Okinawa Diet: Should You Go High-Carb for a Longer Life?

Okinawa Diet

After all the diets restricting us from eating carbs, is this the diet that’s come to save us? Possibly, but not in the way you or your client may be thinking. The Okinawa diet isn’t here to support your love of bagels, but some think it can support a longer life.

Okinawa, part of the Ryukyu Islands just south of Japan, is home to people known for a higher life expectancy rate. The people of this region also have low rates of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

So, what are they eating that seems to boost their health? Read on to learn more about what draws people to this way of eating. And remember, the ISSA doesn’t necessarily recommend the Okinawa diet but instead aims to make sure you’re up to date on fitness and nutrition trends to stay relevant with clients.

What is the Okinawa Diet?

More a style of eating rather than a typical diet, the modern Okinawan cuisine has changed somewhat from the traditional Okinawan diet known to those born in previous generations. However, it still carries many of the same characteristics.

The Okinawa diet is primarily plant-based. High-fiber carbohydrates are a staple. Think root vegetables, whole grains, and soy products. Seaweed and seafood are other common inclusions. Red meats and processed foods are generally limited.

Cooking oils aren’t much of a thing in the Okinawa diet. Food gets steamed, boiled, or lightly stir-fried, effectively eliminating commonly added fats. The same goes for sugars. The diet focuses on savory foods, so there isn’t much need for added sweeteners.

Additionally, the quantity of food consumed is worth noting, especially if your clients are considering this diet for weight loss. Okinawans typically eat until they are about 80 percent full. They eat smaller portions throughout the day rather than the large overflowing plates many American consume.

Add These Foods to Your Grocery List

A potential meal following the Okinawa diet may include miso soup, vegetable stir-fry, a small serving of fish, and jasmine tea. Sound okay? Here are some of the foods you can add to your kitchen.


Stock up on your root vegetables. Sweet potatoes, usually a purple variety, are a prime ingredient in Okinawa meals. They’re high in fiber and rich in calcium, potassium, and vitamins A and C.

Pick up green and yellow veggies as well. Green leafy vegetables make it into in almost every diet, and for good reason—they’re loaded with nutrients. Yellow vegetables bring in carotenoids, which can help lower inflammation and improve your immune system.

  • Seaweed
  • Kelp
  • Bitter melon
  • Okra
  • Cabbage
  • Bell peppers
  • Pumpkin


Tofu, miso, edamame—some version of soy finds its way into many Okinawan meals. Organic soy products are a solid protein option for a plant-based diet. It is a good source of nutrients and is known to provide some health benefits such as lowering cholesterol. However, soy isn’t right for everyone; speak with a dietician to find the best options for your health.

Seafood and lean meat

Focus on white fish, seafood, and pork. Your meat intake won’t take up much of your diet, likely less than 10 percent. It may, however, be more fish than many Americans typically eat.

Spices and tea

Turmeric serves as an excellent spice and a tea. It works as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Jasmine tea is an alternate option, offering benefits in preventing heart disease, boosting the immune system, and providing anti-inflammatory properties.

Foods to Skip

Following this diet is not without some restrictions. In fact, you probably noticed several types of food missing from the good-food lists. While some of this has changed in the modern Okinawan diet, the traditional diet has certain meats, animal products, and processed foods on the no-go list.

  • Meats: Beef, poultry, processed meats (hotdogs, bacon, ham)
  • Animal products: Eggs, dairy (milk, butter, cheese)
  • Processed foods: Refined sugars, grains, breakfast cereals, and processed cooking oils
  • Others: Some fruits, nuts, and seeds

Is the Okinawa Diet the Way to Go?

The diet boasts good amounts of fiber, helpful in lowering cholesterol and controlling blood sugar levels. It also includes many antioxidants that are good for your heart health. It is generally low in refined carbs and fat, particularly saturated fat. When taking traditional portions into consideration, the Okinawa diet is a low-calorie style of eating.

Many of these factors add up to a great recipe for weight loss when combined with an exercise program. Plus, other suggested health benefits include the following:

  • Longevity
  • Reduced risk of chronic disease
  • Lowered inflammation

On the flip side, this diet is known to include high levels of sodium, which can be a risk for some. Additionally, eliminating most foods from several food groups leaves room for potential nutritional deficiencies. If your client pursues this diet, be sure emphasize the inclusion of a variety of vegetables and whole grains that can provide adequate levels of protein, calcium, and other nutrients.

A nutrition diet in conjunction with plenty of exercise provides a well-rounded approach to fitness and health. While there is no one diet plan that works for everyone, there are general themes that this and other diets touch on to support a healthy lifestyle for you and your clients.

Do you see nutrition as part of a holistic solution to a healthy life? Are you ready to dig deeper into the relationship between food and fitness? Check out the ISSA’s online nutrition course to help you master your own nutrition and learn how to motivate clients to live a healthier life.

Okinawa Diet Infographic

Click HERE to download this handout and share with your client!