Old and happy: Even though they eat rice and meat – that’s why the Japanese often live to be 100 years old
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In search of the secret to a long life, nutritionist Malte Rubach meets the residents of the Japanese island of Okinawa. An above-average number of 100-year-olds live here. With them, Rubach learned about special eating habits and regional superfoods.
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Watch the video above: Researchers find two factors that keep us healthy and mentally fit well into old age
It is an old human dream: eternal youth and a life of happiness and health. Whether it is the search for the Holy Grail or the ascent to Mount Olympus, the path to this goal has obviously always been associated with great effort and obstacles.
As is well known, even Indiana Jones failed in the end, although he almost managed to at least drink from the Holy Grail. But when it comes to longevity, the best tips have been announced again and again lately. One nation seems to have gotten the hang of it: the Japanese.
Exciting, but no time right now?
In particular, the somewhat remote island of Okinawa, where people live a little bit older than on the main islands and where an above-average number of 100-year-olds live. But how can that be? Low carb gurus say white rice makes us age faster and vegan advocates recommend not eating too much animal protein. Once again a case for research to get to the bottom of the facts. And right on site.
About the expert
Malte Rubach is a nutritionist and author. He completed his doctoral thesis in the field of coffee research at the Technical University of Munich. Today he lives and works in Munich.
Okinawa and the sweet potato myth
After we took off directly from Tokyo to Okinawa, the first surprise awaited us. Namely, when we met a couple of YouTubers who are quite well-known in Brazil (channel “Muito Japao”, highly recommended), who have been living in Tokyo for a long time and were on a short vacation in Okinawa at the same time.
During our research, they took us straight to a devious Kaiseki restaurant in the capital of Okinawa. That’s what they call restaurants where there’s basically a full range of traditional regional dishes. The Japanese version of tapas, so to speak. To our delight, everything the food map could offer was on the table – both plant and animal.
Vegetables, tender meat from pork, beef and chicken, fish and of course: white rice. I particularly remember the soup with a slimy lump in it, which turned out to be a pork knee joint. The cartilage can then be sucked out and is said to provide valuable protein. Regional superfood, so to speak. The Japanese swear by it.
No trace of crazy and monotonous diets made from miracle tubers, vegetables and fruits that are often sold to us as superfoods in this country. The Japanese simply eat a little bit of everything, but not too much of it.
Book recommendation (advertisement)
“The Secret of Healthy Aging” by Malte Rubach
The animal protein myth
So first of all, the all-clear for everyone who has let themselves be fooled by low carb and keto diet gurus. Whether Okinawa or the main islands, every Japanese has a rice cooker at home and they don’t use it to dye eggs. But for cooking rice.
A no go for whole food eaters and a horror idea when you consider everything that is on the list of supposed fatteners and old people in Germany. But that could still be tolerated if at least bad meat was rare. But no, that doesn’t help either and instead of writing how it is, the myth of the lactose-intolerant Japanese who eat fish and otherwise live a vegetarian life takes root in the Western world.
So everyone should be able to live happily ever after. At this point we began to suspect that many German nutrition guides simply repeat what has already been said 1000 times elsewhere. Because what the Japanese also love is pork. Especially from the small Agu pig, which we don’t even have.
Pork as an anti-aging agent?
Kobe beef too, of course. And now comes the surprise: On Okinawa, where people live a little longer on average than on the main islands, meat consumption is even 20 percent higher. Funny, then, that for all the Okinawa 100-year-olds’ obsessive search for the superfood, no one has yet discovered and praised pork as an anti-aging agent, right?
In the end, is a high proportion of animal protein the secret to a long life? In Japan, a look at consumption data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows that the supply of animal protein is 1.25 times greater than that of plant protein. In other countries, where people are particularly old, 1.5 times more animal protein is eaten than plant protein.
So the opposite of what is so often praised. Of course, this isn’t a free pass for daily meat binges, because it’s also true that the Japanese still consume more calories from plant-based foods than from animal ones. But fundamentally, we’re not that wrong here in Europe with a balanced diet that doesn’t exclude any foods. This also includes rice or meat.
What really makes you grow old and also makes you happy
So don’t let trends confuse you. By the end of our trip, we had eaten our way through the entire Japanese buffet, except for the fermented soy beans called “Natto,” which the Japanese like to eat for breakfast. Nevertheless, the secret of the Japanese people’s old age is not due to any superfood, no: there are lots of superfoods!
There’s actually nothing you don’t eat and a balanced diet provides pretty much everything your body needs. And there are two more things: the Japanese are world champions when it comes to self-control. Everyone has probably encountered what is perceived as reserved or shy behavior, especially among Japanese people.
For this reason, it is considered impolite and disrespectful to fill one’s stomach, especially in society. And especially when the food was prepared and prepared by yourself. “Hara hachi bu” is the name of a Confucian philosophy, which means something like: “Eat only 80 percent”. So the question remains: Is there another reason for the Japanese people’s good health?
More about nutrition
Yes, because on average they are significantly less likely to be overweight, they also have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and other unpleasant things. However, more Japanese are affected by diabetes than, for example, Germans. The whole grain version of your favorite cereal could possibly be more beneficial here. Eating consciously and cooking yourself seem to have a kind of protective effect.
But here, too, please don’t go crazy about losing weight: on Okinawa, of all places, where people are getting a little older, they are also a little bit fatter, but not overweight. And last but not least: Right in the middle of us, in beautiful Switzerland, people live almost as old as the Japanese. How can that be, in the middle of Europe and with our “unhealthy” diet? As you can see, you could write a whole book about this topic…