The Okinawa superfoods you need to know about
Okinawa, Japan, is famous for its high number of centenarians and these are the foods that help the locals stay healthy and live longer.
- April 2019
- Updated July 2023
The southern prefecture of Okinawa in Japan is thought to have more centenarians among its population of 1.4 million people than anywhere else in the world. With very low rates of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease – the leading cause of death globally – even elderly Okinawans over the age of 75 are known to spend up to 12 heart-pumping hours a day gardening, walking, farming and climbing trees to pick fruit.
A largely plant-based diet rich in seaweed, multi-coloured vegetables, tofu, fish and only a small amount of meat, along with daily exercise and a healthy social life they call “moai”, are among the spritely locals’ secrets to longevity. With such a wholesome and happy lifestyle, it’s no wonder Okinawan lives well past 100 years old. These are the superfoods that help keep Okinawa’s oldest residents in such good shape...
Purple sweet potato
Sweet potatoes of all varieties are high in vitamin A and C but it’s the purple flesh in Okinawan sweet potatoes that contain exceptionally higher antioxidant levels. It’s commonly used in desserts such as mochi.
Also known as sea grapes, this type of seaweed is a great source of vitamins A and C and heart-loving omega-3 fatty acids. You’ll see umibudou served on its own with vinegar or in salads. The tiny clusters of grapes pop when you bite them, releasing briny flavours of the sea.
Also known as “bitter melon”, goya is the star ingredient in Okinawa’s iconic goya champuru stir-fried dish. It’s said to help lower blood sugar levels in the body, as well as aid digestion. Plus, it’s low in calories and high in vitamins B and C, not to mention minerals such as iron, zinc, potassium and magnesium – now that’s pretty super.
This local citrus fruit is a hepatoprotective food, which means it protects and boosts liver function. Okinawans have shikuwasa in all forms – freshly squeezed over grilled meats, mixed with soy sauce to form a dipping sauce for sashimi and even in cocktails.
On mainland Japan, tofu is made by boiling soybean milk and then squeezing the water out. Shima tofu does the reverse – the water is squeezed out first. As a result, it’s firmer, heavier and contains 1.5 times more protein. You’ll find it in stir-fries and soups.
The mozuku seaweed harvested from Okinawan waters is generally thicker than seaweed grown in other parts of Japan. Its slimy surface is rich in fucoidan, which is said to have an antibacterial function and improve immunity.