. Bradley Willcox
Achieving Healthy Cholesterol Profiles The Okinawa Way
by Dr. Craig Willcox
Happy New Year!
As many of you know, we recently completed Phase 3 of our Chample Study. This current study examines what eating the traditional Okinawa Diet for 4 weeks does for the health of Americans. Some background on the Chample Study is available from the April 2007 newsletter and I will be discussing some of the results and what they mean in terms of your health in this issue.
To begin, I hope that you all brought in the New Year in the West (we are currently celebrating Chinese New year in Okinawa) in fine fashion. I know that I did. I had a difficult time locating "soy milk eggnog" but did manage to find some "low-fat eggnog". I brought my family to the foot of the Rocky Mountains where my parents spend the Summers and Autumn, although they recently hightailed it back to their winter abode in Palm Springs, California. On my way back to North America, I happened to meet two Chample study participants while waiting for a connecting flight from Okinawa (which was delayed due to heavy rain). We had a nice chat in between chasing my two young boys around (Lenny is 2 and a half and Kai is 14 months). During our conversation a couple of issues were brought up. One, was a question regarding the overall results of the study (which are being written up for scientific publication).
Overall, we found that most people responded very well to the diet with some people experiencing fantastic results and others (particularly those with very healthy diets and lifestyles already) getting good but less eye-popping results. The most common improvements in health revolved around improvements in blood pressure, weight loss, and cholesterol profiles, thus lowering risk for cardiovascular disease. Which brings me to the next issue I would like to touch upon, that is, cholesterol profiles. Many participants received advice that their cholesterol levels needed work and "they should get more exercise"---despite the fact that some were already very active long-distance runners or otherwise actively engaged in sports or other physical activities. I cannot speak for all but here is the likely reason that this advice was given. One, that Total/HDL cholesterol ratio was greater than 4. Or, two, you may have been flagged if your HDL cholesterol level was under 40 mg/dL.
Generally, when one goes for a health exam in Japan the cholesterol check includes a Total Cholesterol/HDL cholesterol ratio check. If one receives a score "above 4" then the standard advice ones receives is "to exercise more." Why? Because exercise is one relatively easy way to raise one's HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Others include eating more monounsaturated fats (like nuts), or cutting back on trans fatty acids, drinking alcohol in moderation (that glass a day of red wine seems to help everything), taking niacin (Vitamin B3) or, if none of these interventions work, then pharmacotherapy with statins, fibrates and other medications.
What is the ideal TC/HDL ratio? The recent Adult Treatment Panel-III (ATP-III) of the National Cholesterol Education Program classifies an ideal cholesterol in the following way: Total cholesterol of less than 200 mg/dL and an HDL cholesterol of greater than 40 mg/dL. Which would be a ratio of under 5. Actually, 4.5 is the recommended cholesterol ratio from the NCEP. As reported above, the Japanese guidelines are a little stricter and you are flagged if your TC/HDL ratio is under 4. Or if your HDL cholesterol level is less than 40 mg/dL.
Please see the following webpage of the NCEP for good sound advice on optimal cholesterol levels:
Speaking of the newsletter (and website) we are currently looking for volunteers who share our vision of healthy lifestyle as expressed in "The Okinawa Way" and who can help out with our newsletter, website and other tasks. The truth is, we are currently at a standstill with both the newsletter and the website as we do not have the resources (human resources or financial resources) to keep up with the required website maintenance/ improvements. Nor do we have the time to regularly publish our monthly newsletter since we are usually teaching classes, seeing patients, in the field tracking down the newest centenarians or glued to the computer writing up our latest research results!
We rely upon a small, tight group of busy volunteers (far too busy :) who devote their time and effort to run the website and newsletter, as well as our members (most volunteers are members as well) who pay a small membership fee. Recently, we have also launched a healthy tea, the proceeds of which are also donated to maintaining the website and our research projects.
Yours in good health!
Dr. Craig Willcox
Oven-Grilled Scallop and Napa Cabbage Casserole
by Sayaka Mitsuhashi
Oven-Grilled Scallop and Napa Cabbage Casserole
Napa cabbage, or Chinese cabbage, is widely eaten all over Eastern Asia and quite a popular food item in Japan and Okinawa, especially during the winter season. The cold weather makes the crisp, fresh, nutritious leaves taste delicious. Often eaten in a dish called Nabe, or "pot dish", Japanese and Okinawans prepare a large clay pot full of soup, vegetables and fish or meat cooked together on tabletop. This recipe is a Western variation of Nabe, using a casserole -- which is used for the same purpose in North American homes.
1 1/2 lb. frozen scallop meat, broken or whole
1/2 medium Napa cabbage, roughly chopped, approximately 8 cups, white and green parts divided
1 1/2 tbs. low-sodium soy sauce
a pinch of sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
4 tbs. breadcrumbs
olive oil spray
3/4 cup low-fat shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1. Preheat the oven to 375F.
2. In a large skillet, cook scallop and the white part of Napa cabbage over high heat until the liquid from the scallop start boiling. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes, or until the cabbage stems are transparent and tenderly cooked.
3. Stir in the green part of Napa cabbage and cover, and cook for another 5 minutes.
4. Season with soy sauce, salt and pepper and stir. Stir in the breadcrumbs, 1 Tbs. at a time, until the liquid is thickened.
5. Coat a small casserole with olive oil, and pour in the scallop mixture. Cover with cheese and bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until the edges of the cheese are slightly browned. Sprinkle with parsley and serve warm.
For more great tasting and healthy recipes, cooking tips, plus personalized meal plans and much more, join us at The Okinawa Diet Program today!
We hope you enjoyed this issue of the Okinawa Diet Newsletter
-The Okinawa Diet Team
To find out more about The Okinawa Diet go to okinawa-diet.com. To find out more about The Okinawa Centenarian Study go to okicent.org
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Sanpin Tea Special NEW YEAR Campaign!
New Year's Special:
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Don't Wait! Sale ends Feb 29, 2008
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The proceeds of all sales of Okinawa Way Sanpin Tea go towards the maintenance and improvement of our web-based support program for our readers (okinawa-diet.com) and our non-profit research center and research projects focused on discovering the keys to healthy aging